Sunday, February 12, 2017

Outline of a Discussion on Propaganda

Questions/issues [slightly amended here] re propaganda (primarily American) to be discussed on 2/7/2017 with 15-20 American University undergraduates during a one-hour segment of Professor Daniel Whitman's class, “Intercultural Understanding”; the class segment will be based on the readings cited below (and, most important, on the ideas of the students themselves).

WWII pamphlet image from

1. Questions for the class (with partial, tentative answers from its guest)

Why study propaganda?

  • Understand communication and its intent; the nature of truth
What is propaganda? What’s its purpose? 
  • Persuade an audience (s) for the propaganda sponsor’s benefit
Is propaganda morally acceptable – or morally reprehensible?
  • Moralist vs. neutralist
When did/does propaganda “start” -- and is most prevalent -- in history?
  • Present since the dawn of history, but surfaces especially in times of  war
Is there an anti-propaganda tradition in the U.S.? If so, when did it start? 
  • After WWI, this tradition “blamed” propaganda for: lies; violence to language; germs of hate; advertising; distorting history; being incompatible with democracy 
  • Institute for Propaganda Analysis (1937-1942); Fulbright program (1946); Smith-Mundt Act (1948)
Types of propaganda 
  • White, grey, black; fast, slow
Who’s the “best” propagandist? A “conscious “or “unconscious” one? 
  • Doesn’t appear to be carrying propaganda at all; must hate propaganda to do it well; doesn’t consider him/herself a propagandist
How to detect propaganda 
  • Institute for Propaganda Analysis criteria: Name calling, glittering generalities, transfer; testimonial; plain folks; card stacking; bandwagon
What is Public Diplomacy (PD)? Is it propaganda? 
  • Best PD: Truthful, factual; encourages international understanding; listens/hears and engages in dialogue; objectively displays national policies/achievements overseas, including in the arts 
  • Worst propaganda: Forces its messages on an audience, often by repetition and slogans; demonizes; simplifies; misrepresents the truth/deliberately lies.
    Is “intercultural understanding” a form of propaganda?

    Propaganda and terrorism
    • Propaganda of the deed
    What’s the role of propaganda in the social media age?
    • Omnipresent?; hard to tell the source; fake news
    B) Readings (short articles, not scholarly treatises; please read to deal with specific items raised by the above questions/issues)

    C) For your viewing “pleasure”

    9. The most famous classic propaganda film, the Nazi-produced Triumph of the Will; compare it to Casablanca

    "Good" Propaganda? (see)
    "Bad" Propaganda? (see)

    image from (see 

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