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Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Takin' It To The Sheep (OR: "A Brief History of Slime")

pro·pa·gan·da
Function: noun
Etymology: New Latin, from Congregatio de propaganda fide (Congregation for propagating the faith), organization established by Pope Gregory XV (died 1623)
1 capitalized : a congregation of the Roman curia having jurisdiction over missionary territories and related institutions
2 : the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person
3 : ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one's cause or to damage an opposing cause; also : a public action having such an effect.

- Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

"It is the absolute right of the State to supervise the formation of public opinion." - Joseph Goebbels (1897 - 1945)

"If I want your opinion, I'll give it to you." - Evil Genius' little sister.

From the days of the ancient Assyrians to the 17th-century Roman Curia to the modern-day Republican curmudgia, what we now call propaganda has always been around. The targets and techniques have changed over time, but the object is the same: the influence of events and/or opinions.
People often think of propaganda as something negative, as in a con or a lie. But propaganda really doesn't have anything to do with negative or positive. It's a technique. The word propaganda refers to any technique that attempts to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes or behavior of a group in order to benefit the sponsor.

In a war, when you use propaganda to encourage your own side, this technique is often called reverse propaganda or reverse psychological warfare. If propaganda is negative, then "reverse propaganda" must be positive, right? Nah. No matter what you call it, it's still propaganda, and its purpose is unchanged. The purpose of propaganda is to persuade (in order to benefit the sponsor).

[Must-read source (includes the above quote): PROPAGANDA TECHNIQUES
In Advertising, Media, Politics & Warfare (for K-12 Teachers & Students)
]

When we think of propaganda, we usually think of it as only applying in two fields; politics and war (which are the same thing, according to von Clausewitz). The most intrusive political propaganda occurs at election time and comes to at us principally through our television set (the brainchild of adman Rosser Reeves - just in case you feel the need to blame someone for it), but over the years the spots have become less effective, particularly as the various mainstream political parties (and their policies) have begun to resemble each other. That lack of distinction has led political campaigns further into the use of spots that attack the opponent personally, through internet, television or print pieces, most of which are quite heavy-handed, and are growing increasingly vicious.

The most effective of these are the ones which embarass one's opponent by taking advantage of the opponent's badly-chosen photo-op...and every politician is going to screw-up at least once. Some of the more memorable photo-op blunders are:
Dubya and the Segway (which no-one seems to be taking advantage of - yet);

Michael Dukakis and the Tank (some refer to this as his "Snoopy the Wonder Beagle" moment);

Gilles Duceppe at the Cheese Factory;

Stockwell Day's Jet-Ski (the original video of the op - as first broadcast - has an intriguing side-note: As Stockwell - one of Canada's less-bright politicians rode away from the beach on his Jet-Ski, an anonymous male could be heard on the audio track: "nice ass" - the audio was edited for later broadcasts);

and, perhaps, the most memorable one (for Canadians, at least):

Robert Stanfield and the Football (it should be noted here that the photographer who took the photo also took several pictures of Stanfield quite gracefully catching the football...)
Moving into the realm of (modern) war there are four truly effective pieces of propaganda work which readily spring to my mind.

1) Gen. Douglas MacArthur's famous "I shall return" statement was turned into a full-blown campaign to inspire the people (and guerillas) of the Phillipines in WWII.

2) The 1967 Another Mother For Peace campaign against the Vietnam War (the famous "War is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things" poster). AMP disbanded in 1985, but was revived in 2003 because of the impending "war" with Irag. They are apparently planning a new campaign for the run-up to the US election in November.

3) The "Hitler Jig" after France lost to Germany in 1940 and signed the surrender papers at the forest of Compiègne (the same site where the Germans signed their surrender in 1918). This is, perhaps, the most memorable and effective propaganda piece to come out of WWII. It's interesting for two reasons: a) it's really a fraud, and b) it has a Canadian connection. It was done by John Grierson, who was the General Manager of Wartime Information for the Dominion of Canada (he was also the first head of the National Film Board of Canada from 1939-45). The original newsreel footage showed Hitler stamping his foot once. Grierson took the four frames of film showing the stamp and repeated the sequence several times (the process is called 'looping'), thus creating the "jig". Audiences in the British Empire and the US were suitably infuriated by the film for years afterward.

Frustrated Blogger's Note: There does not seem to be a single, decent picture of "the jig" to link to out there on the Web - and I used every last relevant search term I could think of - so the above picture is actually a frame capture from (of all things) the DVD of Ralph Bakshi's Wizards.
4) The "Daisy" ad, from Lyndon Johnson's 1964 election campaign, which hits both war and politics, virtually destroyed Barry Goldwater's campaign - without even mentioning him, and is still considered by some to be the ne plus ultra of political campaign spots.

...

When I sat down to start writing this piece, it was going to be a screed about the right-wing-whiners who are on about Fahrenheit 9/11 (and heaven knows there are more than enough of them), but my searching for background material (and such) got a tad out of hand, and I'm blogged out for the day, so this little propagandist will be back later...

Tomorrow: Episode II: Moore Wars.