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Propaganda: “Total” and “Time” Concepts Essay

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Updated: Dec 25th, 2020

Human society is a coherent community of individuals having mutual interests and similar intentions. While sharing common social institutions and culture the society’s members may have specific goals that can be achieved only by applying enormous collective effort. As a means of aiming at spreading compelling ideas, propaganda appeared. Propaganda can be described substantially as a phenomenon and functionally as a technique. Propaganda is a phenomenon which has a certain aspect characterizing it as an effective mechanism. Those aspects of propaganda are “Total” and “Time.” The interconnection and interdependence of those characteristics contribute to the understanding of propaganda as an active force operating in modern society.

As a characteristic feature of propaganda, the concept “Total” can be viewed as a multifaceted unit interconnected with other characteristics. In respect to active actions, the aspect “Total” has a lot to do with the organization of the propaganda process which implies involving a complete and consolidated effort primarily to achieve a desirable outcome. Total propaganda is entirely organized and surrounds the representatives of the target audience telling them what has to be done.

Propaganda in its “Total” aspect is inseparably connected with the idea of organization and directed actions. The “Totalness” is characterized by the use of all the means surrounding people to persuade them into some actions. Such political regimes as Nazism in Germany and Stalinism in the USSR were characterized by the total control of the government over all the spheres of life. Those political regimes turned into a national catastrophe not only for the countries where they appeared but for the whole civilized world (Jackall 256).

The fact that the most outrageous instances of propaganda are never forgotten and stay in history brings us to the next aspect of the investigated phenomenon and technique, which is the “Time.” All propaganda exercises and maneuvers take place in the course of some period. The “Time” as a continuum of successive events situating in the present past and future characterizes propaganda in two different, juxtaposing dimensions. Propaganda can be either “timely” or “timeless.” The aspect of “timeliness” implies that propaganda techniques are applied at a certain moment in time, thus making the techniques up to date.

Another aspect, characterizing propaganda as a phenomenon and technique is “timeliness” which states that propaganda is not restricted to a certain time or date. Instead, it embraces the concept of “Time” in general. The aspect of “timelessness” takes its roots from the early history of the target group. To build a solid ideological foundation for propaganda, cultural and historical heritage is interwoven with timely and effective propaganda.

Even timely propaganda based on current events does not give the target group completely new information. Propaganda is not about new facts and getting people informed; it is about total control via manipulative techniques based on the background knowledge of cultural heritage and current needs. The negative approach to propaganda is based on these features. The fundamental understanding of the cultural and historical roots of the targeted audience brings us closer to the understanding that aspects of “timeliness” and “timelessness” are interwoven with the aspect “Total” which implies the overall control over the propaganda process.

The aspects “Total” and “Time” as characteristics describing propaganda are interdependent. First of all the aspect, “Total” is connected with the idea of “timeliness” in a sense that propaganda appearing in due time provides total control of the ideological background of the society. Secondly, the aspect “Total” can be associated with the characteristic “timelessness” as their connection implies the total control of the situation connected with the target audience. The interdependence of the characteristics “Total” and “Time” in describing propaganda establishes a holistic view of this complicated phenomenon.

A brilliant example of the holistic nature of propaganda is a list of the effective propaganda principles elaborated by Minister Goebbels who was the master of Nazi ideology for more than a decade. In an attempt to “demonstrate an unswerving loyalty to Hider” (Doob 419) Goebbels managed to work out massive propaganda principles corresponding to the aspects “Total” and “Time” characterizing propaganda on a more abstract level. According to Goebbels, there are some propaganda technical principles. Many of them may contribute to understanding propaganda as a phenomenon viewing it through the concepts of “Totalness,” “Timeliness,” and “Timelessness.”

The first principle correlating with the aspect “Total” is the following “Propaganda must be planned and executed by only one authority” (Doob 422). This principle is in line with the Nazi law, as well as Goebbels’s craving for power and the idea of total propaganda surrounding the target audience with persuasive ideas. Another feature of Goebbels’s propaganda corresponds to the “Time” as an aspect of the phenomenon. The principle argues “Propaganda must be carefully timed” and fully correlates with both aspects of propaganda as a phenomenon, that is “Timeliness,” and “Timeliness.” (Doob 434).

It is also stated that “A propaganda campaign must begin at the optimum moment” (Doob 434). The propaganda has to be timely. The practical ideas of Minister Goebbels provide a theoretical opportunity to explain the essence of propaganda as a phenomenon. Aspects and characteristics of propaganda become principles and patterns of propagandistic actions. That is how theory can become a technique.

The ideology of Nazism which is the most ruthless regime in the history of humanity is a vivid example of how powerful propaganda can be. Striving to demolish the entire nation the Nazi regime created the whole new model of cognition in the minds of its followers. As a way of thinking Nazism still exists, which is a horrifying example of how effective the propaganda as a technique can become if it is solidly built on carefully established working principles. Propaganda is a system of persuasive, mainly manipulative, means imposing the desirable ideas on the target audience (Ellul).

To compare propaganda as a technique with propaganda as a phenomenon is to establish a holistic view of it. The features of propaganda at the beginning of the 21st century were investigated by two researcher Herman and Chomsky. They suggested viewing propaganda as a model and aimed to deepen “its current dynamism and validity for explaining mass media production and content in advanced capitalist democracies” (Pedro 1865).

Since 21st century is the century of information, the researchers have to deal with mass media and establish some principles according to which information has to be refined before getting to the reader. Ellul points out that “… the study of propaganda must be conducted within the context of the technological society. Propaganda is called upon to solve problems created by technology, to play on maladjustments, and to integrate the individual into the technological world” (17). Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky worked out the original version of the propagandistic model focusing “on the propaganda dimension of information by identifying five filters (ownership, advertising, information sourcing, flak, and anti-communism) through which information must pass” (Pedro 1866).

Those principles become the working components of the 21st-century propaganda. According to Marlin, “… we consider propaganda as the attempt to shape the thoughts and feelings of others in ways conforming to the aims of the communicator” (35). The approach to the propaganda model provoked several waves of criticism. That resulted in establishing various theories of propaganda, practicing new approaches to it, and ultimately building a better understanding of propaganda as a model that can have characteristics and technical principles.

Herman and Chomsky’s model turned out to be a productive one. “At the beginning of the 21st century, a small group of authors emerged who, based on a theoretical and ideological perspective similar to that of Herman and Chomsky, have worked on strengthening, updating, refining, and expanding the model” (Pedro 1867). Among those researchers were Klaehn and Mullen. They have contextualized and framed the propaganda model within the tradition of critical sociological theory, highlighting the centrality of the concept of power (Pedro 1867). According to the authors, the propaganda model offers a way of understanding the relationships between media and society in the capitalist, liberal-democratic systems (Pedro 1868).

During the recent century, our word has changed dramatically. That is why propaganda viewed as a process in 1940’s was perceived as a model in 1980’s. Being complex and compound phenomenon propaganda has a number of aspects, two of them “Total” and “Time” are crucial for its understanding. Aspects of propaganda as a phenomenon can be juxtaposed with technical principles of propaganda as a technique and as a model.

All these features contribute a lot to the general understanding of propaganda. Propaganda is ideas from one that is spread to members of society in order to further its success or even harm the opposing party’s reputation. Propaganda’s goal is to implement a message to its target audience. The message is usually biased and misleading and is used to promote the propagandist’s point of view. In other words, it has to do with an organization conveying some type of message in order to manipulate its target audience. Since manipulation is involved, propaganda is usually seen as a negative phenomenon.

Works Cited

Doob, Leonard W. “Principles of Propaganda.” Public Opinion Quarterly, vol. 14, no. 3, 1950, pp. 419-442.

Ellul, Jacques. Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, New York 1965.

Jackall, Robert, editor. Propaganda. NYU Press, 1995.

Marlin, Randal. Propaganda and the Ethics of Persuasion. Broadview Press, 2013.

Pedro, Joan. “The Propaganda Model in the Early 21st Century.” International Journal of Communication, vol. 5, no 1, 2011, pp. 1865-1905.

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