Propaganda (Brief Book Review)

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“Modern propaganda is a consistent, enduring effort to create or shape events to influence the relations of the public to an enterprise, idea or group”
~Edward Bernays

I recently finished reading Propaganda by Edward Bernays. It’s a short book written in the late 1920s describing the methods used by anyone who wishes to push their ideas and agenda onto a large group of people. The methods described in the book are still in use today.

Propaganda is a neutral term; it is neither good nor evil in and of itself. It can be used for good and used for evil, but mostly it is a vessel used to push an idea.

If I were a newsman who recently read a report done by some major university on the annual financial earnings of men and women and wanted to do a story on it, I could choose a couple of different ways to present the report. If I have no agenda but to present the report to the public for their own scrutiny, my headline would look something like: New Report on the Financial Income of Men and Women Released by U of T. However, if I’m a feminist, and do have a strong agenda, and I see in the report that men, due to more frequently working full time, putting in more overtime, and taking jobs in higher paying fields, are earning more money on an annual basis than women, I can use that information to push my agenda, and my headline would look more like this: Women Only Make Seventy Cents for Every Dollar a Man Makes New Study Shows. And that headline would be propaganda. It’s not an outright lie; it’s just that I am presenting the information to the reader so as to sway his or her opinion toward my agenda (which, for the feminist, is to convince the public that women are oppressed by men).

propSo, even though propaganda is neutral (and should not be mistaken with opinion writing), I would argue that it will most often lean towards dishonesty as the presenter of the propaganda is most likely not being sincere in his or her propagation of the information, even when the cause behind the propaganda is a good one.

I gave the book 3/5 stars.

The Folly of Categorizing People

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Marxist ideology catagorizes you — by your wealth, your politics, your status, your skin color, your gender, etc… And once you’ve been properly categorized, you will no longer be judged as an individual, making individual decisions and performing individual actions, you will only be judged by the category you “belong” to.

This only works to create division in a society as it destroys the ability to discuss and debate ideas. It over simplifies life by placing everyone into overly general categories. Not all black people think the same, believe it or not, therefore some blacks will oppose something like “Black Lives Matter,” or they might even be conservative.

Social Media very much fuels the fire of Marxist ideology as it causes people to judge others simply by what they post on social media. It’s like road rage. Someone you can’t see in their car cuts you off and you are ready to slit their throat. Meanwhile, the same person bumps into you while walking on the street and is able to make eye contact and apologize. Your anger is immediately diffused as you see a real living individual human in front of you and not some abstract evil who could only be your enemy.

I know people from where I used to live who were friendly acquaintances, but who now only have contact with me through social media. Never in my time spent with them in the past did political opinions create strife between us, even though our political leanings were in opposite directions. But now, whenever I post something politically conservative on Facebook, these same people become offended and angry. Now, I am not opposed to these people criticizing what they believe to be bad ideas, but that’s not what’s happening. They see the post as being the one and only thing which defines my entire life: “He’s a Christian conservative!”

I’ve made it my new years resolution to never treat people like that; to never judge a person solely on what they put on social media. I will still criticize bad ideas, but I will not categorize people into little boxes just because they express one idea in a way I don’t agree with. The same guy who praises Bernie Sanders, or Donald Trump, on Facebook is also a father, a husband, a hard worker, a generous giver, and a friend. He is not some faceless enemy stuck in an impenetrable category forever separated from myself.

At the same time, I realize that posting political stuff on Facebook may not be the best idea. Most people go on Facebook for fun and are not interested in being hit with politics or religion. I would never go to a birthday party and start spewing off political opinions. Facebook may not be the best medium for such things. Twitter seems to be a better medium for it as no one knows who you are there. A quote I read recently: Facebook is where you lie to your friends, and Twitter is where you tell the truth to strangers.

No matter what the medium, the Marxist strategy of fitting jamming people into over simplified categories will only ever lead to tribal warfare.

Related reading: A Lesson We All Can Learn from the Chicago Torture Case

‘The Medium is the Message’

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If you were living in Canada in the 1990′s you would have been subjected to the “Heritage Minute” historical messages seen on TV and in movie theaters. As I have not actually watched TV for several years, I don’t know if these “Heritage Minutes” are still being produced. One that I remember well is the one about Marshall McLuhan. I thought it was stupid, and I didn’t understand what was being said.

Take a minute to watch the clip…

I hadn’t given any thought to this guy, McLuhan, until I was studying on the web about media in today’s world. He is most famous for his phrase: “The medium is the message”.

What he means by that phrase is basically this:

Media is an extension of ourselves. The device we choose to convey our message to others will determine the content of that message. And so the device, or the media, becomes the true message.

Tim Challies makes a good point in his book The Next Story that when any new media technology is created it is created for a specific environment, and even though the technology can be taken out of that original environment and be used in an entirely different type of environment, it will always take with it, where ever it is used, elements of the original environment. Power Point, for example, was created for the business board room. It is a great tool for making presentations using charts, graphs, and bullet points. But it didn’t stay in the board room. A lot of pastors use Power Point when giving their sermons. And so, when a pastor uses Power Point in delivering his sermon, he creates a business board room type of atmosphere in the church. The use of Power Point in the church brings with it elements of its original environment.

I remember when I was living in Canada attending my home church. The pastor at the time always used Power Point. He delivered his sermons using bullet points, and sometimes charts and graphs too. I once asked some new attenders, who had to drive for an hour each Sunday morning, why they decided to come to our church. Their answer was that they loved how the sermons were delivered in such a way that it made them feel as though they were at a business seminar. They didn’t comment on the content of the messages (although that was important to them too), instead they commented on the medium: how the message was delivered. The medium, then, is in itself a very powerful message. Some churches will never use Power Point. Some will have wooden pews and built in pulpits which would require a crane if anyone ever wanted to move them. In some churches the pulpit is just a glorified coffee table. These are all mediums which, in themselves, deliver very strong messages, perhaps even stronger messages than what is spoken by the preacher each Sunday.

You can also look at Christian television. What was TV originally created for? Entertainment. Therefore any TV show that isn’t entertaining will not last long. In fact the only place where you’ll see an unentertaining TV show last an undeservedly long time is on either public TV or Christian TV–where ratings don’t matter. All too often Christian TV programs simply consist of 50+ year olds sitting around a table discussing the theory of how to live life like they live life. Who finds this entertaining? Anyone under 40? I suppose the only people who do find these shows entertaining are other 50+ year olds who take comfort in that there is a show on that holds to the same values as they do. But even then I imagine that they only turn on the show so that there can be some background noise while they clean the house or something. Even the guys obsessed with the “End-Times” watch the programs that are obsessed with the “End-Times” for entertainment. They don’t watch the shows for education or information. They get a thrill from the idea that they are getting the inside edge on some secret knowledge as to when the world is going to end. And so when the maker of a Christian TV show says he doesn’t want to entertain, but rather just use TV as a tool to get his message across, then I’d say he’s chosen the wrong medium.

So with the medium being a powerful message in and of itself one cannot simply focus on the content. One has to choose the correct medium to use as well. One has to ask the right questions about what one is trying to get across to the viewers.

Here are four questions which McLuhan himself asked…

1) What does the medium or technology extend?

2) What does it make obsolete?

3) What is retrieved?

4) What does the technology reverse into if it is over-extended?

Good questions for any media producer to ask.

Media these days is a huge subject to look at, and it is very complicated. It is also a very interesting subject to study. I myself am just getting started. When I look at the questions above, and I think about how quickly technology is advancing, I wonder how things will look in ten years. Will McLuhan’s theories even apply anymore?

photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/theilluminated/5161779163/in/photostream/