WRH 315: Propaganda and You

Originally posted on TechCrunch:

There are plenty of how-to sites on the Internet, but sometimes, in the words of Guides.co CEO Scott Annan, you need to look up something “more complicated than tying a tie or stuffing a turkey.” When you do, Annan is hoping you’ll visit the Guides.co website.

He argued that most forms of content have been reinvented for the digital world, but not instructional, how-to books — which, unlike a novel, “you don’t read from start to finish.” When published through the Guides.co platform, instructional content is broken down into more digestible chunks, with easy navigation for the reader and the ability for authors to keep their content up to date. Basically, it’s closer to an interactive website rather than an e-book.

Guides.co also gives authors more details about who their readers are (you have to sign up and provide your email address to get access) and what they’re reading…

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For my final project, I will be focusing on Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty. I find this ad campaign interesting because it has a certain duality to it. They’re trying to raise self-esteem in women, but at the same time they’re trying to sell beauty products. Granted, their use of “real” women of all ages, body types, and ethnicities is revolutionary, and the profits from these products actually do fund self-esteem workshops for young girls in organizations like Girl Scouts of America or the Boys and Girls Club. When considering the four strategems of influence and other methods of propaganda used in advertising, Dove relies on debunking standard conventions used in beauty product advertising by using “real” models in ads (rather than the standard young, white, fair-featured models), providing educational tools and research on their website to support their credibility, and essentially placing their products as a solution to unrealistic beauty standards in the media (i.e.-they say their products boost self-esteem, profits from these products fund self-esteem workshops for girls, etc.). The link at the end of this post includes research, statistics, and other information that I’ll be incorporating into my final project. I’m also going to provide some multimedia on the blog that I’ll reference in my paper.

http://www.dove.us/#/cfrb/

The film’s message of promoting sustainable food production is clearly outlined in the shocking images and facts that are repeatedly brought up in the various segments in the film. First, authors and food industry researchers Pollan and Schlosser give an overview of the history behind the mass production of meat and produce. The filmmakers interview corn growers (who grow excess amounts of corn to keep its price below market value to feed cattle and chickens in CAFO’s) and contract chicken farmers with Tyson. Pollan explains that cows and chickens naturally don’t eat corn, but meat production companies feed corn to the animals because a) it’s cheap, and b) it speeds up their development when hormones are included. After shocking images of cows and chickens crowded together in CAFO’s eating corn out of feed troughs and standing in their own excrement, Pollan summarizes the detrimental impact feeding corn to mass-produced animals on the environment and human health. He states that animal excrement from CAFO’s can contaminate nearby water supplies and can even be found in the finished meat products. Next, the film conveys the negative health impacts by focusing on Barbara Kowalcyk and her advocacy for food safety. She explains that she was working for Congress to pass legislation on stricter USDA food testing regulations entitled Kevin’s Law, named after her two and a half-year-old son Kevin who died from E.coli. Afterwards, the film focuses on the negative socioeconomic impact of the food industry by interviewing a Hispanic meat company workers union leader and following him on a local police raid for illegal Mexican immigrants who worked with him at a meat packing plant. The film crew also went inside the pork processing plant where the Mexican immigrants worked. The workers were required to not only slaughter the pigs through electrocution but also perform gruesome tasks like separating the slaughtered pig carcasses with meat-cutting saws. Finally, the film visits Polyface Farms, an organic farm in Virginia and interviews its owner. Images of the cattle grazing in open pastures and the farmers carefully preparing each slaughtered chicken for sale contrast drastically from the images of the CAFO’s and meat processing plants of large food corporations. Thus, through emphasis on the negative effects of the mass-produced, conglomerate food industry, the film conveys its message in a shocking and compelling manner.

Finally, the emotional appeal of Food, Inc. is prevalent throughout the entire film. Harsh images of the mistreatment of animals in CAFO’s, the poignant story of Barbara Kowalcyk’s son’s death from food-borne illness and her activism, and the footage of Mexican migrant workers being dragged out of their homes by a police raid in the middle of the night all invoke a strong emotional response from the audience by forcing them to become aware of the negative impact of the food industry on U.S. society. The creators of the film then give the audience a direction for their newly-incited awareness by directing them to go onto the film’s website to sign petitions, find local organic food, contact legislators for food safety laws, and many other options. Thus, the film sustains a strong emotional appeal through harsh images and poignant personal stories before finally encouraging the audience to stand up against the corrupt food industry.

In conclusion, Food, Inc. uses a variety of techniques from propaganda in order to convey its message. Through the four stratagems of persuasion, the film conveyed its message in a shocking and powerful manner while also giving the audience direction for activism. Therefore, the four stratagems of persuasion are used in the film Food, Inc. in order to convey the movie’s message as propaganda for positive change.

When most people think of propaganda films, they associate them with a major organization that has a negative or detrimental political agenda that reaches a large audience. For instance, the propaganda films from Nazi Germany are infamous for spreading the negative ideals of the Nazi party through the medium of film in order to present their message to the country. However, elements of propaganda films can also be incorporated into films that have messages that seek to implement positive change within society. For example, the Academy Award nominated documentary Food, Inc. has a mission of revealing the detrimental practices of corporate farming in the U.S. food industry; at the end, the film provides audience with steps they can take to improve the sustainability of their food-purchasing practices. Nevertheless, like other propaganda films, Food, Inc. uses the four stratagems of persuasion in order to convey their message in a visually-striking, almost shocking manner that captures and holds the audience’s attention. Therefore, the four stratagems of persuasion are used in the film Food, Inc. in order to convey the movie’s message as propaganda for positive change.

Pre-persuasion is established immediately in the film’s first scene. The opening credits and one of the film’s commentator’s off-screen narration take place within a typical American grocery store. As the opening credits roll by, one of the film’s commentators noted that most corporate food producers, especially meat companies, use the image of the pastoral farm to advertise their products. According to the commentator on the film, by using the image of a farm, the customers associate farm-fresh quality and wholesomeness with the large corporations’ meat and produce. Sure enough, the grocery store in focus has images of red barns, cattle, and burly white men in overalls over its meat and produce displays. Following the introduction, images of cow carcasses hanging from a conveyor belt in an industrial slaughter-house and an aerial view of miles of a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) with thousands of cows contradict the food companies’ “farm fresh” marketing campaigns. The juxtaposition of the images of the food companies’ campaigns in the grocery store and their actual meat-processing facilities establish pre-persuasion by discrediting the food companies’ advertising campaigns and exposing the true nature of mass food production. Thus, the film’s introduction establishes their credibility with pre-persuasion by exposing the truth behind food companies’ mass-production methods.

The film also establishes source credibility through its commentators and interviewees. Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, and Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, both served as commentators in various sections of the movie. Pollan and Schlosser conducted extensive research in the U.S. food industry before the publication of their books on the subject, and both authors and are currently activists for sustainable food production. Schlosser is even shown serving as an advocate against genetically modified produce during a California House of Representatives session focused on developing a law requiring the labeling of genetically modified produce in stores. The film also establishes source credibility by interviewing a contract chicken farmer for Tyson. The farmer took the film crew on a tour in one of her chicken houses where she raised chickens for Tyson. The conditions of the chicken house were severe, with the animals crowded together from hatching to shipment to Tyson with little ventilation or light. The chickens were also given food with growth hormones so that they would reach development faster for quicker production. The farmer expressed disdain for Tyson and their requirements for raising chickens, but she also stated that with production costs, she would not be able to afford to operate the farm independently. Thus, the film establishes credibility by providing sources both inside and outside of the food industry.

Excerpt from Diary of a Wimpy Kid

When I was reading the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books by Jeff Kinney, I came across a passage where Greg, the main character in seventh grade, wants to run for class treasurer at his middle school. The main character’s opponent, Marty Porter, was more likely to win the position of treasurer because he did better in math classes than Greg. Since he was feeling threatened by his opponent’s qualifications, Greg decided to use a personal attack in his own campaign. For his posters, Greg drew a picture of Marty scratching his head. The text around the illustration states, “Remember in second grade when Marty Porter had head lice? Do you really want him touching YOUR money?” Although the vice principal made Greg take his campaign posters down for being “insulting,” the tactics used in bringing up incidents from a candidate’s personal life are not uncommon in political campaigns.
The strategy of bringing up events from a candidate’s personal life is focused on weakening the candidate’s credibility/qualifications by highlighting weaknesses in their overall character, past decisions, etc. This strategy reflects tactics used in propaganda that draw the audience’s attention away from a political candidate’s positive characteristics and qualifications while bombarding them with almost irrelevant shortcomings from their personal life or career background. For example, in the 2006 Tennessee Senate race, Democratic candidate Harold Ford had the lead in supporters over Republican candidate Bob Corker before the election. However, Corker ran a “smear” campaign ad where he emphasized the fact that Ford once attended a Super Bowl party that was co-sponsored by Playboy. This fact had almost nothing to do with Ford’s political experience, but it was obviously enough to help Corker win the Senate seat. Thus, tactics used in “smear” campaigns where details from an opposing candidate’s personal life influence voters are examples of propaganda in political campaigns.

This post will be focused on a story covered by Fox News’ morning program, Fox and Friends, on how a recent study showed that college graduates were more likely to have a liberal political stance after obtaining a degree. The commentator in the segment accused “liberal” professors of promoting “propaganda” to “impressionable young minds” in college classrooms. However, the news segment itself employs various strategies used by propagandists.

This segment employs the four stratagems of influence used in propaganda, including pre-persuasion, establishing source credibility, delivering the message in a way to focus the audiences’ attention solely on their main point, and controlling the emotions of the audience so that they respond in accord with the presenter’s desired course of action. Like most news networks, this news segment covers a topic that would gain the immediate interest of the audience: the possible decline of higher education. Thus, the “Trouble with Schools” news segment on Fox News uses various techniques found in propaganda in order to capture the immediate attention of their audience.

The first stratagem of influence demonstrated in this news segment, pre-persuasion, is established within the opening statements of Fox News contributor Tucker Carlson. He reviews a recent intercollegiate study that stated that obtaining a college degree not only makes young adults more liberal but also fails to increase “civic knowledge.” In order to emphasize this point, Carlson states, “According to this study, more than a third of all college graduates cannot name the three branches of government.” He establishes pre-persuasion in the segment by emphasizing that some college graduates lack a basic understanding of an aspect of the U.S. government that should be common knowledge for U.S. citizens.

The establishment of credibility, the second stratagem of influence, is utilized midway through the news segment. Both the lead male news anchor and Carlson emphasize that the study in focus was conducted by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute in order to legitimize the source of their data for the story.

The third stratagem of influence is apparent when Carlson reemphasizes the second portion of the study’s results: young adults become more liberal on social issues after four years of college. This statement focuses the audience’s attention on the threat of liberal influence in higher education rather than allowing the audience to question the data that supported this portion of the study.

The final stratagem of influence in this segment elicits an emotional response from the audience and offers a solution to the problem at hand. The news anchor provokes an emotional response from the audience by asking Carlson, “How do we fix this if degrees are making graduates more likely to support same-sex marriage [and] less likely to support school prayer and American work ethic?” The key words, “same-sex marriage,” “school prayer” and “American work ethic” would elicit strong negative and positive emotional responses from conservative viewers. Carlson offers a solution to this issue by suggesting that colleges have “diversity of opinion” by employing professors who aren’t “conventional lifestyle liberals.” Thus, this news segment utilizes four stratagems of influence found in propaganda while warning viewers of a “threat” (such as liberal viewpoints in education) like most news stories.

Just as a follow-up with my last post, I’m putting up the last video in the series for the Ponds “White Beauty” ads. Notice the difference in the female lead’s skin tone between the first video and this video:

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