As we approach the mid-term elections it would be comforting to be assured our voting decisions will be based on a thoughtful, logical perusal of information that is given us by the media and from public discourse. We have historically believed that a free and open election is the backbone of our democracy. Unfortunately, a closer look at this electoral process makes clear it is far from perfect.
Our ability to objectively fulfill our voting responsibilities has been manipulated by a subtle yet effective process. Numerous writers have expressed alarm at this capturing of “men’s minds”; however, public comfort level for the status quo remains bland.
As early as 1937 a group of social scientists led by Clyde Miller warned, “The world today is the victim of ceaseless propaganda suppressing, exaggerating and distorting established facts that now appear almost unrecognizable.”
The following is a list of some of the most commonly used propaganda tools in our society and examples of how they are used. Hopefully this information will be helpful in providing some inoculation against the unsavory effects of propaganda.
Name calling uses good- or bad-sounding words to label a person, action or object. Examples include “pinko”, “oakie”, “half-wit”, “goofball”, “freeloader”, “loser,” “redneck,” “fake news,” “hysterical woman.” The catchy phrase, “let us not Californicate Oregon” was coined by the late Oregon Gov. Tom McCall.
Glittering generalizations trade on “virtue words” that bring credit to the speaker but have no intrinsic significance. “I believe in good government,” “I’m for social justice.” This tool can be used in the negative to evoke a strong emotional response, as in Governor McCall’s describing a pulp and paper mill that was emitting horrible odors as a “cancer on the bosom of the Willamette Valley.”
Bandwagon assumes numerical plurality as a benefit. It capitalizes on the desire of many people to belong to a group.” Everybody is doing it” or, “90 percent of Oregonians approve of this bill.”
Plain folks suggests the speaker has the same values and life experiences of the listeners. “My parents were poor, hard working class people” “I honestly feel your pain and anger because I have been there!”
Testimonial was used frequently by tobacco companies in the 1940s to make smoking popular by showing Hollywood stars or athletic heroes smoking cigarettes. “Nine ourt of 10 doctors recommend using ...” is still frequently used as is “Everybody loves me.”
Short-circuiting the issue shifts the blame by discarding the unwinnable primary issue to another issue that is more favorable. “Why punish me for doing this deed when everybody else is doing it?” is currently popular with all ages, as is “Officer, you can’t give me a speeding ticket, everybody speeds on this highway!”
Transfer is a subtle tool connecting favorable, respected symbols with a person or product. Examples include playing patriotic music during a national convention, or placing the speaker before the national flag. A lot of beer has been sold with pictures of mountain scenes or horses pulling wagons on the label.
Victim hegemony can be traced back to ancient times when governments exaggerated real or imaginary acts of injustice which invited sympathy for the “victim” and indignation toward the alleged perpetrator. Today, the accusation of being attacked by a “bad press” has become a badge of honor.
Stewart McCollom of Ashland is a former acting president of Southern Oregon College and served as a Jackson County commissioner.