Through this lesson, you'll define propaganda and explore some examples. You'll also come to understand how propaganda is used in social and cultural arenas.
Throughout the course of human history, we have witnessed a number of events that have been a source of pain and shame for people across the world. The removal and relocation of native people in North America, the Jewish Holocaust of the Second World War, and the ethnic cleansing of Tutsis in Rwanda during the early 1990s are only a few examples. But, while each of these represents the worst aspects of humanity, they're also an example of the successful use of propaganda.
Propaganda is a mode of communication used to manipulate or influence the opinion of groups to support a particular cause or belief. Over the centuries, propaganda has taken the form of artwork, films, speeches, and music, though it's not limited to these forms of communication.
Though its use is not exclusively negative, propaganda very often involves a heavy emphasis on the benefits and virtues of one idea or group, while simultaneously distorting the truth or suppressing the counter-argument. For example, the Nazi party rose to power by promoting the idea that it would lead Germany out of economic depression, which it claimed was, among other things, the result of Jewish people stealing jobs from hard-working Germans.
Techniques and Types of Propaganda
As previously stated, propaganda is used at different times, for different reasons, and it comes in a wide variety of forms. The most easily identifiable and understandable use of propaganda is during times of war, in which victory or defeat can depend a great deal on public support.
Let's look again at the example of the Nazi party during World War II. Through speeches, posters, and films, the Nazis were able to convince the German people that the economic depression in the wake of World War I was not the result of governmental failure but was instead the fault of immigrants, communists, and other outsiders who were weakening the country. As they continued their rise to power, the Nazis frequently relied on propaganda to justify their actions and promote their beliefs. For example, the Nazi party spread the message that Jews were responsible for the lack of jobs and were hoarding money; as a result, many Germans didn't object when Jewish people were imprisoned.
The Nazi party's actions might be the most commonly referenced and widely known example of propaganda, but the Nazis are only one of many groups who have used this technique. During World War II, the United States also frequently relied on propaganda for public support. Think of the image of Uncle Sam and the I Want You posters used to encourage people to join the military. Through heavy use, this image and slogan sent a message that joining the military was the patriotic thing to do, particularly in the context of fighting evil.
Both of these examples demonstrate how propaganda is used to promote one idea, while downplaying or ignoring the big picture. The Nazis used propaganda to deflect any personal responsibility for the economic depression and instead, pinned the blame on scapegoats (the Jewish people) whom Germans could direct their anger toward. The United States, on the other hand, celebrated joining the military as the patriotic thing to do, while ignoring the violent realities of war.
More Examples of Propaganda
The two previously discussed uses are some of the more extreme examples of propaganda. It isn't always so easily identifiable.
This anti-smoking ad, produced by the American Legacy Foundation, is a less obvious example of propaganda. By referencing the negative effects of smoking on health and using the image of the noose, this advertisement is attempting to change people's behavior by sending the message that smoking is undesirable and deadly.
This anti-drunk driving advertisement from Asia is another example of propaganda being used to attempt to change behavior that one group deems as bad. The poster uses the image of a child in danger to emphasize its point and increase the likelihood that people will support the campaign and spread the message further.
I doubt that any of us would dispute the notion that drunk driving and smoking are bad behaviors; instead, these two examples demonstrate how propaganda can be used to encourage positive change. The American Legacy Foundation believes that smoking is bad, and people should quit. By creating an ad campaign that exclusively promotes its own agenda, the foundation is employing propaganda to influence a larger group.
As you have seen through the examples in this lesson, propaganda is a type of communication in which one group exclusively promotes its own agenda in the hopes of persuading others to join or support its opinion. Though it's not always used in negative ways, propaganda often ignores the counter-argument and uses inaccurate statements or distorted realities to achieve a desired outcome.
Sometimes, propaganda might be in your best interest, like quitting smoking. But other times, it's in pursuit of a much more dangerous agenda, like the Holocaust. Through speeches, posters, and films, the Nazis were able to convince the German people that the economic depression in the wake of World War I was not the result of governmental failure but was instead the fault of the Jews, who they claimed were responsible for the lack of jobs and were hoarding money. As a result, many Germans didn't object when Jewish people were imprisoned.
It's important to be aware of propaganda when we see it, because most of the time, we're not being given the whole story.
Facts About Propaganda
- Propaganda is a mode of communication that is used to manipulate or influence the opinion of groups to support a cause or belief.
- The Nazi party used speeches, posters, and films during World War II to gain support.
- The United States used propaganda to encourage people to join the military during World War II.
- Propaganda can also be used to discourage bad behavior and encourage positive change.
As you come to the end of the lesson, you should set a goal to:
- Explain what propaganda is
- Recognize how propaganda was used by the Nazi party in World War II
- Discuss how the United States also used propaganda during World War II
- Consider more examples of propaganda that are used to encourage positive change