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What is Propaganda?
Politics and Aesthetics
Week 6 Lecture 1
• Understand the classic and evolving
definitions of propaganda
• Decipher fallacies in arguments, looking at
how some questions can bear very confusing
and irrelevant answers
• Understand techniques of political
communication in national and international
To Propagate
• To make many plants from one original plant,
the gardener snips off a plants shoots and
puts them in the ground nearby. They grow
into new plants. This is propagation.
• Hence, to propagate ideas, we use
• Propaganda is often used as a pejorative term:
at is simplest level, though, it means to spread
How Do We Define Propaganda?
Part I
• Wait, isn’t rhetoric about propagating ideas?
• Isn’t everything potentially about propagating ideas?
(And thus, all media?)
• How do we define propaganda as different?
• A partial rhetoric (Bryant, 1953)
• An unethical rhetoric.
• Rhetoric is about reason and argument – hence all the
rhetorical fallacies we noted in the last lecture fall
outside rhetoric.
• Propaganda is something more than just persuasion,
but something less than coercion or force.
Bryant’s “Spectrum of Influence”
Adapted from Bennett and O’Rourke, a “Prolegomenon to the Future study of Rhetoric and Propaganda” in Jowett and O’Donnel, Eds, “Readings in Propaganda and Persuasion.” Sage,
London. 2006.
Who is the audience?
A person worthy of equal
A target or recipient of
What kind of choice is being
argued for?
A significant, informed choice
A Limited Choice because
audience will not be fully
What is the desired response?
Thinking, reasoning
Reactionary, taking action
What are the appropriate
Reason is primary: supported
with logical and emotional
Emotional appeal is primary
How does the communicator
see himself/herself?
A co-participant, part of a
More important and above
Definitions of Propaganda – Jacques
• “The aim of modern propaganda is no longer
to modify ideas but to provoke action. It is no
longer to change adherence to a doctrine, but
to make the individual cling irrationally to a
process of action…it is no longer to transform
an opinion, but to arouse an active and
mythical belief.” (Jacques Ellul)
Jacques Ellul
• “The propagandist does not normally address
the individual’s intelligence, for the process of
intellectual persuasion is long and
uncertain…” (16)
• Rather, the propagandist appeals to…emotion.
Jacques Ellul
• Ellul distinguishes between political propaganda
and sociological propaganda.
• Political Propaganda is what we will talk about
today: much of it is quite obvious. Campaign ads.
War propaganda, etc. But in coming weeks, and a
little bit today, we will talk about
• Sociological Propaganda: “the means by which
any society seeks to integrate…individuals and
unify its members.” eg: religion, advertising itself,
some would include ‘news’, public service
Is this propaganda?
• Social Propaganda? Educational film from
1958 in the United States about Popularity
from Coronet Films, would be shown in
Propaganda in Politics - Methods
• White Propaganda: From a known source. The
audience is aware of the political “angle” of
the media.
• Black Propaganda: From an unidentified or
mis-identified source. Could be one side
posing as another. The audience is deliberately
confused as to the political “angle”.
Examples of Propaganda in
International Politics
• Black Propaganda (source is meant to be unclear):
– Soviet government paid an academic to write a paper
suggesting HIV/AIDS had been developed in a secret plot
by the American government.
• Grey Propaganda: (agenda is somewhat transparent)
– A news service that appears independent but is
government run and partially political in content.
• White propaganda: (source is clear as is message)
hosting the Olympics
– [Opening Ceremony Beijing 2008: ]
Transparent, people know where its coming from.
• Focusing on some things and not
– Ex. During first war in Iraq, the US
wanted Iraqis to believe that they
would invade through Kuwait.
– “Public affairs officers carefully
drew the media’s attention to
Marine exercises in the area.”
– Forces actually came in from the
West across the desert as had
been planned.
– Pentagon official: “We told no
lies…The reporters wanted to
believe what they saw and simply
did not ask the right questions.
More fool them.”
Macdonald, 11.
• Staging a photograph or a
– Civil War photographs
– 1898 – Battle of Manila Bay
shown in movie theater
news reels  filmed in a
– Pancho Villa, Mexican
revolutionary, “sold film
rights to his
executions for the
camera…restaged battles
after the fighting had
• Staging a Film or Photograph
• 1944 – “The Fuehrer Gives the Jews a City”
created for neutral states to show that
relocated Jews were living happily (which was
obviously not the case).
• Altering a photograph or film.
– Iranian Missiles (2008)
• Altering a photograph or film:
– 2004, Bush Campaign Ad
• Altering a photograph or film:
– Gorbacev’s birthmark
On the left, the leader’s natural birthmark. Didn’t
always appear on his official portraits, right.
• Photomontage
John Kerry, alone at a podium
John Kerry supposedly next to anti-War activist
Jane Fonda at a rally.
• Photomontage
– University alters photo to make it more “diverse”
• Photomontage – journalist alters photo for a better shot
– -jour
 This
photograph was
published in the
LA Times. The
was ultimately
Propaganda in War
• In a war incited in the media, should people fight
back with the media?
• Case Study: Rwanda in 1994
• Rwandan genocide incited over the radio.
• Extremist seized an FM radio station, the RTLM
(Free Radio-Television of the Thousand Hills)
– Incited violence against Tutsis, and also urged Hutus
to flee their homes.
– This meant thousands of people panicked, living in
refugee camps.
• Radio was key in spreading the word – why didn’t
anyone “counterattack” with radio?
– UNAMIR’s head in the region, Canadian Major General
R.A. Dallaire, wrote:
• “These broadcasts were …responsible for spreading
panic…and should have been jammed. The United Nations
should have aired counter broadcasts to give the
population a clear account of what was actually
happening…yet…no country came forward to offer
jamming or broadcasting assets.
• It later turned out the broadcasts were coming from one
Radio transmitter in the back of someone’s Toyota – it
could’ve easily been destroyed, but wasn’t.
Propaganda and Aesthetics
How Do We Define Propaganda, Part II
• How do we account for propaganda that is
also art?
• Sharon Tuttle Ross’ “Epistemic Merit Model”
• She defines propaganda as
– “an epistemically defective message used with
the intention to persuade a socially significant
group of people on behalf of a political
institution, organization, or cause” (Tuttle 2003,
1. An Epistemically Defective Message
ARGUMENT is illogical, commits a
rhetorical error of some kind.
2. Used with the intention to persuade
INTENT is to convince someone of
3. A socially significant group of people
AUDIENCE is an important group of some
kind. (I can’t create propaganda for an
audience of just my Mother.)
4. On behalf of a political institution,
organization, or cause.
PRODUCER is politically oriented.
Adapted from Sharon Tuttle Ross.
• Tuttle: “Messages presented through works of
art…are not in the form of an argument but
rather made through the use of icons,
symbols, and metaphors.” (Tuttle 12)
• It’s critical to realize that art can be a source of
knowledge and a source of misinformation at
the same time.
Art and Propaganda Have a Long
History Together
The Line Between Propaganda and
A US Newsreel, some Soviet Caroons,
and The Triumph of the Will
US Propaganda Newsreels
• Political Propaganda US Propaganda Newsreel
(1962) The Berlin Wall
Soviet Propaganda Cartoons
• Black and White (1934)
• Ave Maria (1960s)
• Mister Twister
Ui4k )
• Which is your favorite and why?
Triumph of the Will
• Film by Leni Riefenstahl
• Chronicles the 1934 Nazi
Party Congress in Nuremberg
• Released in 1935
• Film won many awards at the
• Director Riefenstahl later said in an interview:
– “My first reaction was to say that I did not know anything
about the way such a thing worked or the organization of
the Party, so that I would obviously photograph all the
wrong things and please nobody - even supposing that I
could make a documentary, which I had never yet done.
Hitler said that this was exactly why he wanted me to do it:
because anyone who knew all about the relative
importance of the various people and groups and so on
might make a film that would be pedantically accurate, but
this was not what he wanted. He wanted a film showing
the Congress through a non-expert eye, selecting just what
was most artistically satisfying - in terms of spectacle, I
suppose you might say. He wanted a film which would
move, appeal to, impress an audience which was not
necessarily interested in politics.”
• Film focuses on Hitler as leader.
• People of Germany are an “undifferentiated
mass enthusiastically supporting the state.”
• Through various symbols in the film Hitler
becomes Germany.
• Uniting the people.
• Film never addresses Hitler’s attitude toward
Jews nor the lebensraum push for territory in
the East.
• Opening sequence
fYwE )to around minute 10.
– Shots of the city: what do you notice about it?
– What kind of people are shown
• 14:30- Morning in Tent City (about 5 Minutes)
• 65:00 Tribute to War Dead
• 1:30:01 – END Final Squence
• Do You Believe Ms. Reifenstahl?
– "If you see this film again today you ascertain that it
doesn't contain a single reconstructed scene. Everything in
it is true. And it contains no tendentious commentary at
all. It is history. A pure historical film... it is film-vérité. It
reflects the truth that was then in 1934, history. It is
therefore a documentary. Not a propaganda film. Oh! I
know very well what propaganda is. That consists of
recreating events in order to illustrate a thesis, or, in the
face of certain events, to let one thing go in order to
accentuate another. I found myself, me, at the heart of an
event which was the reality of a certain time and a certain
place. My film is composed of what stemmed from that.”