A Lesson in Propaganda

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On the twelfth of June 2018, the current president of the United States and the Supreme Leader of North Korea met for the first time. It was an interesting event, very historic but above all else- absolutely fucking hilarious.

During a forty minute meeting Donald Trump showed this painfully awful trailer his Government made to appeal to Kim Jong-Un. As a Media student I feel fully confident in reviewing the work, but before hand let’s discuss what the video is; Propaganda.

Propaganda is information that is not impartial and used primarily to influence an audience and further an agenda, often by presenting facts selectively (perhaps lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or using loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than a rational response to the information presented. The term propaganda has acquired a strongly negative connotation by association with its most manipulative and jingoistic examples.

The term propaganda originated from the original latin. word “Propagare” which means to spread or to propagate. Over the years the word evolved into Propaganda, meaning that which is to be propagated. The word was initially derived from a new administrative body of the Catholic Church known as Congetio de Propaganda Fide- meaning Congrigation for Preparing the Faith.

Created in 1622, this group of missionaries were charged with propagating the Catholic doctrine in non-catholic countries, such as Asia and Africa. The congregation was informally referred to as Propaganda.

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Only in the late 1790’s did it took on a more Secular connotation and it took almost another century for it to be referenced as a political weapon.

Now to clarify, Propaganda is nothing new. Humans have been incorporating it in some shape or form for aeons. The earliest example of propaganda found dates back to 515 BCE in which the Behistun Inscription was created.

The Behistun Inscription is a multilingual inscription and large rock relief on a cliff at Mount Behistun in the Kermanshah Province of Iran, detailing the rise of Darius I to the Persian throne is viewed by most historians as an early example of propaganda as it was written by an author who was not impartial.

These kind of exaggerations or down right lies were spread via art and literature, or even via oral tradition. The Romans were notorious for their shit talking that would often damage their opponents reputation in the eyes of the people. These insults would be repeated by commoners, over time changes would be made until the original tale barely resembled what it had become.

In the UK and Ireland this effect is referred to as Chinese Whispers. I have no idea why, ask a Chinese person. Then again that may offend the Chinese- y’know what? Forget the whole thing.

I think the best example of these kind of whispers can be seen in the Game of Thrones books, in which commoners who’ve never laid eyes on Daenerys before speak some unbelievably vulgar drivel about how she is this monster of a woman, pure evil who fucks horses at night by the thousands. It’s very superficial, but I was reminded of it whenever I noticed how the far right in America talk about Hillary Clinton. Y’know, like how her and Obama are demons that reek of sulphur- all that jazz.

Propaganda during the Reformation, helped by the spread of the printing press throughout Europe, and in particular within Germany, caused new ideas, thoughts, and doctrine to be made available to the public in ways that had never been seen before the 16th century.

During the era of the American Revolution, the American colonies had a flourishing network of newspapers and printers who specialised in the topic on behalf of the Patriots (and to a lesser extent on behalf of the Loyalists).

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The first large-scale and organised propagation of government propaganda was occasioned by the outbreak of war in 1914. After the defeat of Germany in the First World War, military officials such as Erich Ludendorff suggested that British propaganda had been instrumental in their defeat. Adolf Hitler came to echo this view, believing that it had been a primary cause of the collapse of morale and the revolts in the German home front and Navy in 1918.

In Mein Kampf , Hitler expounded his theory of propaganda, which provided a powerful base for his rise to power in 1933. Historian Robert Ensor explains that “Hitler…puts no limit on what can be done by propaganda; people will believe anything, provided they are told it often enough and emphatically enough, and that contradicters are either silenced or smothered in calumny.

Most propaganda in Nazi Germany was produced by the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda under Joseph Goebbels. In the early 20th century, the invention of motion pictures gave propaganda-creators a powerful tool for advancing political and military interests when it came to reaching a broad segment of the population and creating consent or encouraging rejection of the real or imagined enemy. In the years following the October Revolution of 1917, the Soviet government sponsored the Russian film industry with the purpose of making propaganda films (e.g. the 1925 film The Battleship Potemkin glorifies Communist ideals.)

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Joseph Goebbels was fascinated by Battleship Potempkin- it was a masterpiece of propaganda. Any viewer without firm politcal beliefs would be swayed towards supporting a Communist Revolution and whatever regime may follow.

In WWII, Nazi filmmakers produced highly emotional films to create popular support for occupying the Sudetenland and attacking Poland. The 1930s and 1940s, which saw the rise of totalitarian states and the Second World War, are arguably the “Golden Age of Propaganda“.

Leni Riefenstahl, a filmmaker working in Nazi Germany, created one of the best-known propaganda movies, Triumph of the Will. In the US, animation became popular, especially for winning over youthful audiences and aiding the U.S. war effort, e.g., Der Fuehrer’s Face, which ridicules Hitler and advocates the value of freedom.

US war films in the early 1940s were designed to create a patriotic mindset and convince viewers that sacrifices needed to be made to defeat the Axis Powers. Real life War hero Audie Murphy became a superstar for starring in films about his own experiences. Polish filmmakers in Great Britain created Anti-Nazi colour film Calling Mr. Smith about current Nazi crimes in occupied Europe and about lies of Nazi propaganda.

Even Charlie Chaplin himself got into the Anti-Nazi film making business, after finding Triumph of the Will so stupid that it was funny, so he created his own Satire; “The Dictator” which was supported by both the President and the allies- so much so that they regularly screened it to boost morale. On the other hand, Batman Serials were used for Anti-Japanese propaganda in order to justify Japanese internment during the war.

As the war dwindled out, the Nazi’s administration for propaganda struggled in spinning defeats into victories. They had lost  the propaganda war and in a week before the war officially ended, Joseph Goebbel murdered his wife and six children and then killed himself. Hitler would soon follow after.

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The West and the Soviet Union both used propaganda extensively during the Cold War. Both sides used film, television, and radio programming to influence their own citizens, each other, and Third World nations. George Orwell’s novels Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four are virtual textbooks on the use of propaganda. During the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro stressed the importance of propaganda. Propaganda was used extensively by Communist forces in the Vietnam War as means of controlling people’s opinions.

During the Yugoslav wars, propaganda was used as a military strategy by governments of Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Croatia. Propaganda was used to create fear and hatred, and particularly incite the Serb population against the other ethnicities (Bosniaks, Croats, Albanians and other non-Serbs). Serb media made a great effort in justifying, revising or denying mass war crimes committed by Serb forces during these wars

That’s a brief history of Propaganda, how it works is a different matter all together.

Propaganda-posters

Common media for transmitting propaganda messages include news reports, government reports, historical revision, junk science, books, leaflets, movies, radio, television, and posters. Some propaganda campaigns follow a strategic transmission pattern to indoctrinate the target group.

This may begin with a simple transmission, such as a leaflet or advertisement dropped from a plane or an advertisement. Generally these messages will contain directions on how to obtain more information, via a web site, hot line, radio program, etc. (as it is seen also for selling purposes among other goals). The strategy intends to initiate the individual from information recipient to information seeker through reinforcement, and then from information seeker to opinion leader through indoctrination.

A number of techniques based in social psychological research are used to generate propaganda. Many of these same techniques can be found under logical fallacies, since propagandists use arguments that, while sometimes convincing, are not necessarily valid.

Some time has been spent analysing the means by which the propaganda messages are transmitted. That work is important but it is clear that information dissemination strategies become propaganda strategies only when coupled with propagandistic messages. Identifying these messages is a necessary prerequisite to study the methods by which those messages are spread.

This is where Media Studies actually becomes useful, when you delve into what is referred to as Audience Theory.

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Audience Theory is an element of thinking that developed within academic literary theory and cultural studies. With a specific focus on rhetoric, some, such as Walter Ong, have suggested that the audience is a construct made up by the rhetoric and the rhetorical situation the text is addressing.

There’s four main theories of influence known as the Effects Model. The first model is referred to as the Hypodermic Needle Model, commonly known as the Magic Bullet Theory. It prescribes that an intended message is directly received and accepted by the receiver. It implies that the audience’s beliefs can be easily influenced by that of a media outlet such as a film or a newspaper.

Most recently the model has been employed (unintentionally) by American Conservatives proposing that Violent Video Games and other forms of media are to blame for regular mass shootings. There’s no evidence to suggest that this is the case, in fact most research has proved the exact opposite is true.

A practical example of this theory would be that a viewer of Battleship Potemkin would be immediately swayed into becoming a full blown Marxist. That the audience receives this information passively, without question and adjusts to it as a perception of reality- creating their own world view.

Most media isn’t powerful enough to sway the mind of an individual with such as ease, and if they are then the individual is gullible. What most people require to adopt an ideology is a filter between information and themselves, this technique is referred to as the Two-Step flow of communication and is the second theory in the Effects Model.

The two-step flow model theorises that most people aren’t influenced by the mass media that the Magic Bullet theory proposes, but rather that they instead form their opinions around certain individuals who break down the information presented by the mass media, digest it and then transmit it to their respective audiences. These individuals are referred to as Opinion Leaders, they are elected by our attention and in many cases our own money.

These leaders come in all shapes and sizes from both ends of the political spectrum. Whether they be news anchors, comedians, actors, activists or simply some guy on twitter who has a lot of followers- they break down information in a way that their audiences find tolerable, even present it in a humorous or entertaining manner.

An excellent example of an opinion leader would be Comedian and Political Commentator John Oliver from the American show Last Week Tonight. Every Sunday he has a thirty minute long episode in which he sums up the news of the week (usually in ten minutes) and then spends the rest of the show talking in depth about a certain topic like the Environmental Protection Agency or something along those lines.

The big story is developed purely to raise concerns over otherwise obscure topics that are left out of the Mainstream twenty-four hour news cycle. It’s basically like a big, long scary and/or sad lecture with occasional F-bombs and a penguin joke mixed in for good measure.

The show has a big influence, after John Oliver talked about Presidential Candidate Jill Stein’s stances on vaccines her campaign donations diminished exponentially. And while the show is fun and informative, it’s worth recognising that it is a show. There’s a lot left out, a lot skewed for the purposes of comedy- you’re not always getting the full story. Which is a main fault with many opinion leaders, their own biases infect the information they are breaking down.

Opinion Leaders are fine when they spread relatively nuanced news, but what makes them dangerous is when their main purpose is to indoctrinate their audience to their own ideology. The Far-Right are masterful at this because they’re so good at marketing. The vast majority of their followers are politically and historically illiterate so it’s not too difficult to convince them that the greatest threat to democracy is some really stupid college kids who complain about everything.

A good portion of those followers are men, most of whom are white and severely unhappy with their lives. That’s why they’re so susceptible to joining these Neo-Nazi organisation; because they desperately want to belong. They feel as if society has robbed them of an idealistic family life, the Nuclear Family- that never existed.

In the same way, Jihadists share similar concerns. Both are mostly miserable men seeking a sense of belonging and creating a society where they feel secure, valued and above all else- dominant. In an otherwise meaningless life they are handed a very strict doctrine that creates a sense of order. They are tasked with spreading that doctrine by whatever means necessary.

There’s an ethnic angle to it as well. Jihadist opinion leaders, who are usually remarkably intelligent men such as Doctors and Engineers, indoctrinate potential recruits by saying that the West is out to get them. That they are despised and will soon be hunted down and exterminated. To avoid this, they must join their organisation to stand up fro their brethren.

There’s a reason why the amount of Jihadist recruits doubled after the Bosnian Genocide- young Muslim men saw other Muslims being slaughtered and in their anger they decided to take up arms.

In many cases the White Nationalist Right Wing and Jihadists use each-other’s own propaganda videos to anger their own audience, to prove that the enemy detests them and that they need to be destroyed- no matter the cost.

Thankfully most people aren’t like that. They follow the third theory in the Effects Model; the Uses and Gratifications theory. The theory suggest that the audience is not passive, they don’t just blindly accept the information before them, but rather they’re Active- in that they show enough critical thinking to decipher what is plausible to what is complete bullshit.

The theory implies that the audience is able to use a piece of media, whether it be a film or TV show or a news item or anything heavily propagandised, for their own purposes of either entertainment or processing new information. So they can watch an episode of Last Week Tonight or a Clint Eastwood movie without the messages in either affecting their own personal beliefs and opinions.

The final Effects Model is one of the more harrowing theories in regards to Propaganda. Reception Theory states that the initial intent or messages of the initial texts is irrelevant to viewer, as they can choose to ignore it and assign their personal views and opinions to that said text. This interpretation of media relies solely on the individual viewers life experiences and various other factors, they may have issues breaking down the messages projected in the media item so they either appropriate it for their own cause or slander it by suggesting the entire thing is Propaganda.

An example of this would be interpreting the Disney film Frozen to be an allegory for a Gay person accepting who they are and coming out of the closet. Another example can be seen by the some American Conservatives who tried to appropriate Black Panther by suggesting the film idolised the same protectionist policies that Donald Trump has been moaning on for almost a decade.

Reception Theory allows the audience to engage in cognitive dissonance, they can sympathise with the plight of the Wildling searching for Refuge in Game of Thrones while simultaneously being unapologeticlly hostile towards the plight of real life refugees. They can interpret everything as Propaganda or absolutely nothing as Propaganda.

This is only getting worse as the methods of Propaganda have already adapted to the digital age. We’ve self segregated ourselves into our own little tribes, elected our own opinion leaders via a click of a button, to engage in screaming matches with opponents- arguments that lead nowhere and are often cut short by a plea of sympathy by the user citing a personal grievance or pointing out a hypocrisy that looks seemingly unrelated. No one learns, everyone’s biases are simply reaffirmed. Rinse and Repeat.

There’s various techniques used in propaganda. An appeal to Nationalism, to an individuals pride or ego, to make the viewer feel indebted to a cause they aren’t indebted to, to spark racial hatred, to dehumanise the undesirables, to engage in rigorous falsehoods- blurring the lines with Gas lighting and Whataboutery. All of this is integral to making the viewer fall for your propaganda.

Now, let’s get on with the review.

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The trailer at hand is an abysmal attempt at propaganda. It fails to find it’s own identity; is it a movie trailer? An infomercial? Who the hell knows.

The first problem out of the gate is timing; the video is just over four minutes long while it should be two minutes long- tops. There’s unnecessary, long gaps in between the voice over and even when there is a monologue it’s prone to repeat itself. The entire thing feels as if it had been edited together on the flight over there by Trumps twelve year old son on an iPad.

The trailer uses stock footage of women and kids, most of whom are Asian- possibly Korean but I honestly wouldn’t put it past Trump to put the wrong Asian people in hi fucking propaganda-infomercial. The women and children are of course accompanied by the flag of North Korea, an attempt to reach Kim’s sense of Nationalism and to establish himself as a protector.

The kids represent the future and innocence while the women appeal to Kim’s patriarchal tendencies to protect their own. That’s why the threat of intruders raping women is so effective as a Propaganda theme; it both dehumanises the perpetrator and justifies a false sense of authority for the men viewing the propaganda. That’s why Countries are often depicted as Women, it creates a maternal bond.

You wouldn’t let anyone get away with raping your Ma. Your Dad on the other hand? …Sorry lad, you’re just gonna have to walk that shit off. It’s a weird double standard that really shouldn’t exists. Rape is Rape, regardless of the victim.

The Americans gloss over the whole Korean War which is a wise move considering the President’s previous comments on history, such as Canada burning down the White House in the War of 1812. Can you imagine Trump talking about a War that resulted in a third of North Korea’s population being slaughtered?

The vast majority of the trailer contains stock footage, some of which is decent and bodes well for the subject matter. Other times it’s just plain shit. There’s five different shots of sunrises and two shot’s of a person wearing VR Goggles. They reuse the same footage on multiple occasions, the most offensive to my sensibilities was that shot of Kim walking towards the border- which is roughly thirteen seconds long and features several rapid cuts to the start which is just jarring.

Followed by the same footage being cropped, again with rapid cuts, to fool the uninitiated into thinking that it looks nice. Then when he does meet the South Korean president by the border they do this weird effect where they darken the right hand side of the screen to put emphasis on Kim. Probably to appeal to his narcissism.

I mean there has been much better uses of rapid cuts and montage in propaganda films before. Battleship Potempkin is notorious for that very reason. Sergei Eisenstein practically invented Montage with his propaganda films for the Soviet Union. He could visually show the influence of Religion over the State by showing a priest tapping a cross and then cutting to a soldier tapping his sword. That’s how you create meaning in film.

This whole trailer is just…lazy. Footage is either irrelevant or reused. And don’t even get me started about how fucking stupid that reverse engineered footage of the missile taking off/landing looks- it’s fucking terrible.

The trailer thinks that the actual peace meeting is a Movie, hence why the studios (yep, this was designed by a Studio) decided to include their name in the propaganda and include a “Starring Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un” alongside their respective quotes which just looks so terrible and tacky.

I hate it. I hate this trailer. It’s bad, a bastardisation of propaganda. They didn’t even use any Doves in the fucking thing! The universal symbol of Peace and they didn’t include any fucking Doves in their four minute trailer. What a terrible, terrible thing it truly was. But then again, it would be funny if peace in the North was brought about via a shitty movie trailer.

The bizarre thing is that Marketing is Trump’s thing. Everything he says is a lie and he knows that if you repeat it enough times then eventually people will believe it- just as Goebbel said. You have to treat the audience as if they were morons, appeal to their emotions over their reason, elevate vices over virtues- draw attention to the dark side and not the light.

Donald Trump is a Salesman, his product is himself. The fact that he could produce something so shit that even his own fans wouldn’t swallow it is truly remarkable. He is both the propagandist and the victim of propaganda.

 

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