Propaganda: Module One: Session Two


Propaganda is so pervasive that a student of critical thinking must learn to deal with it. Like mosquitoes in the woods, you can't make it go away, but there are things you can do to make things more bearable.

Think about all the sources of propaganda you encounter each day. The radio, the television, billboards, bumper stickers, magazines, signs at the grocery store, text books, teachers, friends, parents, and on and on. If you watch thirty hours of TV per week, you will view roughly 37,822 commercials per year. That about 100 TV ads per day. You will see another 100 to 300 ads per day through the other mass media. (Age of Propaganda, Pratkanis and Aronson, p. 4) And that's only advertising. By no means is all the propaganda you encounter advertising. In fact, advertising is perhaps the least insidious. Even though advertising is effective (that's why advertisers use them), the results aren't usually that serious. At some level most of us don't really trust ads. What you've got to worry about are those whom you do trust, your teachers for instance. With those whom you trust, there is a tendency to let down your guard.

If you take a marketing class, they will teach you that advertising provides a service to the target audience because it provides them with needed information about the availability of the product, and so on. If you accept that, then you've just been propagandized. Sure, there's some truth to that claim, but there is a lot more going on with advertising. Anyone who didn't just fall off the proverbial turnip truck knows that advertising manipulates people into buying all sorts of things that they don't need for all sorts of illegitimate reasons. But they don't spend much time discussing the evils of advertising in marketing classes. What's more, the students and the teacher want to believe that advertising is an honorable activity, so everyone is willing to accept this distorted view of advertising. You've just learned two very important things about propaganda. First, it is partly true. Indeed advertising does give the potential buyer some useful information. For instance, one may not have known that the product existed otherwise, or where to buy it, and so on. But we all know that there's a lot the advertiser doesn't tell us. For instance, that there may be competitors who make better versions of the same thing for less money, or that no one actually needs this product. Second, you learned that propaganda works because the audience wants it to work. The folks in the marketing class want to believe that advertising is a purely wholesome activity with little or no negative side.

Propaganda - A Simple Definition

  • Propaganda is that which is sent from one individual to another and is not true when taken as a whole.

Background Discussion

  • Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels or Göbbels was Hitler's minister of propaganda. Goebbels insisted that Nazi propaganda be as accurate as possible. That is very interesting, because people think of propaganda as nothing but a pack of lies. Because propaganda is often true, at least to a degree, people more easily succumb to it.
  • The term "propaganda" embraces the following: psychological action, psychological warfare, reeducation and brainwashing, public and human relations, and advertising.

Propaganda is a form of myth

  • Example: "Communist propaganda" The very term is propaganda. It creates the myth that anything a communist says is propaganda. It also implies that anything non-communists say is not propaganda.
  • Example: "Marlboro cigarettes" One cannot think about Marlboro cigarettes without thinking of cowboys and the American west. And yet they are manufactured on the east coast. Tobacco isn't grown in the west. It is likely that most people who buy them are not cowboys. The image is nothing more than a created myth that is artificially associated with this brand.
  • Myths by which people live and make their decisions.
    • (More to come.)
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