Why should all of this be important to us today? From the past we have learned how terribly propaganda can mislead and misinform people. The flip side of that cautionary note is that propaganda works.

It might be more accurate to say that a set of psychological insights and proven strategies can be applied by governments, politicians, advertisers, radio talk show hosts, or ardent advocates of any cause to influence how people think and act.

We can't be hypnotized or made to function like robots, but how we see and judge people and events, and how we act as a result, can be influenced to a startling degree by controlling the information we receive.

The key characteristic of propaganda is that it does not appeal to our reason but to our emotions. It is designed to manipulate, not inform.

There is much to consider here. We live in an age of 15- and 30-second tv ads, sound bites, spin control, and negative political campaigning. In a way, our whole perception of information has been skewed by the machinery of propaganda. The word itself is out of fashion, but very sophisticated forms of propaganda are used to sell us products, capture our vote, and make us support or reject various causes.

To think clearly and judge wisely, we need to develop strategies to identify propaganda, dissect it, and then decide what to do about it and its messages.

To do this, we will move back in time and focus primarily on the Nazis and their use of propaganda in posters, art, language, and film. They were masters of mass media manipulation and the molding of public opinion. We'll jump back to the 1930's.

The clip on the right is from a Pat Buchanan presidential campaign ad. To investigate propaganda in campaigning further, select it, view the ad, and check the analysis.


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