Edward Filene helped establish the Institute of Propaganda Analysis in 1937 to educate the American public about the nature of propaganda and how to recognize propaganda techniques. Filene and his colleagues identified the seven most common “tricks of the trade” used by successful propagandists (Marlin 102-106: Propaganda Critic: Introduction).
These seven techniques are called:
1. Name Calling
2. Glittering Generalities
3. Transfer
4. Testimonial
5. Plain Folks
6. Card Stacking
7. Band Wagon
….. Propaganda can be as blatant as a swastika or as subtle as a joke. Its persuasive techniques are regularly applied by politicians, advertisers, journalists, radio personalities, and others who are interested in influencing human behavior. Propagandistic messages can be used to accomplish positive social ends, as in campaigns to reduce drunk driving, but they are also used to win elections and to sell malt liquor.
The information revolution has led to information overload, and people are confronted with hundreds of messages each day. Although few studies have looked at this topic, it seems fair to suggest that many people respond to this pressure by processing messages more quickly and, when possible, by taking mental short-cuts.
Propagandists love short-cuts — particularly those which short-circuit rational thought. They encourage this by agitating emotions, by exploiting insecurities, by capitalizing on the ambiguity of language, and by bending the rules of logic. As history shows, they can be quite successful.
“Bad names have played a tremendously powerful role in the history of the world and in our own individual development. They have ruined reputations, stirred men and women to outstanding accomplishments, sent others to prison cells, and made men mad enough to enter battle and slaughter their fellowmen. They have been and are applied to other people, groups, gangs, tribes, colleges, political parties, neighborhoods, states, sections of the country, nations, and races.”
(Institute for Propaganda Analysis, 1938)
The name-calling technique was first identified by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis (IPA) in 1938. According to the IPA, we should ask ourselves the following questions when we spot an example of name-calling:
1. What does the name mean?
2. Does the idea in question have a legitimate connection with the real meaning of the name?
3. Is an idea that serves my best interests being dismissed through giving it a name I don’t like?
4. Leaving the name out of consideration, what are the merits of the idea itself?
“The Glittering Generality is, in short, Name Calling in reverse. While Name Calling seeks to make us form a judgment to reject and condemn without examining the evidence, the Glittering Generality device seeks to make us approve and accept without examining the evidence. In acquainting ourselves with the Glittering Generality Device, therefore, all that has been said regarding Name Calling must be kept in mind.”
(Institute for Propaganda Analysis, 1938)
When propagandists use glittering generalities and name-calling symbols, they are attempting to arouse their audience with vivid, emotionally suggestive words. In certain situations, however, the propagandist attempts to pacify the audience in order to make an unpleasant reality more palatable. This is accomplished by using words that are bland and euphemistic.
“Transfer is a device by which the propagandist carries over the authority, sanction, and prestige of something we respect and revere to something he would have us accept…..” (Institute for Propaganda Analysis, 1938)
The Institute for Propaganda Analysis has argued that, when confronted with the transfer device, we should ask ourselves the following questions:
1. In the most simple and concrete terms, what is the proposal of the speaker?
2. What is the meaning of the the thing from which the propagandist is seeking to transfer authority, sanction, and prestige?
3. Is there any legitimate connection between the proposal of the propagandist and the revered thing, person or institution?
4. Leaving the propagandistic trick out of the picture, what are the merits of the proposal viewed alone?
There is nothing wrong with citing a qualified source, and the testimonial technique can be used to construct a fair, well-balanced argument. However, it is often used in ways that are unfair and misleading. The most common misuse of the testimonial involves citing individuals who are not qualified to make judgements about a particular issue. In 1992, Barbara Streisand supported Bill Clinton, and Arnold Schwarzenegger threw his weight behind George Bush. Both are popular performers, but there is no reason to think that they know what is best for this country. Unfair testimonials are usually obvious, and most of us have probably seen through this rhetorical trick at some time or another. However, this probably happened when the testimonial was provided by a celebrity that we did not respect. When the testimony is provided by an admired celebrity, we are much less likely to be critical. According to the Institute for Propaganda Analysis, we should ask ourselves the following questions when we encounter this device:
1. Who or what is quoted in the testimonial?
2. Why should we regard this person (or organization or publication) as having expert knowledge or trustworthy information on the subject in question?
3. What does the idea amount to on its own merits, without the benefit of the Testimonial?
By using the plain-folks technique, speakers attempt to convince their audience that they, and their ideas, are “of the people.” The device is used by advertisers and politicans alike. America’s recent presidents have all been millionaires, but they have gone to great lengths to present themselves as ordinary citizens. Bill Clinton ate at McDonald’s and confessed a fondness for trashy spy novels. George Bush Sr. hated broccoli, and loved to fish. Ronald Reagan was often photographed chopping wood, and Jimmy Carter presented himself as a humble peanut farmer from Georgia. We are all familiar with candidates who campaign as political outsiders, promising to “clean out the barn” and set things straight….. The political landscape is dotted with politicians who challenge a mythical “cultural elite,” presumably aligning themselves with “ordinary Americans.” As baby boomers approach their sixth decade, we are no longer shocked by the sight of politicians in denim who listen to rock and roll. In all of these examples, the plain-folks device is at work.
The Institute for Propaganda Analysis has argued that, when confronted with this device, we should suspend judgement and ask ourselves the following questions:
1. What are the propagandist’s ideas worth when divorced from his or her personality?
2. What could he or she be trying to cover up with the plain-folks approach?
What are the facts?
Propagandist uses Card Stacking technique to make the best case possible for his side and the worst for the opposing viewpoint by carefully using only those facts that support his or her side of the argument while attempting to lead the audience into accepting the facts as a conclusion. In other words, the propagandist stacks the cards against the truth. Card stacking is the most difficult technique to detect because it does not provide all of the information necessary for the audience to make an informed decision. The audience must decide what is missing.
The Institute for Propaganda Analysis suggests we ask ourselves the following question when confronted with this technique:
1. Are facts being distorted or omitted?
2. What other arguments exist to support these assertions?
As with any other propaganda technique, the best defense against Card Stacking is to get as much information that is possible before making a decision.
“The propagandist hires a hall, rents radio stations, fills a great stadium, marches a million or at least a lot of men in a parade. He employs symbols, colors, music, movement, all the dramatic arts. He gets us to write letters, to send telegrams, to contribute to his cause. He appeals to the desire, common to most of us, to follow the crowd. Because he wants us to follow the crowd in masses, he directs his appeal to groups held together already by common ties, ties of nationality, religion, race, sex, vocation. Thus propagandists campaigning for or against a program will appeal to us…..as farmers or as school teachers; as housewives or as miners. With the aid of all the other propaganda devices, all of the artifices of flattery are used to harness the fears and hatreds, prejudices and biases, convictions and ideals common to a group. Thus is emotion made to push and pull us as members of a group onto a Band Wagon.” (Institute for Propaganda Analysis, 1938)
The basic theme of the Band Wagon appeal is that “everyone else is doing it, and so should you.” Since few of us want to be left behind, this technique can be quite successful. However, as the IPA points out, “there is never quite as much of a rush to climb onto the Band Wagon as the propagandist tries to make us think there is.”
When confronted with this technique, it may be helpful to ask ourselves the following questions:
1. What is this propagandist’s program?
2. What is the evidence for and against the program?
3. Regardless of the fact that others are supporting this program, should I support it?
4. Does the program serve or undermine my individual and collective interests?
It’s not as easy as you might think to spot hidden messages. Propaganda designers know you are on your guard. To get around your guard, they don’t put one message into a piece of propaganda – they put lots of messages into each piece! The more you know about propaganda techniques and how they work, the less likely it is that someone will sneak something by you!
Nothing says that you can’t appreciate a good piece of propaganda, and still agree with the messages hidden within it. But, you don’t want to be fooled into doing something you do not wish to do, or conned into believing something that is not true, simply because you’ve been the target of an effective propaganda campaign. That’s why it’s important to understand what propaganda is and how it works.
To protect yourself against the techniques of propaganda, three good questions to ask yourself are:
1.Who does this benefit?
2.Why did they do that?
3.According to whom?
In a democratic country, where free expression is basic, no one who thinks the matter through could possibly want to stamp out all propaganda. The essence of democracy is that rival points of view have the right to compete in the open. Decisions on political and other questions must be made by a free people. That means a people who don’t shut their eyes and ears to opposing arguments, but instead look at them all, evaluate them, and throw out the ones that don’t hold water.
The propaganda against propaganda confused many citizens and led them to ask, “What can I believe?” One writer, answering this question, says that “you can believe in yourself, your own common sense, your own decent instincts, your own values and traditions.” The democratic principle requires that we come to our own judgments on the issues we face. Nobody can dodge the necessity of making up his own mind on any given question that calls for decision, whether it is international policy, local politics, or even the selection of one toothpaste over another. In making up his own mind he can look at all the propagandas and also bring into play all the information that is to be found outside propaganda and use every standard and criterion available to him in weighing values. He should not forget that there are safeguards and checks for sizing up the merits of propaganda and the self-interest that may lie back of it.
One authority on propaganda suggests two tests:
l. Is it really propaganda? Is some individual or group consciously trying to influence opinion and action? Who? For what purpose?
2. Is it true? Does a comparison of independent reports show that the facts are accurate? Does such a comparison show that the suggestions made are soundly based?
There are other tests that can be applied by the thinking citizen:
1. Which fact or set of facts in a piece of promotion are really important and relevant?
2.Which are irrelevant?
(Ralph D. Casey, Professor, School of Journalism, University of Minnesota, The G.I. Roundtable Series at historians.org, July 1944)
Propaganda has a tendency to work best on groups rather than individuals . It has the effect of turning groups into crowds, which is what Aldous Huxley calls “herd poisoning .” As he describes it, herd poisoning is “an active, extraverted drug . The crowd-intoxicated individual escapes from responsibility, intelligence, and morality into a kind of frantic, animal mindlessness .” Here, Huxley is talking about what happens when an individual has joined with other individuals in a semantic environment where propaganda, unchecked, is doing its work . Stupid talk is transformed into an orgy of crazy talk, the consequences of which can be found in graves stretching from Siberia to Mississippi to Weimar to Peking.
(Adapted from PROPAGANDA by Neil Postman at neilpostman.org)

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