Wednesday, November 17, 2004

What is propaganda? 

The term 'propaganda' means many different things to many different people. While some, most notably filmmaker John Grierson, view it as a positive tool for advocacy and education, for others it suggests negative connotations such as mind-control, lies and brainwashing.

For the purpose of this website, propaganda will be generally defined as the systematic deception of a certain group with the aim of affecting their actions, beliefs or understandings in such a way that conflicts with their would-be reasoned actions or beliefs were they to be justly and suitably informed.

With such a definition, however, some are tempted to assume that all manipulation, and subsequently all forms of art and media, is propaganda. This is not the case. All films manipulate their audience into accepting and, to a certain extent, believing the narrative of the film when in fact it has been fabricated through the manipulation of time and space during the editing process. But if the overall message of the film is not intending to deceive its viewers into accepting something known to be false, then no propaganda is involved.

In the same sense, just because something is subjective doesn’t mean that it is propaganda. An article presenting a writer's point of view is just that, unless the author is trying to mislead the reader into accepting something known by the author to be untrue or harmful to the reader. Similarly, not all persuasion is propaganda as one may often attempt to persuade another into accepting something which you are convinced is true and which you think would benefit them in believing as well.

Propaganda generally aims to reinforce existing beliefs within a society and attempts to incite an audience to action or at least into acceptance of the action being taken by the propagandist.

How does war propaganda relate to Hollywood feature films?  

There is a tendency within mainstream Hollywood film production to glorify war and military service. While this act of glorification itself is not necessarily propaganda, many films employ propagandistic techniques in order to achieve a certain end, whether to encourage military enlistment or to simply gain support for military endeavours.

These techniques include oversimplifying socio-political issues, de-humanizing the enemy, appealing to emotional rather than intellectual faculties and using specific language with particular connotations, either positive or negative. The intended result is for the audience to halt reflection and thought and accept the ideas put forth by the film.

Matters become more complicated, however, when the Department of Defence has direct involvement with the production and content of the film. Filmmakers looking for financial support will often agree to co-operation with the Pentagon which will provide military equipment, artillery and expertise in exchange for a prominent role in revising the shooting script to ensure that military interests are positively represented.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Why is it important to study Hollywood war propaganda? 

The presence of military propaganda in feature film is extremely prominent and yet rarely discussed. In fact, the military has a vested interest in keeping its role discreet in order for the propaganda to be most effective. This is exactly the reason why one should attempt to study and understand the process and techniques involved in propaganda. Since propaganda in film is generally a subtle, secretive practice, it is important for audiences to be aware and critical of the information being presented to them so that they may think for themselves rather than allowing themselves to be told what to think.

The rest of this site further explores the relationship between Hollywood and the military throughout American film history. It also contains links to other useful sources which would enable further research on this topic. Feel free to visit the Discussion board and leave us your comments or questions.

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