Thursday, August 15, 2013

Taking a proper gander

Taking a ‘proper gander’ is to take a really good look. But ‘propaganda’ is, if anything, implying that what you see is diffused, distorted, or even disingenuous.

On Tuesday I went to London with a friend and, before enjoying ‘Woman in Black’ at the Fortune Theatre, we went to the British Library and visited ‘Propaganda, power and persuasion’.  From origins (anti-papist cartoons, even Egyptian monoliths) through war (I was hugely impressed with some early animation from WWI) via health and all the way up to today. Propaganda is part of our lives.

The leaflet that accompanies the exhibition has a ‘user’s guide to basic techniques’. Just in case you fancied overthrowing a government, or establishing a new religion perhaps... in fact, when I looked at the basic techniques, they are so much a part of my world that it was just a little bit scary.

Here are the British Library’s basic techniques, and my interpretation of how I encounter them:

1. Establish authority

I’m a manager – if I had no authority, I couldn't manage or lead my team.

2. Exploit existing beliefs

We live in a world surrounded by social, religious and moral beliefs, behaviours and mores. I need say no more – just watch the news.

3. Appeal to patriotism

Before we go down the dangerous nationalist route, I only need think about the work I do every day which talks about how a disease affects hundreds of thousands of people in our country, impacting our economy and our lives. I probably wouldn't get very far on the basis that the disease affects far more people (over 5 million) in the US.

4. Create fear

Fear is a key motivator in advertising. Brush your teeth regularly with ‘Wonderpaste’ so you don’t get gum disease and lose all your friends...

5. Use humour

I'm sure you can come up with plenty of examples, but to give you a hint, look at any of the newspapers and you will find cartoons of politicians, celebrities, business leaders...

6. Imply everyone agrees

Or every cat, or at least 8 out of 10 cats...

7. Disguise the source

Friend of a friend strikes again... social media is wonderfully rife with stories and scares and outrage and you believe it because your friends told you so. Trace the source of some of these stories and, if you had known the origins in the first place, you would not have paid the slightest bit of attention to the issue.

8. Hammer it home

As we say in advertising, tell them once, tell them again, then tell them you’ve told them.

9. Make false connections

For this one I’ll repeat what the BL say: “Start with an uncontested statement and link it with something more controversial. Many people will not notice that there is no logical link between the two.”

10. Be selective about the truth

90% of women in our survey loved it... we surveyed 10 women. One of them thought it was absolutely disgusting.

11. Establish a leadership cult

Watch out Simon Cowell... for as leaders rise, so do they fall. Sadly, in my opinion, leadership cults (and celebrities are leaders) are the motivating factor for millions of people. Beware the feet of clay.

I loved the exhibition – from the cartoon of the pope as a bizarre mythological creature through to the 80s TV advert about AIDS – propaganda isn’t a word, it’s an intrinsic part of our everyday lives.

Disney WWII propaganda cartoon (not featured in exhibition)
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