The concept of propaganda has a great deal of power to fascinate. So does the very word propaganda, which to most of us today sounds faintly exotic as if it referred mainly to phenomena from distant places and times. But in truth, can any one of us here in the twenty-first century go a day without being subjected to the thing itself? Watch the video above, in which The Paint Explainer lays out 51 different propaganda techniques in 11 minutes, and you’ll more than likely recognize many of the insidiously effective rhetorical tricks labeled therein from your recent everyday life.
You won’t be surprised to hear that these manifest most clearly in the media, both offline and on. The list begins with “agenda setting,” the “ability of the news to influence the importance placed on certain topics by public opinion, just by covering them frequently and prominently.”
Agenda setting means the “ability [of the news media] to influence the importance placed on the topics of the public agenda”. If a news item is covered frequently and prominently, the audience will regard the issue as more important.
Scattered throughout the news, or your social-media feed, advertisements bring out the “beautiful people,” which “suggests that if people buy a product or follow a certain ideology, they, too will be happy or successful” – or, in its basest forms, operates through “classical conditioning,” in which “a natural stimulus is associated with a neutral stimulus enough times to create the same response by using just the neutral one.”
In the even more shameless realm of politics, the common “plain folk” strategy “attempts to convince the audience that the propagandist’s positions reflect the common sense of the people.” When “an individual uses mass media to create an idealized and heroic public image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise,” a powerful “cult of personality” can arise. And in propaganda for everything from presidential candidates to fast-food chains, you’ll hear and read no end of “glittering generalities,” or “emotionally appealing words that are applied to a product idea, but present no concrete argument or analysis.” You can find many of these strategies explained in Wikipedia’s list of propaganda techniques, or this list from the University of Virginia of “propaganda techniques to recognize” — and not just when the “other side” uses them.