Propaganda in film and the manipulation of popular opinion in modern western civilization
Ever since Aristotle outlined his principles of persuasion in Rhetoric, these principles of persuasion or compliance have been an important part of human history. However, the word "Propaganda" is a relatively new term and is associated with ideological struggles in
the twentieth century. It was originally used by the Vatican to describe the systematic spread of beliefs, values or practices in the seventeenth century and to counteract the ideas of the Protestant reformation.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when it was used in Europe it was quite neutral and described various political beliefs, religious evangelism and commercial advertising. An example of the earliest use of political propaganda included the literature of the American Revolution The Declaration of Independence, written by Thomas Jefferson was the ultimate form of rational propaganda. It was written with the idea of rallying the public around the idea of America as a country and to justify its existence to the world. Examples of literary propaganda include the histories of the French author Voltaire, the pamphlets of the religious reformer Martin Luther, and the works of Karl Marx.
During the First World War, the meaning of theword "Propaganda" and its neutrality changed. With the technological advances with respect to warfare, the traditional methods of recruiting men for the military was not sufficient.
For governments public opinion became very important. As a result, newspapers, posters and the cinema, the various media of mass communication were used on a daily basis to address the public. Consequently, propaganda came to be associated with censorship and misinformation because it was used more and more in the form of psychological warfare against the enemy. From the beginning of the war, both the Germans and British tried to gain the support of the United States.
Once it had entered the war, the United States organized the Committee on
Public Information, an official propaganda agency, to help get the public behind the war. Propaganda used opinion for the purpose of influencing the actions or attitudes of individuals or groups. Propaganda was therefore completely different from scientific
analysis. Propaganda influences someone or something, be it good or bad, while the scientist tries to discover something new and in so doing is prepared for examination and criticism of his facts and ideas.
The propagandist does not want to be scrutinized or cirticized because propaganda often uses distortions of fact and appeals to passion and prejudice and it is usually false or misleading. Some propagandists deliberately distort the facts, others do not,
but no matter what, propaganda tries to persuade people through rational or emotional appeal or personal opinion.After the First World War, "Propaganda" continued to be used in every country but in the democratic countries it was disseminated through "information services" or "public education." With the negative connotation of the word its use was avoided because it did not seem to be consistent with the ideals of democracy. The democratic governments began associating it with totalitarian states, such as Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany because these governments did not hesitate to use the term.
During World War II, Adolph Hitler
established the Ministry of Propaganda. Its role was to make up and use incidents to defend his occupation of other European countries. Before each action was taken by Germany against another country, the German press and radio publicized examples of persecution of
German minorities in the other country.
Art of which the film genre is a part had always been influenced by its patron groups: such as the church, monarchy, aristocracy and government.
The use of art for the benefit of
politics is evident throughout history. Rulers of the city-states, kingdoms, and empires of the ancient world used art to express their power, glorify their victories, or intimidate and defame their enemies. The political symbols and rituals of imperial Rome were very elaborate. Throughout the Middle Ages, art was closely associated with politics because religion and the secular state were one and the same.
From the early sixteenth century, particularly in Renaissance Italy, the artists that achieved fame had to design political paraphernalia for their patrons or masters. The notion that art was motivated by the artist's convictions began to be espoused in the late eighteenth century. It was during the period of Romanticism that the artist's individualism and social independence began to be embraced. The idea that self-expression was the true function of art and that it should not be influenced by everyday social
or political concerns started to be accepted.
However, considering art's historical utilization, with the invention of film in the late nineteenth century, it seems rather incredulous that this form of artistic expression could remain untouched by ideology and politics. The history of modern propaganda is very closely associated with the rise of mass media and mass culture of which film is an important component. This type of propaganda uses mass-production of
images and it soon became apparent to the elite that cinema would be one of the most effective instruments in this form of persuasion.
Fascism was dependent on the technologies of the mass media.
In Germany the rallies used public address systems, and were broadcast on radio and screened in theatres. Huge architectural structures and spaces were used based on sports stadiums and sets of Hollywood musicals. "The rallies made sure that they encompassed all the aspects of art, including drama, choreography, music, and architecture to provide a total experience. The most famous
rally, the Party Congress of 1934, filmed by Leni Riefenstahl as Triumph of the Will, shows how the event was organized into a symbolic pattern of images. The people were arranged into geometric formations symbolizing the transformation of the formless masses into a united national force. Hitler's procession down a wide aisle between the ranks to rise to his solitary position above them symbolizes the myth that he was an ordinary soldier who rose
from the ordinary people to bring them his message.
his ascension to the viewing stand and the exchange of blessings projects his image as both a god and a priest. he is all-seeing and at the same time the focus of everyone. Hitler's claims to be the personification of the will of the people and he is seen by the people as a leader who reflects their collective personality. The constant editing between the massed ranks, the swastikas, and Hitler's face expresses the main
slogan of the rally: "Ein Volk, ein Fuhrer, ein Reich." The rhetoric of "I, you and us" is continually stressed in his speeches. And when the party leadership are no more, your task will be to hold fast to the flag we once raised from the void.
And I know that you can and will do no different; for you are flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood; and the spirit that burns in your young minds is the same spirit by which we ourselves are dominated."
The rally takes place over several days and mainly young men who have come from all different parts of the country take part. "The activities of speeches, oath-taking, and singing by firelight shows the intention to break down the capacity for individual thought or
reflection. Lack of privacy, removal from familiar surroundings, and sleep deprivation brought about emotional vulnerability. These were reinforced by the rhythmic repetition of drilling, drumming and chanting.The mixing of politics and religion and contemporary events
with legends of the past were characteristic of the techniques for achieving a cultic spirit of popular support.
This documentary of the sixth Nazi Party Congress at Nuremberg, is an example of the power of propaganda film. With lighting, sounds, symbols, and images, including German fighter planes in the air, to strong, young German men, to Hitler's speech, "the film created a nationalistic, euphoric, feeling toward Germany and the Nazis." It was intended to sway people's thoughts with emotions rather than logic. Every film maker knows how he
wants a scene to play, what he wants to present to his audience and how he wants them to react.
The intent of propaganda through film is to create the same reaction from everyone who sees it. What the film, Triumph of the Will, did do was help launch Hitler into power.The aim of Nazi Propagandists, once they were in power, was to demonstarte German power, stir up German National pride and send an anti-semitic message. Hitler believed that the youth were the future of Germany and that his master race should be attractive, with blond hair and blue eyes. He tried to influence and shape the youth of Germany by teaching them hate through propaganda, and the most effective medium that he found was film. It appealed to everyone, young and old.
Hitler once stated that "The art of propaganda lies in understanding the emotional ideas of the great masses and finding,
through a psychologically correct form, the way to the attention and thence to the heart of the broad masses." The movies of German filmmaker Fritz Hippler were shown to audiences around the world. The most notorious of these films is called "The Eternal Jew." This movie
has been described as "the all-time hate film." Its not important if the propaganda is true, but if it gets someone to act.
This film definitely did this. Because of its effectiveness, the reaction to "The Eternal Jew" was unbelievable. German audiences cheered at the thought of the annihilation of the Jewish race in the film. The Nazi Party made Genocide a national policy.
Excerpt from the film:
"Wherever rats turn up, they spread annihilation throughout the land, destroying property and food supplies. This is how they disseminate disease. Pestilence, leprosy, typhus, cholera, dysentery. Just like the Jews among mankind, rats represent the very essence of
malicious and subterranean destruction."
To be effective, propaganda had to make a complex idea simple. It is based on the manipulation and repetition of these simple ideas.
The Nazis employed propaganda to convince the Germans that Jews were "Untermensch", or sub-human, and must be exterminated. In all the posters and films made, Jews were shown to be evil, disease ridden, dirty, and had to be destroyed. In contrast, Germans were always shown as representative of the Aryan race; blonde hair and blue eyed, healthy and strong. The aim was to create a hatred
of the Jews, and looking at the results of the Holocaust, this was achieved.Twentieth century advances in mass communication have had a profound impact on society.
As we have witnessed, movies, in particular, have had an incredible influence on many people. Film has both shaped and reflected public opinion, and should be regarded as a
very effective tool. There is no better medium than the cinema for expressing a message through symbols and drama. Film has been used for propaganda since its invention. As early as 1898, three years after its invention, it was used to move the public about the Spanish-
Even thought many scenes were staged, the public thought they were seeing acutal events. In the years leading up to World War I, films were made that portrayed both sides of America's viewpoints on whether to enter the war. On the pro-war side, Battle Cry of Peace, was made in 1915, showing the rape and pillage of New York by German soldiers to promote the idea of military preparedness. Another film, Civilization, 1916, reflected President Woodrow Wilson's view and campaign slogan "Keep us out of War".
World War I, few films were made about The Great War until the late 1920's. With the coming of of sound, messages could be more effective. All Quiet on the Western Front depicted the excitement and danger of war and the public came to feel that war was useless
and wasteful. Documentary films are considered to reflect reality and are factual, and therefore are an excellent way to present a message.
Triumph of the Will came to be known as the legendary documentary. When the United States entered the war, the War Department
needed to motivate soldiers and recruited Hollywood's most talented film makers to get their message across. Frank Capra made the Why We Fight series to help Americans justify fighting a long and costly war. President Roosevelt ordered the first segment, Prelude to
War to be shown at military bases, high schools and churches.A theme that many postwar films contained was that peace brings prosperity and that war has to be endured if there was to be hope for a better future and finally that the black Americans should be included in that future.
An important film reflecting this theme was The Negro Soldier in World War II (1944). During the Cold War, a period of conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union, propaganda continued to be an important tool when it came to national policy. Both blocs tried to win over the uncommitted countries and thereby achieve their objectives without resorting to armed conflict. Many films have been made promoting the image and beliefs of political candidates. The Roosevelt Express was made in 1944 by the AFL-CIO in support of the Democratic candidate.
Other government agencies also used film propaganda to advance their cause. J. Edgar Hoover used film to promote the FBI by establishing the G-Man as a hero that the country needed to make the state secure.
In our exaination of propaganda it has become apparent that it is the elite that control the media and use its immense power to shape opinions and outlooks.
Freedom of the press has always been an important axiom of democracy and one of America's cherished rights.
Those who think that America's media is one of the freest might be somewhat surprised to find out that almost all the means of communication, from satellites, to the television networks, to the TV stations, to the newspaper chains and the major book publishing houses are owned by the elite. The important thing to realize is not just that the elite own virtually all the Western media, but that it is now owned by a very small handful of them. The shocking truth is that the ownership of newspapers and TV stations has already been consolidated to such a degree that independent news coverage is almost nonexistent.
Only one person needs to be mentioned to substantiate this. His name is Rupert Murdoch, and he is an American billionaire.
His media holdings are called The News Corporation Ltd. in Australia, but his holdings cover four continents. The exercises control over the editorial content and direction of newspapers such as the Boston Herald American, the Chicago Sun Times, and the Sun and the Times of London, etc., and he holds interests in many others including The Financial Times, the Economist, and Reuters, and the European
Wire service. He owns 5 magazines in Britain, approximately 20 magazines in the U.
S., and more than 100 newspapers in Australia. His has an American Metromedia TV station network, and a satellite television network called Sky Television in Britain. Some of his other holdings include the 20th Century Fox Film Studio (Henry Kissinger and Gerald Ford have been its past directors), the Harper and Row Publishing House, the Star, New York Magazine, the San Antonio Express, New Woman, Elle, In Fashion, Automobile, European
Travel and Life, Premiere, TV Guide, Good Food, the Daily Racing Form, and Seventeen, etc. The Newhouse family of New York, Billionaire Randolph Hearst and family, Kenneth Irving and family of Canada, Thompson family of Toronto, Robert Maxwell in Britain,
Reoinhard Mohn, the owner of the largest media conglomerate in the world and Rupert Murdoch are the group that controls over 90% of the media in the world and consequently exurt an incredible influence on society.
These owners choose TV network directors and newspaper and magazine editors whom they know will broadcast and print exactly what they want the public to see, hear, and read. Their ability to control how democracy functions, especially at election time, is astonishing. They do not simply influence the highest political offices, but they neutralize the effects of democracy with special interest lobbying. Before the bottom 90% of society can even get to vote, they subject the entire population to six months of intense political conditioning in which individuals and policies that pose a threat to their
wealth and power, are discredited. By praising their sympathizers and discrediting and smearing their opponents, they have successfully used the media, to elect enough political candidates to make sure that whatever they lobby for in the future they will get. Most of the
politicians running for election or reelection are funded by them in one way or another, and election support translates into favors.
The Hollywood and the use of the media as a political propaganda tool is nothing knew, in fact, it goes as far back as 1934 during the campaign to elect a new governor of California. Upton Sinclair, an honest socialist, who was running as a Democrat, and had won the Democratic primary by a landslide. But he proposed a special tax
on the California movie industry, and in so doing changed elections from that point on into propaganda media events. To eliminate the idea of the movie tax, and therefore to make Upton Sinclair lose the election, studio heads like MGM's Louis Mayer, Irving Thalberg, and
Harry Cohn of Columbia conducted the first major motion picture smear campaign and reduced from then on the fairness and integrity of the democratic process.
When most people think about propaganda, they think of Hitler and Stalin in the 1930s, however as we have seen the study of propaganda has relevance to contemporary politics.
Since nothing comparable to what Hitler and Stalin did is being disseminated in our society today, many believe that propaganda is no longer important. But propaganda can be overt or subtle. Its persuasive techniques are used by politicians, advertisers, journalists, radio personalities, and others who are interested in influencing human behavior. Propaganda can be used to achieve positive goals, such as to reduce drunk driving, but it can and is being used to win elections and to sell alcohol. The technological advances of the mass media,
especially those of the electronic media, are expanding the avenues available to all groups and are likely to have a significant impact on propaganda efforts in the future. For better or
worse, Ours is an age of Propaganda.