I am currently reading a book called "Propaganda," by Edward Bernays. Along with Walter Lippmann, he is one of the fathers of American public relations. He was a direct nephew of Sigmund Freud and spent much time as a child studying human psychology under him. He put this knowledge to good work.
Bernays, along with Lippmann, believed that the masses could not be entrusted with decisionmaking in a Democracy. Fleeing antisemtic religious persecution in Austria, both believed that the masses had a mob mentality that would aim at nothing short of tyranny and oppressive brutishness, if given the chance.
To preserve the form of democracy, while minimizing its essence, Bernays and Lippmann (like the political philosopher Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago in the United States) stated that "the masses" must be presented with a predetermined, pre-selected, pre-digested set of options, dictated by the "Captains of Industry," or similar such men of virtue.
Most simply, these limited choices could be pianos, detergents, automobiles, or political candidates. More indirectly, these choices could be "suggested" by creating the proper climate for people chosing them. For example, Bernays was hired by a piano company to raise sales of pianos. Rather than run direct ads for pianos, he ran opinion pieces in womens magazines, in which "experts" discussed how all successful, respected families absolutely "needed" a music room. With this ingrained in the minds of the people, piano sales naturally followed. The key to all of this is to not aim for immediacy and directness, but to aim at a policy of incrementalism and indirection. This is the best, Bernays said, because the public is least aware of it.
Another tactic: rather than argue the idea yourself, put the idea into the mouth of a member of a respected group or a member of the perceived opposition, so as to make the argument more tenable. Ergo, have doctors endorse cigarette smoking in magazine ads (a PR campaign Bernays endorsed). Rather than have an atheist bring forth a 1st amendment establishment clause claim, have a Catholic bring it, because more folks will identify with him, etc...
The most interesting thing I have read so far is Bernay's belief that educated newspaper/news magazine readers are the most easily misled by clever, subtle propaganda. He says clever news stories and opinion pieces that cite certain facts or are endorsed or put forth by certain authorities can impress these folks the most. Even more so, a mere matter-of-fact piece that states the current factual situation as XYZ (when in fact it could be ABC). He says he finds it amusing to see people debating the nature of a political problem or foreign affairs issue that he, himself, largely constructed out of thin air. He may have found it amusing, but reading it, I am horrified.
Another idea pioneered by Bernays: the realization that direct persuasion fails with maybe 90% of the population. He says that when you try to debate them or persuade them with facts, they become combative and fight you, even if it is in their direct interest to agree. Instead, he suggests using humour or entertainment.
He discusses how in WW1, most people were opposed to the war, but by having Germans stereotyped as monsters in various news-reels, or by spreading clever, racist, anti-German ethnic jokes, he and his Committee (the Creel Committee) were able to increase public support for US intervention on the behalf of the British Empire.
Bernays did these things to stop antisemitic and other forms of intolerant hatreds, but in so doing, inadvertantly created a tool of tyrannical control and oppression so powerful and terrifying, that the world would never be the same again. As Karl Marx said, the "road to hell is paved with good intentions."
I remember a book I read called PR: A Social History of Spin. The author discussed how the Nazi Minister of Propaganda, Dr. Josef Goebbels, was an ardent student of Mr. Bernays, despite the fact that Mr. Bernays was Jewish. Goebbels desperately wanted to meet Mr. Bernays and apparantly sent numerous books to him to be autographed. We don't know if Mr. Bernays autographed them, but Goebbels claimed that he did. Goebbels, who had a PhD in philosophy (which is crucual in terms of understanding how he was able to understand Bernays and apply his writings in the way that he did), apparantly had an even larger library on propaganda than Mr. Bernays and had not only read all of his books, but had largely memorized a good deal of them as well. Goebbels was able to utilize Bernays' ideas on propaganda in a manner that was the most malicious and homicidal ever seen in the 20th century: to support the Final Solution.
Through Bernay's pioneering work on entertainment and using subtle stereotyping as a medium to incrementally create a favorable mood or climate for a favored action, Goebbels was able to increase German approval for the final solution through the utilization of entertaining films such as "Jud Suss."
Hitler's favored piece of Agitprop was a crude film called "The Eternal Jew." Although it gets most of the press in discussions and articles about Nazi Propaganda, this film was actually the least successful antisemitic propaganda film of the Third Reich and was only shown in theatres for a limited period of time, due to the fact that it was over-the-top and made audiences nauseous and women faint, due to its graphic portrayal of rats, disease, cancer and sewers. Hitler, who micromanaged its production (much as he tried to do with "Triumph of the Will, until Leni Riefenstahl scolded him, which he seemed to have enjoyed in a sadistic sort of way) was not a subtle man and frequently used similar-such visual, immediate, rapid metaphors in his public speaking. These worked in a Munich beer hall full of drunken lower-middle class and working-class street brawlers and war vets, but failed with polite, middle class crowds at the movies, particularly when accompanied with vile film imagery.
Anyway, this film failed at the box office in Berlin and Munich and it was carted off and shown to soldiers stationed at the front or in their barracks. In this manner, though, the film did, in fact, contribute to antisemitic violence by soldiers in the field. But here, due to the techniques employed (which were direct, and immediate) the impact was likewise direct and immediate. After seeing the film, troops, already in an agitated state, with ready access to weapons and easily available victims, would go on a random rampage in various villages and towns in occupied Europe. The film basically allowed the psychopaths among them to intellectually justify that which they wanted to do already. This could not happen in polite, urban, apathetic middle class society and as such, was a failure among the civilian population.
This is how US troops came to capture such films in 1943 and 1944. Since they thought all German propaganda was "genius," because the US government had marketed German propaganda as such, so as to strengthen the psychological and intellectual resolve of US troops (who they feared would be indoctrinated by Nazi super-propaganda), US soldiers labeled this film a "highly effective propaganda film" when they shipped it back to the Library of Congress in the United States. In fact, it was garbage and was dumped on the army as cinematic detritus. Goebbels realized as much. Instead, he planned to direct a new film, a psychologically sophisticated film that would be part of a sophisticated public relations campaign that utilized all of the methods of propaganda and opinion management innovated by Bernays and Lippmann. The film would be called "Jud Suss."
Jud Suss involved the fictionalized account of an ancient criminal trial involving a sinister court official from medieval Wurtemburg. The facts of the matter were altered to become a simple "morality tale" of an innocent, indebted peasant boy (statistical and polling data ensured that the actor represented the most common male type in Germany at the time) in a medieval German town who is locked up by his creditor (money-lender). To save her love, a young voluptuous, blonde German girl (whom all men in the audience will want to sleep with--> as well as be jealous of anybody, that is unlike them, that will try to) pleads with the creditor, who then tries to seduce and ultimately, rape her. The creditor almost succeeds, but fails. The girl rescues the boy and they escape. Its kind of like Hansel and Gretel, in reverse. The creditor is left in a cage in the town square at the end of the film. The first snows of Christmas falling onto his nose as he contemplates the crimes he committed. Then the film ends. The film was graphic for its time, but made for compelling entertainment.
(here is an article about the actual factual events upon which the movie is based; by claiming that it was based on a "true" story, the Nazis could gain even more points with this film. Of course, it was historical fiction. Even today, many people get their whitewashed, distorted history from movies. How many of us have had our views of ancient Rome distorted by Elizabeth Taylor's film, "Cleopatra?")
Underneath the over-arching narrative, the lead villain was portrayed with numerous antisemitic stereotypical features, but these were all subtle. No direct attention was called to them in the film. Nobody came out and said, "Suss is Jewish," other than the title of the film. Nobody said "Jews are X," or "Jews do ABC123," or "Jews are responsible for LMNOP." That would be too direct, as Goebbels knew. Bernays always said that if you can let the audience connect the dots for themselves, their ultimate impression will be that much stronger, because they will feel that they made their mind up for themselves, based on the available info. They will prance around like they solved some great riddle or something. In this sense, by letting them come to these conclusions indirectly, Goebbels stroked their ego, and made their hatred stronger.
Goebbels' Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda heavily polled and tracked the audience members who watched Jud Suss. They selected random audiences five months before the viewings. They acquired detailed demographic and personal data on the audience members. They began tracking the audience long before the viewing, ascertaining their political, religious and military beliefs, their views on corporal and capital punishment, racism, antisemitism, vegetarianism and the like. They conducted exit polls after the film. They continued to conduct polls and interviews for 3 months after the film. Whereas roughly 60% of the audience did not support the forcible relocation and possible extermination of Jews prior to the film, that number had decreased to roughly 30% afterwards, in coordination with a sophisticated, incrementalist propaganda campaign simultaneously conducted via radio, newspapers and in shopping areas, all according to the doctrines and principles laid down by Edward Bernays. This film and the propaganda campaign it took part in, played an enormous role in setting-up the political and psychological groundwork necessary for the Final Solution.
After World War 2, the Allied Armies scoured Germany for two things. The first and most often discussed are the German Wonder Weapons, such as jets, rockets, missiles as well as the various scientists like Werner Von Braun, who created them. The second, and least discussed are the propaganda files, statistical abstracts and research documents of Josef Goebbels and the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. The Soviets, amazingly, did not steal any of these papers when they liberated Berlin. Rather, they stole scientists, weapons, blueprints, artwork, toilets and lightbulbs (LOL). Stalin and the NKVD had little interest in the manufacturing of consent. For a backwards, largely illiterate peasant population, the Soviets had all they needed to manufacture consent. Subtlety was really not needed. When the Americans came to Berlin, they found a treasure trove of research pertaining to the manufacturing of consent in an advanced, cultured, first-rate developed nation. Never before had such a treasure trove of statistics on mass manipulation been uncovered in the history of human civilization. Most of it was carted away to the United States, where much of it was shared with leading businesses, in exchange for writing down a share of U.S. war debt.
Goebbels, like Bernays and Lippmann, were educated men, men who wanted to control society, who wanted society to be run by a small group of "supermen," and who had the proper tools of such control at their disposal. The only thing that sepparated Goebbels from Bernays or Lippmann or any of the Captains of Industry that hired them was character and intent, not to mention the nature of the government that hired them. But is that distinction sufficient to shield us from the dangers of propaganda? If the US government is less and less democratic with each passing decade, is that enough of an assurance that the news and images we get from Iraq or Afghanistan are to be trusted? Is that any assurance that the health data and food, drug and safety info we have is more reliable? Is it any assurance that people aren't really being tortured at Guantanamo Bay? Or that Muslims really aren't having their rights violated at the Ground Zero Mosque?Is it any protection against the propaganda we daily get from sources like Fox News and their Fellow Travellers?
Differing government types aren't enough to shield us, not only because of the inherent wickedness of man, but also because the private sector can often have as much power as the public sector and commit equal and/or greater abuses and infringements upon our civil rights. Worse still, our Constitution doesn't protect us against such private-sector threats. (Some European Constitutions do protect their citizense from such private sector threats, though)
Our surest safeguard is to limit the scope and influence of mass media and propaganda. Simultaneously, we must increase the influence and scope of public education and popular logic and reason, so as to have the informed citizenry needed for a fully functioning, participatory democracy.