When we think of “propaganda,” we typically think of foreign actors spreading political messages to the masses to subvert our way of life. Though that’s one type of propaganda, it doesn’t scratch the surface of what we’re subjected to daily.
What Is Propaganda?
Propaganda is any biased or misleading information used to promote a specific point of view. Though typically political, propaganda is also used to promote religious beliefs, corporate agendas, and in culture wars.
Key Features of Propaganda
The critical components of propaganda are an appeal to emotion, a misleading or exaggerated message, and the promotion of a particular viewpoint.
Here are examples of propaganda we encounter every day that we may not think of as propaganda.
One insidious characteristic of propaganda is that people tend to only view it as things they disagree with when in reality, propaganda transcends belief. It’s coming from all sides.
You may agree with something, but that doesn’t mean it’s not propaganda.
We love to think of our favorite news source as unbiased. A free and fair press is embedded in the Constitution, after all!
But most news stations have political agendas and will promote causes and politicians aligning with their goals. They call their reporting “news,” while they only report on news that fits their worldview and advances their agenda, ignoring any relevant information that doesn’t fit.
Many of our favorite internet memes were created by folks looking to promote their cause. Memes are cultural snippets designed to propagate through the internet. Most have a message, and those who agree with the statement tend to share the meme, spreading it further.
Hollywood collaborates with the armed forces to make blockbusters, but it also has another underlying cause and effect. When young people see their heroes fighting bad guys in the military, they join.
The Color Guard
Thousands of sporting events across the country start with the National Anthem, and many of the most significant events have a military color guard march on the field to present arms.
The military pays some organizations for the honor of being on the field, promoting the armed services as a career field.
Propaganda masters use potent words to spread their message. When we declare war on something that’s not an actual war, we send the message that it’s a battle for our lives.
Things like the War on Drugs and Christmas aren’t real wars but create emotional reactions in people, getting them amped up and ready to fight.
The numerous shows highlighting the hard work police and prosecutors do to lock away horrific criminals are mostly propaganda supporting the police state. Most cities don’t have nearly as many scary criminals, and most cops are locking folks away for minor offenses.
The Pledge of Allegiance
In schools across the United States, children stand each morning and pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.
People from other countries consider it fascist propaganda.
Feel Good Stories
We all love a heartwarming tale, but many feel-good stories in the news are designed to hide the horrendous dystopian the US has become.
Sure, it’s sweet that the 80-year-old janitor’s coworkers banded together to buy him a car and that the little girl started a lemonade stand to pay for her mother’s cancer treatment, but what kind of society allows those situations to happen in the first place?
Hallmark movies push a specific type of conformity. Fall in love, get married, settle in a small town, and raise a family. This is one of the most insidious types of propaganda because no one is really aware of what it is. However, the message is clear: follow the Hallmark script for a happy life.
Anyone who thinks critically about it realizes there are many paths to happiness.
Hollywood is the master of propaganda. The cultural phenomenon pushes strict gender roles, glamorizes toxic relationships, and instills the idea that marriage and children are the epitome of success for a woman.
Women in movies enjoy the single life until they realize their lives are empty without children, while men in movies self-actualize into heroes. Women become objects, prizes, and motivations for men, who always save the day. The toxic, abusive man always wins the girl’s heart in the end.
The entire Hollywood machine is a never-ending spool of propaganda designed to keep everyone in line.
Nearly everything we see online is actually propaganda in one way or another, especially political or cultural messaging.
The powers that be want to sway public opinion. To avoid brainwashing, take everything you see with a grain of salt. Think critically about it: who created this message, and what do they want you to get out of it? Is it factual or based on an opinion? Is it exaggerated or designed to appeal to your emotions?
Taking a step back to examine what you see and hear will protect you from the onslaught of propaganda you’re bombarded with every day.
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