Motivation is essential when considering persuasion. Knowing why an argument is being made is key to understanding the merit of that argument. But what about the consequences? In the long term, isn’t this what has the lasting impact?
One problem with many studies of propaganda is that they overlook the issue of reception. In this case, analysis focuses on the tactics and methods of those producing propaganda, while overlooking how people receive and process the propaganda. Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson (Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion) briefly address this when saying that recognizing propaganda tactics does not leave one immune to being manipulated by propaganda. But this in itself is a vague explanation of reception.
While reception would be difficult to measure, especially in cases of propaganda’s effectiveness, there are questions that are worth considering when analyzing any specific case.
How does propaganda affect behavior?
Exactly how much of the population is in agreement with the propaganda? Were they to begin with, or were they effectively persuaded?
What sorts of appeals are most effective to the audience?
What were the reactions of those who disagreed?
How was the propaganda received on an international basis?
Were the general consequences in accordance with the original motivations?
Or, some questions in reference to measuring reception itself:
Given the varying degrees to which people could be persuaded, how could the reception of propaganda be effectively measured?
Why isn’t this perspective generally addressed in studies of propaganda?
Okay…this isn’t the most PC way of presenting this argument, but I think it makes a valid point. Anyone who has ever taken a shot at editing film or video knows how easy it is to manipulate content. Simply by selecting where to cut (and how to make the cut as subtle as possible), information can be selected in a way that supports one’s argument.
Videos like this probably aren’t new to most people. But by the same token, is it as easy to recognize this when watching “fact-based” information? The evening news isn’t supposed to operate in this way. But to fit stories in between commercials and into a given time slot, it’s impossible not to.
And what about documentary film? That’s clearly not immune to this either, although there are people who believe that the medium was designed to communicate “the truth.” While some sources are more obvious than others about it, it’s more or less impossible not to frame information in a way that is to some extent personal.
In terms of propaganda, it’s not that uncommon for one source to use their enemy’s propaganda in a self-serving way. For example…
Exhibit A: During World War II, Frank Capra was commissioned to make the Why We Fight series…a collection propaganda films supporting the war effort. At one point, Capra uses clips from Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda film The Triumph of the Will (which was originally edited in a way that made Hitler into a god-like hero) to show Hitler as the dangerous and violent dictator that he was.
Exhibit B: Of the slew of anti-Michael Moore films that have been made, one thing that many of them have in common is the way they select clips that make Moore seem ignorant, obnoxious, and self-involved (similar to the way he frames the powerful and wealthy, more often than not a key member of the Republican party.)
The list goes on.
It all come back to the idea that words taken out of context lose their meaning, and that when considering the validity of any argument, what’s left out is just as important as what isn’t.