Propaganda has existed as a method of communication for a long time. It was originally a neutral term used to describe the dissemination of information in favor of any given cause. The redefinition implying its now negative connation arose because of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany's admitted use of propaganda favoring communism and fascism respectively, in all forms of their public expression. Propaganda under this connation still exists, however it’s evolution over the centuries has ensured its survival in the most unassuming ways. This paper will highlight the definitions of propaganda, the uses of propaganda in history through religion, Nazi Germany and the Cold War; its reappearance after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the 1995 Canadian referendum, evolution into advertising and how society today has become almost indifferent to it.
What is Propaganda?
Traditional propaganda is defined as a systematic manipulation of public opinion, generally through the use of symbols, monuments, speeches and publications. Today’s “modern” propaganda is distinguished from other forms of communication in that it is consciously and deliberately used to influence group attitudes; with all other communication functions being secondary. Therefore, almost any attempt to sway public opinion, including lobbying, commercial advertising and even missionary work, can be broadly interpreted as propaganda. However propaganda, more often than not, is associated with political situations referring to efforts by governments and political groups.
Propaganda itself can be categorized as White, Gray, or Black, depending on the accuracy of information and where source is credited – if it’s credited at all! White propaganda is defined as coming from a source that is identified correctly and contains information that tends to be accurate such as national pride messages. A message considered Black propaganda when the source is concealed or credited to a false authority, and spreads lies, fabrications and deceptions. Gray propaganda falls somewhere between these two forms as the source may or may not be correctly identified, and the accuracy of the information is uncertain. Ultimately though, the success or failure of any propaganda depends on the receiver’s willingness to accept the credibility of the source and the content of the message.
The first use of propaganda is credited to the Catholic Church with their creation of sainthood; which was created to influence opinions and beliefs on religious issues. From the fourth century onwards, the church launched an immense propaganda campaign aimed at communicating the character, powers and importance of saints as a method of keeping the loyalty of their existing followers and as a tactic to gain new ones. The Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of Faith was responsible for the campaign in spreading this message. Through their monasteries, the church was able to target emperors, kings and upper noblemen with the message of the saints. Once the church had the buy-in of rulers, the reputations of these saints were given more validity to the general population and their shrines became protected as sacred places.
It should be noted that during this period very few people outside the church were literate thereby making authentication of any information difficult. In order to spread the message of the saints, the church used relied on oral messaging and stories told through images such as in the stained glass seen today in cathedrals. For the average person, the church carried absolute authority as it was considered to be the leading source of knowledge. With this power, the church was easily able to bring their saints to life, so to speak. While the propaganda of saints was originally intended as a missionary tool, their resulting successes strengthen a variety of religious objectives. Saints helped reestablish the monastic movement after a period...
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