|PROPAGANDA THEORIES & POPULAR CULTURE|
Propaganda [from modern Latin: 'propagare', "extending forth"] is a concerted set of messages aimed at influencing the opinions or behavior of large numbers of people. Instead of impartially providing information, propaganda in its most basic sense presents information in order to influence its audience. The most effective propaganda is often completely truthful, but some propaganda presents facts selectively to encourage a particular synthesis, or gives loaded messages in order to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented. The desired result is a change of the cognitive narrative of the subject in the target audience.
Propaganda is the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist. – Garth S. Jowett and Victoria O’Donnell, Propaganda And Persuasion.
The term originates with the saying Sacred Congregation for the spreading of the Faith (sacra congregatio christiano nomini propagando or Congregatio de Propaganda Fide), which was founded by Pope Gregory XV in 1622, shortly after the start of the Thirty Years’ War. This department of the pontifical administration was charged with the spread of Catholicism and with the regulation of ecclesiastical affairs in mission territory. The Latin stem propagationem- (from pro- “forth” + *pag-, root of pangere “to fasten”), conveys a sense of “that which ought to be spread” and does not refer to misleading information. The modern sense dates from World War I, when the term evolved to be mainly associated with politics.
Propaganda shares techniques with advertising and public relations. Advertising and public relations can be thought of as propaganda that promotes a commercial product or shapes the perception of an organization, person or brand, though in post-World War II usage the word “propaganda” more typically refers to political or nationalist uses of these techniques or to the promotion of a set of ideas, since the term had gained a pejorative meaning, which commercial and government entities couldn’t accept. The refusal phenomenon was eventually to be seen in politics itself by the substitution of ‘political marketing’ and other designations for ‘political propaganda’.
Propaganda was often used to influence opinions and beliefs on religious issues, particularly during the split between the Catholic Church and the Protestants. Propaganda has become more common in political contexts, in particular to refer to certain efforts sponsored by governments, political groups, but also often covert interests. In the early 20th century the term propaganda was also used by the founders of the nascent public relations industry to describe their activities. This usage died out around the time of World War II, as the industry started to avoid the word, given the pejorative connotation it had acquired. Literally translated from the Latin gerundive as “things which must be disseminated”, in some cultures the term is neutral or even positive, while in others the term has acquired a strong negative connotation. The connotations of the term “propaganda” can also vary over time. For example, in Portuguese and some Spanish language speaking countries, particularly in the Southern Cone, the word “propaganda” usually refers to the most common manipulative media — “advertising”.
In English, “propaganda” was originally a neutral term used to describe the dissemination of information in favor of any given cause. During the 20th century, however, the term acquired a thoroughly negative meaning in western countries, representing the intentional dissemination of often false, but certainly “compelling” claims to support or justify political actions or ideologies. This redefinition arose because both the Soviet Union and Germany’s government under Hitler admitted explicitly to using propaganda favoring, respectively, communism and fascism, in all forms of public expression. As these ideologies were antipathetic to liberal western societies, the negative feelings toward them came to be projected into the word “propaganda” itself.
“Propaganda is neutrally defined as a systematic form of purposeful persuasion that attempts to influence the emotions, attitudes, opinions, and actions of specified target audiences for ideological, political or commercial purposes through the controlled transmission of one-sided messages (which may or may not be factual) via mass and direct media channels. A propaganda organization employs propagandists who engage in propagandism—the applied creation and distribution of such forms of persuasion.” Richard Alan Nelson, A Chronology and Glossary of Propaganda in the United States, 1996
Roderick Hindery argues that propaganda exists on the political left, and right, and in mainstream centrist parties. Hindery further argues that debates about most social issues can be productively revisited in the context of asking “what is or is not propaganda?” Not to be overlooked is the link between propaganda, indoctrination, and terrorism/counterterrorism. She argues that threats to destroy are often as socially disruptive as physical devastation itself. A series of American propaganda posters during World War II appealed to servicemen’s patriotism to protect themselves from venereal disease. The text at the bottom of the poster reads, “You can’t beat the Axis if you get VD”.
Propaganda also has much in common with public information campaigns by governments, which are intended to encourage or discourage certain forms of behavior (such as wearing seat belts, not smoking, not littering and so forth). Again, the emphasis is more political in propaganda. Propaganda can take the form of leaflets, posters, TV and radio broadcasts and can also extend to any other medium. In the case of the United States, there is also an important legal (imposed by law) distinction between advertising (a type of overt propaganda) and what the Government Accountability Office (GAO), an arm of the United States Congress, refers to as “covert propaganda.”
Journalistic theory generally holds that news items should be objective, giving the reader an accurate background and analysis of the subject at hand. On the other hand, advertisements evolved from the traditional commercial advertisements to include also a new type in the
form of paid articles or broadcasts disguised as news. These generally present an issue in a very subjective and often misleading light, primarily meant to persuade rather than inform. Normally they use only subtle propaganda techniques and not the more obvious ones used in traditional commercial advertisements. If the reader believes that a paid advertisement is in fact a news item, the message the advertiser is trying to communicate will be more easily “believed” or “internalized.”
<= US Office for War Information, propaganda message: working less helps our enemies.
Such advertisements are considered obvious examples of “covert” propaganda because they take on the appearance of objective information rather than the appearance of propaganda, which is misleading. Federal law specifically mandates that any advertisement appearing in the format of a news item must state that the item is in fact a paid advertisement.
propaganda in the form of television programs, aired in the United States, which appeared to be legitimate news broadcasts and did not include any information signifying that the programs were not generated by a private-sector news source.
Propaganda, in a narrower use of the term, connotes deliberately false or misleading information that supports or furthers a political (but not only) cause or the interests of those with power. The propagandist seeks to change the way people understand an issue or situation for the purpose of changing their actions and expectations in ways that are desirable to the interest group. Propaganda, in this sense, serves as a corollary to censorship in which the same purpose is achieved, not by filling people’s minds with approved information, but by preventing people from being confronted with opposing points of view.
What sets propaganda apart from other forms of advocacy is the willingness of the propagandist to change people’s understanding through deception and confusion rather than persuasion and understanding. The leaders of an organization know the information to be one sided or untrue, but this may not be true for the rank and file members who help to disseminate the propaganda. More in line with the religious roots of the term, it is also used widely in the debates about new religious movements (NRMs), both by people who defend them and by people who oppose them. The latter pejoratively call these NRMs cults. Anti-cult activists and countercult activists accuse the leaders of what they consider cults of using propaganda extensively to recruit followers and keep them. Some social scientists, such as the late Jeffrey Hadden, and CESNUR affiliated scholars accuse ex-members of “cults” who became vocal critics and the anti-cult movement of making these unusual religious movements look bad without sufficient reasons. Propaganda is a powerful weapon in war; it is used to dehumanize and create hatred toward a supposed enemy, either internal or external, by creating a false image in the mind. This can be done by using derogatory or racist terms, avoiding some words or by making allegations of enemy atrocities. Most propaganda wars require the home population to feel the enemy has inflicted an injustice, which may be fictitious or may be based on facts. The home population must also decide that the cause of their nation is just.
<= The much-imitated 1914 “Lord Kitchener Wants You!” poster
Propaganda is also one of the methods used in psychological warfare, which may also involve false flag operations. The term propaganda may also refer to false information meant to reinforce the mindsets of people who already believe as the propagandist wishes. The assumption is that, if people believe something false, they will constantly be assailed by doubts. Since these doubts are unpleasant (see cognitive dissonance), people will be eager to have them extinguished, and are therefore receptive to the reassurances of those in power. For this reason propaganda is often addressed to people who are already sympathetic to the agenda. This process of reinforcement uses an individual’s predisposition to self-select “agreeable” information sources as a mechanism for maintaining control. Propaganda can be classified according to the source and nature of the message. White propaganda generally comes from an openly identified source, and is characterized by gentler methods of persuasion, such as standard public relations techniques and one-sided presentation of an argument. Black propaganda is identified as being from one source, but is in fact from another. This is most commonly to disguise the true origins of the propaganda, be it from an enemy country or from an organization with a negative public image. Grey propaganda is propaganda without any identifiable source or author.
In scale, these different types of propaganda can also be defined by the potential of true and correct information to compete with the propaganda. For example, opposition to white propaganda is often readily found and may slightly discredit the propaganda source. Opposition to grey propaganda, when revealed (often by an inside source), may create some level of public outcry. Opposition to black propaganda is often unavailable and may be dangerous to reveal, because public cognizance of black propaganda tactics and sources would undermine or backfire the very campaign the black propagandist supported.
<= Britannia arm-in-arm with Uncle Sam symbolizes the British-American alliance in World War I.
Propaganda may be administered in insidious ways. For instance, disparaging disinformation about the history of certain groups or foreign countries may be encouraged or tolerated in the educational system. Since few people actually double-check what they learn at school, such disinformation will be repeated by journalists as well as parents, thus reinforcing the idea that the disinformation item is really a “well-known fact”, even though no one repeating the myth is able to point to an authoritative source. The disinformation is then recycled in the media and in the educational system, without the need for direct governmental intervention on the media. Such permeating propaganda may be used for political goals: by giving citizens a false impression of the quality or policies of their country, they may be incited to reject certain proposals or certain remarks or ignore the experience of others.
Common media for transmitting propaganda messages include news reports, government reports, historical revision, junk science, books, leaflets, movies, radio, television, and posters. In the case of radio and television, propaganda can exist on news, current-affairs or talk-show segments, as advertising or public-service announce “spots” or as long-running advertorials. Propaganda campaigns often follow a strategic transmission pattern to indoctrinate the target group. This may begin with a simple transmission such as a leaflet dropped from a plane or an advertisement. Generally these messages will contain directions on how to obtain more information, via a web site, hot line, radio program, et cetera (as it is seen also for selling purposes among other goals). The strategy intends to initiate the individual from information recipient to information seeker through reinforcement, and then from information seeker to opinion leader through indoctrination.
A number of techniques which are based on social psychological research are used to generate propaganda. Many of these same techniques can be found under logical fallacies, since propagandists use arguments that, while sometimes convincing, are not necessarily valid.
Some time has been spent analyzing the means by which propaganda messages are transmitted. That work is important but it is clear that information dissemination strategies only become propaganda strategies when coupled with propagandistic messages. Identifying these messages is a necessary prerequisite to study the methods by which those messages are spread. Below are a number of techniques for generating propaganda:
- Ad Hominem: A Latin phrase which has come to mean attacking your opponent, as opposed to attacking their arguments.
- Appeal to authority: Appeals to authority cite prominent figures to support a position, idea, argument, or course of action.
- Appeal to fear: Appeals to fear seek to build support by instilling anxieties and panic in the general population, for example, Joseph Goebbels exploited Theodore Kaufman’s Germany Must Perish! to claim that the Allies sought the extermination of the German people.
- Appeal to Prejudice: Using loaded or emotive terms to attach value or moral goodness to believing the proposition. For example, the phrase: “Any hard-working taxpayer would have to agree that those who do not work, and who do not support the community do not deserve the community’s support through social assistance.”
- Argumentum ad nauseam: This argument approach uses tireless repetition of an idea. An idea, especially a simple slogan, that is repeated enough times, may begin to be taken as the truth. This approach works best when media sources are limited and controlled by the propagator.
- Bandwagon: Bandwagon and “inevitable-victory” appeals attempt to persuade the target audience to join in and take the course of action that “everyone else is taking.”
- o Inevitable victory: invites those not already on the bandwagon to join those already on the road to certain victory. Those already or at least partially on the bandwagon are reassured that staying aboard is their best course of action.
- o Join the crowd: This technique reinforces people’s natural desire to be on the winning side. This technique is used to convince the audience that a program is an expression of an irresistible mass movement and that it is in their best interest to join.
- Black-and-White fallacy: Presenting only two choices, with the product or idea being propagated as the better choice. (e.g., “You are either with us, or you are with the enemy”)
- Beautiful people: The type of propaganda that deals with famous people or depicts attractive, happy people. This makes other people think that if they buy a product or follow a certain
ideology; they too will be happy or successful. (This is more used in advertising for products, instead of political reasons)
- Big Lie: The repeated articulation of a complex of events that justify subsequent action. The descriptions of these events have elements of truth, and the “big lie” generalizations merge and eventually supplant the public’s accurate perception of the underlying events. After World War I the German Stab in the back explanation of the cause of their defeat became a justification for Nazi re-militarization and revanchist aggression.
- Common man: The “‘plain folks’” or “common man” approach attempts to convince the audience that the propagandist’s positions reflect the common sense of the people. It is designed to win the confidence of the audience by communicating in the common manner and style of the target audience. Propagandists use ordinary language and mannerisms (and clothe their message in faceto-face and audiovisual communications) in attempting to identify their point of view with that of the average person. For example, a propaganda leaflet may make an argument on a macroeconomic issue, such as unemployment insurance benefits, using everyday terms: “given that the country has little money during this recession, we should stop paying unemployment benefits to those who do not work, because that is like maxing out all your credit cards during a tight period, when you should be tightening your belt.”
- Demonizing the enemy: Making individuals from the opposing nation, from a different ethnic group, or those who support the opposing viewpoint appear to be subhuman (e.g., the Vietnam War-era term “gooks” for NLF soldiers), worthless, or immoral, through suggestion or false accusations.
- Direct order: This technique hopes to simplify the decision making process by using images and words to tell the audience exactly what actions to take, eliminating any other possible choices. Authority figures can be used to give the order, overlapping it with the Appeal to authority technique, but not necessarily. The Uncle Sam “I want you” image is an example of this technique.
- Euphoria: The use of an event that generates euphoria or happiness, or using an appealing event to boost morale. Euphoria can be created by declaring a holiday, making luxury items available, or mounting a military parade with marching bands and patriotic messages.
- Disinformation: The creation or deletion of information from public records, in the purpose of making a false record of an event or the actions of a person or organization, including outright forgery of photographs, motion pictures, broadcasts, and sound recordings as well as printed documents.
- Flag-waving: An attempt to justify an action on the grounds that doing so will make one more patriotic, or in some way benefit a group, country, or idea. The feeling of patriotism which this technique attempts to inspire may not necessarily diminish or entirely omit one’s capability for rational examination of the matter in question.
- Glittering generalities: Glittering generalities are emotionally appealing words applied to a product or idea, but which present no concrete argument or analysis. A famous example is the campaign slogan “Ford has a better idea!”
- Half-truth: A half-truth is a deceptive statement which may come in several forms and includes some element of truth. The statement might be partly true, the statement may be totally true but only part of the whole truth, or it may utilize some deceptive element, such as improper punctuation, or double meaning, especially if the intent is to deceive, evade blame or misrepresent the truth.
- Intentional vagueness: Generalities are deliberately vague so that the audience may supply its own interpretations. The intention is to move the audience by use of undefined phrases, without analyzing their validity or attempting to determine their reasonableness or application. The intent is to cause people to draw their own interpretations rather than simply being presented with an explicit idea. In trying to “figure out” the propaganda, the audience foregoes judgment of the ideas presented. Their validity, reasonableness and application may still be considered.
- Obtain disapproval or Reductio ad Hitlerum: This technique is used to persuade a target audience to disapprove of an action or idea by suggesting that the idea is popular with groups hated, feared, or held in contempt by the target audience. Thus if a group which supports a certain policy is led
to believe that undesirable, subversive, or contemptible people support the same policy, then the members of the group may decide to change their original position. This is a form of Bad Logic, where a is said to equal X, and b is said to equal X, therefore, a = b.
- Oversimplification: Favorable generalities are used to provide simple answers to complex social, political, economic, or military problems.
- Quotes out of Context: Selective editing of quotes which can change meanings. Political documentaries designed to discredit an opponent or an opposing political viewpoint often make use of this technique.
- Rationalization: Individuals or groups may use favorable generalities to rationalize questionable acts or beliefs. Vague and pleasant phrases are often used to justify such actions or beliefs.
- Red herring/Chewbacca Defense: Presenting data or issues that, while compelling, are irrelevant to the argument at hand, and then claiming that it validates the argument.
- Repetition: This type of propaganda deals with a jingle or word that is repeated over and over again, thus getting it stuck in someones head, so they can buy the product.The “Repetition” method has been described previously.
- Scapegoating: Assigning blame to an individual or group, thus alleviating feelings of guilt from responsible parties and/or distracting attention from the need to fix the problem for which blame is being assigned.
- Slogans: A slogan is a brief, striking phrase that may include labeling and stereotyping. Although slogans may be enlisted to support reasoned ideas, in practice they tend to act only as emotional appeals. Opponents of the US’s invasion and occupation of Iraq use the slogan “blood for oil” to suggest that the invasion and its human losses was done to access Iraq’s oil riches. On the other hand, “hawks” who argue that the US should continue to fight in Iraq use the slogan “cut and run” to suggest that it would be cowardly or weak to withdraw from Iraq. Similarly, the names of the military campaigns, such as “enduring freedom” or “just cause”, may also be regarded to be slogans, devised to influence people.
- Stereotyping or Name Calling or Labeling: This technique attempts to arouse prejudices in an audience by labeling the object of the propaganda campaign as something the target audience fears, hates, loathes, or finds undesirable. For instance, reporting on a foreign country or social group may focus on the stereotypical traits that the reader expects, even though they are far from being representative of the whole country or group; such reporting often focuses on the anecdotal.
- Testimonial: Testimonials are quotations, in or out of context, especially cited to support or reject a given policy, action, program, or personality. The reputation or the role (expert, respected public figure, etc.) of the individual giving the statement is exploited. The testimonial places the official sanction of a respected person or authority on a propaganda message. This is done in an effort to cause the target audience to identify itself with the authority or to accept the authority’s opinions and beliefs as its own.
- Transfer: Also known as Association, this is a technique of projecting positive or negative qualities (praise or blame) of a person, entity, object, or value (an individual, group, organization, nation, patriotism, etc.) to another to make the second more acceptable or to discredit it. It evokes an emotional response, which stimulates the target to identify with recognized authorities. Often highly visual, this technique often utilizes symbols (for example, the Swastika used in Nazi Germany, originally a symbol for health and prosperity) superimposed over other visual images. An example of common use of this technique in America is for the President’s image to be overlayed with a swastika by his opponents.
- Unstated assumption: This technique is used when the propaganda concept that the propagandist intends to transmit would seem less credible if explicitly stated. The concept is instead repeatedly assumed or implied.
- Virtue words: These are words in the value system of the target audience which tend to produce a positive image when attached to a person or issue. Peace, happiness, security, wise leadership, freedom, “The Truth”, etc. are virtue words. In countries such as the U.S. religiosity is seen as a virtue, making associations to this quality affectively beneficial. See “”Transfer”".
Models Of Propaganda
Herman and Chomsky’s propaganda model
The propaganda model is a theory advanced by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky that alleges systemic biases in the mass media and seeks to explain them in terms of structural economic causes.
“The 20th century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.” First presented in their 1988 book Manufacturing Consent: the Political Economy of the Mass Media, the propaganda model views the private media as businesses selling a product — readers and audiences (rather than news) — to other businesses (advertisers).
The first three (ownership, funding, and sourcing) are generally regarded by the authors as being the most important. Although the model was based mainly on the characterization of United States media, Chomsky and Herman believe the theory is equally applicable to any country that shares the basic economic structure and organizing principles which the model postulates as the cause of media biases. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Chomsky stated that the new filter replacing communism would be terrorism and Islam.
Ross’ epistemic merit model
The epistemic merit model is a method for understanding propaganda conceived by Sheryl Tuttle Ross and detailed in her 2002 article for the Journal of Aesthetic Education entitled “Understanding Propaganda: The Epistemic Merit Model and Its Application to Art”. Ross developed the Epistemic merit model due to concern about narrow, misleading definitions of propaganda. She contrasted her model with the ideas of Pope Gregory XV, the Institute for Propaganda Analysis, Alfred Lee, F.C. Bartlett, and Hans Speier. Insisting that each of their respective discussions of propaganda are too narrow, Ross proposed her own definition.
To appropriately discuss propaganda, Ross argues that one must consider a threefold communication model: that of Sender-Message-Receiver. “That is… propaganda involve[s]… the one who is persuading (Sender) [who is] doing so intentionally, [the] target for such persuasion (Receiver) and [the] means of reaching that target (Message).” There are four conditions for a message to be considered propaganda. Propaganda involves the intention to persuade. As well, propaganda is sent on behalf of a sociopolitical institution, organization, or cause. Next, the recipient of propaganda is a socially significant group of people. Finally, propaganda is an epistemical struggle to challenge other thoughts.
Ross claims that it is misleading to say that propaganda is simply false, or that it is conditional to a lie, since often the propagandist believes in what he/she is propagandizing. In other words, it is not necessarily a lie if the person who creates the propaganda is trying to persuade you of a view that they actually hold. “The aim of the propagandist is to create the semblance of credibility.” This means that they appeal to an epistemology that is weak or defective.
False statements, bad arguments, immoral commands as well as inapt metaphors (and other literary tropes) are the sorts of things that are epistemically defective… Not only does epistemic defectiveness more accurately describe how propaganda endeavors to function… since many messages are in forms such as commands that do not admit to truth-values, [but it] also accounts for the role context plays in the workings of propaganda.
Throughout history those who have wished to persuade have used art to get their message out. This can be accomplished by hiring artists for the express aim of propagandizing or by investing new meanings to a previously nonpolitical work. Therefore, Ross states, it is important to consider “the conditions of its making [and] the conditions of its use.”…
Difference Between Persuasion And Propaganda
Persuasion attempts to win “the heart and mind” of the target. Thus persuasion must induce attitude change, which entails affective (emotion-based) change. Although persuasion is more difficult to induce, its effects last longer because the target actually accepts and internalizes the advocacy. There are many persuasion tactics, one of which utilizes the Socratic Effect, studied by the famous influence researcher, William McGuire. It states that by merely directing thoughts to attitudes and beliefs with logical implications for one another, those attitudes and beliefs become more consistent.
If my wife wants me to start and maintain an exercise program, she might bring up other topics which have logical, positive implications for exercise. She might tell me about a friend who recently experienced a heart attack. That may lead to a discussion about the benefits of good health and the horrors of hospitals, and how people who are in good health are better looking, have more energy, and are more successful. Without ever pointing it out, my wife will have caused me to notice uncomfortable inconsistencies in my belief system. I don’t like hospitals, and exercise will help keep me out of them–so why don’t I go jogging with her? I will likely decide to do just that the next time I see her putting on her running shoes. At the next social gathering we attend, she may capitalize on the situation and mention that the two of us are now exercising together. I will agree, and in so doing will have made a public commitment–which will compel me to remain consistent with my stated behavior.
If my wife is an artful influence practitioner, my jogging will cease to be an external imposition–it will have become an internal value. As such, it will become part of my self concept and will become a long- term behavior pattern. (Surprisingly, the correlation between attitude and behavior is weaker than you might think! So just because someone has a positive attitude does not mean they will invariably behave in a consistent manner. But that’s a discussion for another time . . .)
Education is the propagation of a set of beliefs, or Propaganda. We call it “education” if we already believe in it, and “propaganda” if we don’t. Beliefs are things known or believed to be true, as opposed to attitudes, which are evaluations of objects that we think about. Beliefs are important precursors to both attitudes and behavior, but are often used or created after the fact to defend attitudes and behaviors we already own. We call the learning of knowledge education if we believe and agree with the advocacy, and we call it propaganda if we don’t–especially if a discrepant belief system is advocated through a large-scale, mass media appeal. The first documented use of the word ‘propaganda’ was 1622, when Pope Gregory XV attempted to increase church membership by strengthening belief (Pratkanis & Aronson, 1992). The term now connotes mass persuasion attempts manufactured by political entities, which manipulate far more than mere belief. Nonetheless, central to both education and propaganda is the role of the fact, the statistic, the element of knowledge that the target believes to be true.
Propaganda Theories & Theorists
Theories of Walter Lippmann
Public Opinion (1922) is perhaps Lippmann’s most well-known work. It was in this piece that Lippmann first began to develop and explain his theories on the formation of public opinion. Lippmann (1922) begins this book by describing a situation in 1914, where a number of Germans, Frenchmen, and Englishmen were trapped on an island. They have no access to media of any kind, except for once every sixty days when the mail comes, alerting them to situations in the real world. Lippmann explains that these people lived in peace on the island, treating each other as friends, when in actuality the war had broken out and they were enemies (Lippmann, 1922).
The purpose of the above anecdote is to develop the idea of “The World Outside and the Pictures in Our Heads” (Lippmann, 1922, p. 3). Throughout Public Opinion, Lippmann (1922) explains the way that our individual opinions can differ from those that are expressed in the outside world. He develops the idea of propaganda, claiming that “In order to conduct propaganda, there must be some barrier between the public and the event” (Lippmann, 1922, p. 28). With this separation, there is the ability of the media to manipulate events or present limited information to the public. This information may not match the public’s perception of the event. In this way, Lippmann was essentially presenting some of the first views on the mass communication concepts of gatekeeping and agenda-setting, by showing the media’s power to limit public access to information.
Lippmann (1922) showed how individuals use tools such as stereotypes to form their opinions. “In putting together our public opinions, not only do we have to picture more space than we can see with our eyes, and more time than we can feel, but we have to describe and judge more people, more actions, more things than we can ever count, or vividly imagine…We have to pick our samples, and treat them as typical” (Lippmann, 1922, p. 95). Lippmann shows that the public is left with these stereotypical judgments until the media presents limited information to change their perception of an event. Rogers (1994) claims that in this way, Lippmann was showing us that “…the pseudo-environment that is conveyed to us by the media is the result of a high degree of gatekeeping in the news process” (p. 237). Lippmann recognized that the media was altering the flow of information, by limiting the media content that was presented to the public. Furthermore, Lippmann presents the idea of agenda-setting, as he recognizes that the mass media is the link between individual perceptions of a world, and the world that actually exists (Rogers, 1994).
Phantom Public (1925) focused on describing the characteristics of the public itself. Lippmann (1925) used this book to show the public’s inability to have vast knowledge about their environment, and therefore, to show their failure to truly support a position. Lippmann (1925) gives a harsh view of the general public, stating, “The individual man does not have opinions on public affairs… I cannot imagine how he could know, and there is not the least reason for thinking, as mystical democrats have thought, that the compounding of individual ignorance in masses of people can produce a continuous directing force in public affairs” (p. 39). This book seemed to show that democracy was not truly run by the public, but rather, was being controlled by an educated elite. The public could not be truly well informed, so they were easily convinced to side with an educated minority, while convincing themselves that they were actually in a system of majority rule. Lippmann (1925) claims that the book aimed to “…bring the theory of democracy into somewhat truer alignment with the nature of public opinion… It has seemed to me that the public had a function and must have methods of its own in controversies, qualitatively different from those of the executive men” (p. 197).
Other Propaganda Theorists
Harold Lasswell (1902-1978)
As Lippmann was writing propaganda, Harold Lasswell was undertaking empirical analyses of propaganda. In fact, much of the propaganda that Lasswell was examining was actually being written by Lippmann himself (Rogers, 1994).
Harold Lasswell (1902-1978) was a prominent scholar in the area of propaganda research. He focused on conducting both quantitative and qualitative analyses of propaganda, understanding the content of propaganda, and discovering the effect of propaganda on the mass audience (Rogers, 1994). Lasswell is credited with creating the mass communication procedure of content analysis (Rogers, 1994). Generally, content analysis can be defined as, “…the investigation of communication messages by categorizing message content into classifications in order to measure certain variables” (Rogers, 1994). In an essay entitled “Contents of Communication,” Lasswell (1946) explains that a content analysis should take into account the frequency with which certain symbols appear in a message, the direction in which the symbols try to persuade the audience’s opinion, and the intensity of the symbols used. By understanding the content of the message, Lasswell (1946) aims to achieve the goal of understanding the “stream of influence that runs from control to content and from content to audience” (p. 74).
This method of content analysis is tied strongly to Lasswell’s (1953) early definition of communication which stated, “Who says what in which channel to whom and with what effects” (p. 84). Content analysis was essentially the ‘says what’ part of this definition, and Lasswell went on to do a lot of work within this area during the remainder of his career.
Lasswell’s most well-known content analyses were an examination of the propaganda content during World War One and Two. In Propaganda Technique in the World War, Lasswell (1938) examined propaganda techniques through a content analysis, and came to some striking conclusions. Lasswell (1938) was similar to Ellul, in that he showed that the content of war propaganda had to be pervasive in all aspects of the citizen’s life in order to be effective. Furthermore, Lasswell (1938) showed that as more people were reached by this propaganda, the war effort would become more effective. “…[T]he active propagandist is certain to have willing help from everybody, with an axe to grind in transforming the War into a march toward whatever sort of promised land happens to appeal to the group concerned. The more of these sub-groups he can fire for the War, the more powerful will be the united devotion of the people to the cause of the country, and to the humiliation of the enemy” (Lasswell, 1938, p. 76).
Aside from understanding the content of propaganda, Lasswell was also interested in how propaganda could shape public opinion. This dealt primarily with understanding the effects of the media. Lasswell was particularly interested in examining the effects of the media in creating public opinion within a democratic system. In Democracy Through Public Opinion, Lasswell (1941) examines the effects of propaganda on public opinion, and the effects of public opinion on democracy. Lasswell (1941) claims, “Democratic government acts upon public opinion and public opinion acts openly upon government” (p. 15). Affecting this relationship is the existence of propaganda. Due to this propaganda, “General suspiciousness is directed against all sources of information. Citizens may convince themselves that it is hopeless to get the truth about public affairs” (Lasswell, 1941, p. 40). In this way, Lasswell has created a cycle, whereby the public is limited in the information that is presented to them, and also apprehensive to accept it. However, it is still that information that is affecting their decisions within the democratic system, and is being presented to them by the government. This is an interesting way of viewing the power of the media that is somewhat similar to Lippmann’s theories.
Edward Bernays (1891-1995)
At approximately the same time that Lippmann and Lasswell were examining public opinion and propaganda, Edward Bernays (1891-1995) was examining public relations, propaganda, and public opinion. Bernays (1928) defines propaganda as, “a consistent, enduring effort to create or shape events to influence the relations of a public to an enterprise, idea, or group” (p. 25). Contrary to other propaganda theorists, Bernays recognizes that propaganda can be either beneficial or harmful to the public. It can help individuals decide what to think about or alter the opinions of individuals, but this may actually be beneficial to society’s functioning as a whole. Bernays states, “We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of… Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society” (p. 9). Based on these ideas that the public opinion can be modified, and that such shaping is a necessary part of society, Bernays pursued his work in the field of public relations. “Public relations is the attempt, by information, persuasion, and adjustment, to engineer public support for an activity, cause, movement, or institution” (Bernays, 1955, p. 3). In The Engineering of Consent, Bernays (1955) lays out the framework for understanding the public and developing a public relations campaign. Bernays (1955) claims that the key to a successful public relations campaign is adjustment of the campaign to the attitudes of various groups in society, gathering information to effectively express an idea, and finally, utilizing persuasion to influence the public opinion in the intended direction.
Bernays’ theories represent a step forward for mass communication theory. They move away from more typical presentations of “hit-or-miss propaganda,” and move toward a deeper understanding of the public, and the necessity of attention-generating propaganda in influencing public opinion (Bernays, 1955, p.22). Bernays (1955) himself made a statement regarding his phrase, “the engineering of consent.” He said, “Engineering implies planning. And it is careful planning more than anything else that distinguishes modern public relations from old-time hit or miss publicity and propaganda” (Bernays, 1955, p.22). Furthermore, Bernays’ theories also represent a different view of the formation of public opinion. In opposition to Lippmann, who views the public as being easily manipulated, Bernays cautions against this. He claims, “The public is not an amorphous mass which can be molded at will or dictated to” (Bernays, 1928, p. 66). Instead, Bernays (1928) offers the idea that in attempting to influence the public, a business must “…study what terms the partnership can be made amicable and mutually beneficial. It must explain itself, its aims, its objectives, to the public in terms which the public can understand and is willing to accept” (p. 66).
Bernays elaborates on these ideas in Public Relations (1952). Rather than merely attempting to manipulate the public through propaganda, Bernays presents public relations as a tool that can be used to combine the ideas of the public and the persuader. “The objective-minded public relations man helps his client adjust to the contemporary situation, or helps the public adjust to it” (Bernays, 1952, p. 9). Bernays view of the public is softer than that of Lippmann, as he recognizes the power of society, but still also claims that manipulation of the public is possible. Bernays (1952) writes of the benefits of public relations, “To citizens in general, public relations is important because it helps them to understand the society of which we are all a part, to know and evaluate the viewpoint of others, to exert leadership in modifying conditions that affects us, to evaluate efforts being made by others, and to persuade or suggest courses of action” (p. 10). Under this framework, while manipulation of the public is still possible, it is not in such blatant ignorance of the public opinion. Theorists such as Lippmann and Ellul tended to disagree with this point.
Jacques Ellul (1912 – 1994)
Jacques Ellul’s (1912-1994) theories on propaganda took a different view of the formation of public opinion. Ellul (1965) shows that propaganda is actually a specific technique, which is both needed by the public, and by those who create the propaganda in the first place. In Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, Ellul (1965) defines propaganda as, “a set of methods employed by an organized group that wants to bring about the active or passive participation in its actions of a mass of individuals, psychologically unified through psychological manipulations and incorporated into a system” (p. 61). In contrast to the other theorists examined in this chapter, Ellul tends to view propaganda as a necessary, but all-encompassing, activity. It is not something to be presented to the public in a single instance, but rather, must become a consistent part of every aspect of the public’s life.
In The Technological Society, Ellul (1964) categorizes propaganda as a form of human technique. In general, he considers the term “technique,” to be referring to the methods that people use to obtain their desired results (Ellul, 1964). Specifically, he claims that human technique examines those techniques in which “man himself becomes the object of the technique” (Ellul, 1964, p. 22). In this scenario, man is the “object,” as he is constantly being exposed to, and pressured by, various presentations of propaganda. Ellul (1964) goes on to say, “Techniques have taught the organizers how to force him into the game… The intensive use of propaganda destroys the citizen’s faculty of discernment” (p. 276).
While The Technological Society focuses on the methods used to create a technique, such as propaganda, Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes (1965) focuses on the specific relationship between propaganda and the manipulation of public opinion. As with Lippmann, Ellul understands the lack of knowledge that the general public holds for use in forming public opinion. Ellul (1965) comments on the use of stereotypes and symbols in propaganda, as did Lippmann in Public Opinion (1922). Ellul (1965) states, “The more stereotypes in a culture, the easier it is to form public opinion, and the more an individual participates in that culture, the more susceptible he becomes to the manipulation of these symbols” (p. 111).
Both Ellul and Lippmann recognize the inability of the public to form educated opinions as a whole. However, while Lippmann chose to focus on the idea that we should accept the fact that it is truly an educated elite that is controlling our opinions, Ellul chose to focus on the fact that the public actually has a need for propaganda. Ellul contests the idea that the public is merely a victim of propaganda. Rather, he states that, “The propagandee is by no means just an innocent victim. He provokes the psychological action of propaganda, and not merely lends himself to it, but even derives satisfaction from it. Without this previous, implicit consent, without this need for propaganda experienced by practically every citizen of the technological age, propaganda could not spread” (Ellul, 1965, p. 121). Through his theories in The Technological Society and Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, Ellul tends to give the media and society’s elite (the creators of propaganda) a lot of power in shaping public opinion. While Bernays recognized the importance of making propaganda appeal to the needs of the public, Ellul claims that the public’s need is simply for propaganda in the first place. Be happy!
Recent Mass Communication Theorists & Theories Based on the traditional theories of Lippmann, Lasswell, Bernays, and Ellul, more recent studies have been able to be conducted on the use of propaganda in creating public opinion. Lippmann (1922) was essentially the first theorist to develop the idea of the agenda-setting function of the media. By 1972, McCombs and Shaw had set out to study this phenomenon in their work “The Agenda-Setting Function of Mass Media.” This study examined the 1968 presidential campaign, by asking undecided voters to identify the key issues of the presidential campaign, and then comparing those ideas to the issues that were being presented by the mass media at the time (McCombs & Shaw, 1972). McCombs and Shaw (1972) found that there was a +0.967 correlation between voter judgment of important issues, and media presentation of those issues. McCombs and Shaw used this information to further Lippmann’s ideas that the mass media did indeed set the agenda for what the public should think about.
Iyengar and Kinder (1982) expanded on Lippmann’s theories as well, by putting the idea of agenda-setting and priming to the test. They created experimental situations, in which subjects were exposed to news broadcasts that emphasized particular events. The results of this study both supported and expanded upon Lippmann’s initial theories. “Our experiments decisively sustain Lippmann’s suspicion that media provide compelling descriptions of a public world that people cannot directly experience” (Iyengar & Kinder, 1982, p. 855). Iyengar and Kinder (1982) found that those news items that received the most attention, were the news items that people found to be the most significant. Furthermore, Iyengar and Kinder (1982) also found evidence of a priming effect, in that those events that received the most attention by a news broadcast, also weighed the most heavily on evaluations of the president at a later time.
Lippmann’s (1922) theories in Public Opinion also touched on the idea of a gatekeeper in the media process. By 1951, Kurt Lewin had expanded on this idea, by showing that people can manipulate and control the flow of information that reaches others (Rogers, 1994). Based on the ideas of both Lewin and Lippmann, White (1950) undertook an examination of the role of a gatekeeper in the realm of mass media. In The “Gatekeeper”: A Case Study In the Selection of News, White (1950) examined the role of a wire editor in a newspaper. He found strong evidence that there was a gatekeeping role at work within the mass media, as this editor rejected nine-tenths of the articles that he received, based primarily on whether he considered the event to be “newsworthy,” and whether he had another article on the same topic that he liked better. His results were important, as they showed the subjective judgments that an individual can exert in releasing limited information to the public.
COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE
What is popular culture?
Popular culture, sometimes abbreviated to pop culture, consists of widespread cultural elements in any given society. Such elements are perpetuated through that society’s vernacular language or an established lingua franca. It comprises the daily interactions, needs and desires and cultural ‘moments’ that make up the everyday lives of the mainstream. It can include any number of practices, including those pertaining to cooking, clothing, consumption, mass media and the many facets of entertainment such as sports and literature. Popular culture often contrasts with a more exclusive, even elitist “high culture,” that is, the culture of ruling social groups.
Pop culture finds its expression in the mass circulation of items from areas such as fashion, music, sport and film. The world of pop culture has had a particular influence on art from the early 1960s on, through Pop Art. According to popeducation.org, when modern pop culture began during the early 1950′s, it was harder for adults to participate. Today, most adults, their kids and grandchildren “participate” in pop culture directly or indirectly.
Contested definitions of Popular culture
The meaning of popular and the meaning of culture are essentially contested concepts so it is not surprising that there is more than one definition of popular culture and that any definition is problematic. John Storey, in “Cultural Theory and Popular Culture”, discusses six definitions:
- The obvious, quantitative definition, of culture that is widely favoured. This has the problem that much “high” culture (e.g. television dramatisations of Jane Austen) is widely favoured.
- The culture that is “left over” when we have decided what “high culture” is. However, many works straddle or cross the boundaries e.g. William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Puccini-Verdi-Pavarotti- Nessun Dorma. Storey draws our attention to the forces and relations which sustain this difference such as the educational system.
- Mass Culture. This is seen as a commercial culture, mass produced for mass consumption. From a U.K. (and European) point of view, this may be equated to American culture.
- An “authentic” culture of the “people”. However the ‘scare quotes’ surrounding authentic and the people draw attention to the problems in defining and identifying what authenticity is and who the people are.
- Definitions 1 to 4 above may have hinted at a political dimension to popular culture. Storey’s fourth definition makes this explicit. He spells out that neo-Gramscian hegemony theory sees popular culture as a site of struggle between the ‘resistance’ of subordinate groups in society and the forces of ‘incorporation’ operating in the interests of dominant groups in society.
- A postmodernism approach to popular culture would “no longer recognise the distinction between high and popular culture’ Storey emphasises that popular culture emerges from the urbanisation of the industrial revolution.
Popular culture in the 20th and early 21st centuries
Popular culture changes constantly and occurs uniquely in place and time. It forms currents and eddies, and represents a complex of mutually-interdependent perspectives and values that influence society and its institutions in various ways. For example, certain currents of pop culture may originate from, (or diverge into) a subculture, representing perspectives with which the mainstream popular culture has only limited familiarity. Items of popular culture most typically appeal to a broad spectrum of the public.
The news media mines the work of scientists and scholars and conveys it to the general public, often emphasizing “factoids” that have inherent appeal or the power to amaze. For instance, giant pandas (a species in remote Chinese woodlands) have become well-known items of popular culture; parasitic worms, though of greater practical importance, have not. Both scholarly facts and news stories get modified through popular transmission, often to the point of outright falsehoods.
Folklore provides a second and very different source of popular culture. In pre-industrial times, mass culture equaled folk culture. This earlier layer of culture still persists today, sometimes in the form of jokes or slang, which spread through the population by word of mouth and via the Internet. By providing a new channel for transmission, cyberspace has renewed the strength of this element of popular culture.
Although the folkloric element of popular culture engages heavily with the commercial element, the public has its own tastes and it may not embrace every cultural item sold. Moreover, beliefs and opinions about the products of commercial culture (for example: “My favorite character is SpongeBob SquarePants”) spread by word-of-mouth, and become modified in the process in the same manner that folklore evolves.
Owing to the pervasive and increasingly interconnected nature of popular culture, especially its intermingling of complementary distribution sources, some cultural anthropologists have identified the use of “popular culture within popular culture” as a distinct phenomenon. Literary and cultural critics have identified this as following the well-recognized but variegated concept of intertextuality. One commentator has suggested this “self-referentiality” reflects the advancing encroachment of popular culture into every realm of collective experience. “Instead of referring to the real world, much media output devotes itself to referring to other images, other narratives; self-referentiality is all-embracing, although it is rarely taken account of.” Many cultural critics have dismissed this as merely a symptom or side-effect of mass consumerism, however alternate explanations and critique have also been offered. One critic asserts that it reflects a fundamental paradox: the increase in technological and cultural sophistication, combined with an increase in superficiality and dehumanization.
Examples from American television
According to some critics, self-referentiality in mainstream American television, especially comedy, both reflects and exemplifies the type of progression characterized previously. Extreme examples literally approach a kind of thematic infinite regress wherein the distinctions between art and life, commerce and critique, ridicule and homage become intractably blurred. Examples include:
- Seinfeld a show premised on the concept that it is a “show about nothing.” The main character of the show has the same name as the actor who plays the character. In one episode, the character George mocks this very premise directly by asking “Who will go for that crap?” Such self-derision represents an especially salient and humorous critique considering the relative success of the show.
- The Simpsons routinely alludes to mainstream media properties, as well as the commercial content of the show itself. The show also invokes liberal reference to contemporary issues as depicted in the mainstream, and often merges such references with unconventional and even esoteric associations to classical and postmodernist works of literature, entertainment and art.
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MASS MEDIA AND POPULAR CULTURE (MASS MEDIA – A TOOL)
When media becomes culture: rethinking copyright issues
Mass media has done such a good job at embedding their copyright into culture that it has become culture itself. The water cooler effect is what happens when media becomes the bits of communication – it’s what lets us share our values and interests, determine common ground, etc. Conversations swirl around TV characters, brands and movie quotes. I remember two kids in college deciding to only express themselves through Monty Python quotes in conversation. They felt that every question or comment necessary was already present in the movie. Of course, much of the language that i use is straight from media. Take a look at my posts and you’ll find littered references to songs and movies, sometimes cited, sometimes not. Perhaps the language of cinema truly is universal?
With new media, we have begun to communicate using more than just words. We use different photos and animated gifs on different comments as their signature of sorts. Personalized ring tones are all about associating sounds with people, building in-jokes and cultural references into the communication channels. Hip-hop certainly has an artistic bent but there’s also a long-standing tradition of telling your story. Remember mixed tapes as a way to say something to someone? Or when girls made collages out of YM magazines? Lives are littered with media and as we become adept at using it to communicate our thoughts, it will appear more and more, in spite of copyright.
To magnify the issue, our communications have become increasingly persistent. While we still produce a great deal of ephemeral communications, digital and mobile technologies make much of our communication persistent. The remixed sounds of the local club suddenly have mass appeal. But at what cost? On one hand, folks want to get their expressions out to the masses, but when their expressions include copyrighted material, they are at risk. But with media saturating our culture, how do we express ourselves devoid of references to copyrighted material? Why can’t a kid wear a hand-made iPod costume for Halloween? Why can’t i tell my story through the songs that i’ve listened to over the years? Media is the building block of storytelling and it has become so essential to what we do.
The RIAA (and other such organizations) have been so successful at getting their media distributed that they have become culture. In turn, this means that they are the building blocks in which communication occurs. At this, they balk. Do they have the right to? Do they have the right to limit culture built on top of culture? If i want to tell my story using the cultural elements that have become a part of my life, do i need to recognize the RIAA and such as the controllers of culture? This is a dangerous limitation. Copyright was meant to help artists get their work out. Mickey Mouse is out there; they were super successful and the copyright owners made billions. But now Mickey Mouse is culture – it symbolizes far more than Disney. Do the copyright holders have the right to control culture in this way? They’ve succeeded beyond most artists.
We have rights for parody and fair use, but perhaps we need to push it further, to make space for when copyright becomes culture. And then let it at the hands of the culture. Of course, power likes to maintain power, even when it means forgetting what it was originally fighting for. The RIAA and such want to own culture – that power is so tasty. But why should we let them? When they restrict the growth of culture, they are no longer serving the people or the intentions of copyright they are simply serving themselves. They are also unfortunately doing a good job of convincing artists that the only way to become part of culture is to go with their model. I realized that we don’t need to educate the masses – we need to educate these behemoths about culture, its creation, their role and the intentions behind the laws that they’ve used as shield for so long.
Creative Commons is fighting the RIAA on their terms, helping cement the legal structure as is. But honestly, CC is not creating culture in the same way that mass media products are. Sure, many of us want that to be the case, but will Christina and Britney ever be CC artists? Will Fox ever make its TV shows CC? Will in die ever overcome pop? The very nature of pop is that it’s about mainstream and this means buying into the power holders instead of the underdogs. That makes it really hard to overturn the cultural empire. Perhaps we should think about how to reframe the debate, focusing on the cultural output of mainstream artists rather than trying to play on their turf?
Remix is active consumption not production
The argument now is that we should stop thinking of remix as production, but as active consumption. Remix happens as a bi-product of consumption. What we’re remixing is culture and the active consumption of culture is part of identity development and living as a social creature in society. Think about clothing consumption. Few people buy all of the items on the mannequin. You buy different pieces and mix and mash them. You might even decide to alter them by adding patches, by dying them, by cutting them up. You make the clothing yours. And then you share your consumption with the world by parading on the streets. In this way, you make the clothing tell your story. (tx Kevin Bjorke)
Think about IKEA consumption. Isn’t it great that they lay out entire rooms for you to look at? Do any of you have rooms that are exactly like the ones in IKEA? You take furniture, you mix and mash it up until it suits you. You may paint it, you may add a different bedspread, you’ll add your own books. You then invite your friends over to show them what you’ve done.
Are you expected to consume clothing or IKEA exactly as prescribed? No. These items are made to be personalized, made to be altered to meet your needs. So what is fan fiction? I take a story and i alter it to tell my story. What is hip hop remix? I take a bunch of different sounds and put them together in a way not prescribed by the mannequin. From clothing to songs, we consume and we connect it to our lives. We’ve always done this with media. We’ve made collages out of magazines, we’ve put together pieces of songs in a new sequence for our friends. Of course, now, the cultural bits that we consume are more accessible Lego blocks. It’s possible to play with them in new ways. And there are so many more choices that we can be really creative with that play. We can consume culture in new ways and what we shit out in that process actually gets to be digested and mixed together with other bits of culture that we consumed.
There’s a problem though and that has to do with distribution. When i parade around the public square in my remix of the Gap and Nike (well,…), i am sharing my remix with the world. Yet, there’s nothing persistent or searchable about it. What happens when my friends snap a photo of me? They are making the remix more permanent but, still, no one from those megacorps sees what i’ve done. What happens when my friends sell that picture to the tabloids for a bazillion dollars because Britney and her new baby are also in the photo? And they are also wearing a different remix of various megabrands? I wasn’t remixing clothing for distribution. Of course, even that does happen. Ever seen pictures of celebrities in magazines where it says the top was made by Ralph Lauren and the skirt was made by Versace or whatever?
When Jonah Peretti sent his conversation with Nike to a few friends, was he distributing it? What about when it got forwarded to millions of people and got him spots on TV? In digital world, our intentions and the potential results might not be the same. You might be speaking to six people in your blog. It might feel like the town square but what happens when millions of people apparate there like it’s a Quidditch match? Only witches know this instant appearance of beyond imaginable audiences with some of them under invisibility cloaks. Yet, online, we’re living like witches. Is it distribution when we’re performing to beyond imaginable publics and lots of people are taking pictures?
What about when we’re intending to share to our friends just like we’ve always done? Why do corporate interests get to tell us that our sharing with our friends is now bad even though we’ve ALWAYS done it? Is this only because they get to be the voyeur in the room? Who gave them that right? Sure, it’s a new public, but yuck. I can’t imagine growing up with a RIAA rep perched in my school bathroom.
A huge part of the identity process is to consume culture, mix it and personalize it, and share that with our friends because it has identity implications. We even share in public so that we can get parents to scrunch up their noses. Just because technology puts the elephant in every room imaginable, why do we have to accept their dictation of how we should consume their products? Why can’t we consume for identity, for culture, for life? Why can’t we recognize that remixes are active consumption where we’ve made culture personal and for our friends? We live in a world where accidental distribution is always possible, where everyone has the potential to be a celebrity in public – everyone wants to copy them. That’s weird. But that doesn’t mean that the acts we’re doing aren’t what we’ve always done. We just have different technologies now but the practice hasn’t changed.