Sunday, August 6, 2023

Stuff People Are Writing About: "Facts don’t change minds: a case for the virtues of propaganda"

From Psyche, May 23:

A better understanding of propaganda and how to use it as an educational tool could advance the world in a positive way

On 21 March 2009, a baby named Waira was born at home near Barcelona in the charming neighbourhood of La Floresta. Unlike other births that occurred in the world that day, however, Waira’s birth was unique because millions of people in Spain and abroad would soon see the intimate details of her mother Carol’s labour on a television commercial, including Waira’s crowning and the baby’s emergence from Carol’s body.

Before the birth, Carol had welcomed members of a film crew from a Spanish advertising company into her home where they filmed the entire birth process, from Carol’s early labour through to the pushing phase, actual birth and finally breastfeeding of the newborn Waira. Several weeks later, many in Spain watched in amazement as they too witnessed the baby’s birth, captured on television in a well-crafted advertisement for Flex, a staple mattress company in Spain with wide success on the international market. Since it first aired in 2009, the commercial has been shown through channels across Spain and has received millions of views on YouTube alone.

Running its campaign slogan ‘Your bed: the most important place in the world,’ Flex’s advertisement is tasteful in its depiction of the young family welcoming its newest member into the world. With a midwife, her husband Nico and young son Cimar by her side, Carol and her family are beautiful people. They live in an attractive home found in a desirable tree-filled neighbourhood in Catalonia. In one scene of the ad, Carol makes her bed in a room that is almost entirely white, fluffing a duvet over the clean sheets, she herself dressed in a comfortable white dress, a translucent curtain allowing a faint breeze and sunlight to enter the room. In another scene, she and her husband lie in bed tenderly with their son, as they describe, in a voiceover, how their first child had also been born there. The music throughout is endearing. During the birth scene, Carol is strong, her husband holding her as their new baby arrives. Who wouldn’t want to give birth at home just like that and on such a comfortable bed?

Following its release, the evocative Flex advertisement quickly became a hot topic across blogs and websites in Spain. Flex, which had hired Sra Rushmore, a prestigious advertising company known for its socially responsible ad campaigns, had embraced birth, and in particular home birth, as part of its branding. The ad did have its detractors, some of whom claimed home birth is unsafe. In Europe, Spain has a high rate of the medicalisation of birth, and various feminist groups have, since the 1970s, alerted the public to the dangers of birth’s institutionalisation and obstetric violence in Spain, as well as to the importance of midwifery care and promotion of home-birth assistance projects.

Flex’s one-and-a-half-minute commercial on home birth brought the topic of birth care to the public’s attention more quickly and widely than had 50 years of activism in Spain. In addition to the numerous conversations taking place online and in the media about the commercial, the Spanish ministry of health released a statement only two months after the ad had aired. While not directly addressing the commercial, the governmental agency cited a largescale, respected nationwide study on home birth in the Netherlands, providing readers with statistics and declaring home birth and midwifery care safe and secure options for women and their families. The advertisement had succeeded in promoting a message that years of activism had not: home birth and midwifery care are safe.

Numerous studies have shown that, due to a myriad of cognitive biases such as belief perseverance and confirmation bias, facts unfortunately do not change people’s minds. Propaganda, on the other hand, works very well on this front, something we see clearly from how people and groups have used it over the past century. The Flex commercial, which taps into human emotion to depict birth and home birth as beautiful and desirable, is a form of positive propaganda.

The word ‘propaganda’ comes from the Latin propagare, which simply means ‘to spread’ or ‘propagate’, and finds its origins in the context of furthering Catholic missionary activity. However, its contemporary usage connotes the spreading of an idea or ideology through any means, often of a negative, manipulative nature. Some therefore view the concept of ‘positive propaganda’ as an oxymoron due to the word’s association with manipulation.

As seen in cases such as the Flex commercial, however, propaganda can also bring about a real transformation of a public mindset for the good. Martin Luther King Jr believed in the need for positive propaganda, as did W E B Du Bois, the latter of whom spoke of propaganda’s power in the arts. The intelligent use of words and images is of central importance to these undertakings....


Chomsky's Propaganda Model

Although a bit dated e.g. the ideology to be feared way back in 1988 was communism whereas now it is anything the media chooses; and pre-Google, Facebook, Twitter, as a general model this still stands up to rigorous analysis.

We'll be coming back to much of this but for now I just want to get some of the more useful pages onto the blog.

"They who have put out the people’s eyes, reproach them of their blindness."
~ John Milton (intro to the book, Manufacturing Consent)

Some arguments raised against the model, from

Four criticisms of the propaganda model

Back to
The Propaganda Model after 20 Years: Interview with Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman interviewed by Andrew Mullen
Westminster Papers in Communiction and Culture, November 2009

And finally, from Human as Media:

The news media: manufacturing anger, not consent. Herman-Chomsky’s Propaganda model revised

“Any dictator would admire the uniformity and obedience of the U.S. media.”
—Noam Chomsky


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Think Edward Bernays was a piker and Goebbels was a punk?

Well friend, look no further for your manipulation needs. Here's the latest research in easily digested pieces.

From the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:....
Attention Despots and Tyrants, Generative AI Could Be The Authoritarian Breakthrough in Brainwashing You've Been Waiting For
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And many, many more. If interested use the 'search blog' box, upper left.