(For those that see the similarity to the previous Propaganda and Goffman’s Face to Face Interactions, this is the same paper with a major overhaul of the introduction and a minor rewrite of the body with one concept deleted due to confusion. I am taking this paper to a few conferences this year to wow the intellectuals. There will be additional updates to this paper as it is the subject of my thesis)
Propaganda is everywhere. It permeates and smothers every aspect of our individual lives, and most of us don’t seem to notice what we see when our friends wearing logoed shirts, hats, and clothing, talk with us about favorite musical artists, technological devices, and even what they ate for lunch from the fast food restaurant around the corner. We engage in propaganda in small groups subconsciously and unintentionally. Propaganda existed in the United States before its introduction as a word during World War I, and it existed long before its creation by the Catholic Church in the seventeenth century to propagate their faith and to counter the negative effects of Protestant Reformation propaganda. Public relations, promotions, publicity, advertising, marketing, and other words are all derivative synonyms for propaganda. Samuel Adams, P.T. Barnum, and Harry Houdini were all propagandists. Adams used propaganda to promote the independence of the colonies from the British Empire. Barnum and Houdini used propaganda to promote their entertainments to the American and international consumer public.
Edward Bernays, who is generally believed to have built the public relations industry into the behemoth it is today, introduced propaganda to the U.S. public as a word during World War I. He introduced it in the posters promoting U.S. military efforts, in effect stating that the Germans were using propaganda against the people of the United States but that the U.S. was telling them the truth. However, Bernays found it difficult to neutralize the term after the war. “. . . Propaganda got to be such a bad word because of the Germans using it. So what I did was to try and find some other words, so we found the word (sic), counsel on public relations.” (Kelsall & Curtis, 2002). From its transformation into public relations, promotions, publicity, advertising, marketing, and other words, industries, and job titles were derived. And we have even recently added Internet social commerce to this family of related activities.
But what is propaganda exactly? Intentional propaganda is propaganda as most people consider it. It is “the systematic propagation of information or ideas by an interested party, esp. in a tendentious way in order to encourage or instil a particular attitude or response.” (Oxford English Dictionary CD-ROM Edition: propaganda, 3.). It is defined by external indicators, visible or audible, whether that is a symbol in the form of a logo, trademark, or a proper name associated with a particular entity immediately recognized by an individual or a group as a brand, product, service name, proper name, or idea that immediately reminds that individual or group of that entity, calling it to their mind, causing that individual or group to act upon it in some way. It implies a preexisting relationship or knowledge by a signifier (the individual) of a signified (the symbol). That individual usually has a preexisting knowledge of what the symbol means, its understood shorthand symbology.
Key to this discussion of propaganda in small groups is that in order for propaganda to be effective there must be an element of perceived truth within and among group members to maintain a sense of common solidarity among those group members. What is the perceived sense of truth within the propaganda of the group? Is there a universal perceived sense of truth that remains the same for every group or does the perceived sense of truth vary from group to group? Cooley noted that the self created or socialized by what is believed to be the beliefs and judgments of his or her primary group formed from family and neighborhood contacts at a very early age (Cooley, A Mead Project Source Page: (26), (27)) and what Mead noted as the generalized other, “the organized community or social group which gives to the individual his unity of self” (Mead 1934: 154) is what I have observed within effective propaganda as a “perceived sense of truth,” that is, in order for propaganda to be effective there must be a perceived sense of truth within the group. Without that perceived sense of truth in the group, the propaganda, whatever it is, has no opportunity of gaining a stronghold, whether it is political, personal, marketing, advertising, social commerce, or any other type of propaganda.
Intentional propaganda is practiced and performed by individuals and/or entities with a deliberate agenda, one that is in their best interests to promote whether he/she (or they) is the paid public relations liaison for a multi-million dollar corporation, a non-profit charity, a college sports team, a politician, or even someone promoting him- or herself and/or their ideas within a small group of acquaintances.
Unintentional propaganda differs from intentional propaganda in that it is propaganda that is not practiced by individuals with any deliberate intent or agenda. That is, the individual is not aware that he or she is promoting a particular idea, product, or agenda. Unintentional propaganda can occur when a name is repeated audibly or visually, whether it is a symbol in the form of a logo, trademark, proper name, or idea associated with a particular entity immediately recognized by an individual or a group as a brand, product, service name, proper name, or idea that reminds that individual or group of that entity.
Unintentional propaganda is not delivered with any deliberate intent to promote or systematically propagate anything, but it is inserted into and part of organic conversations where last night’s trip to the nightclub or lunch at the fast food restaurant around the corner from school or the office is discussed, even when directions are given by familiar landmarks. It is discussing major of “news” stories and media entertainment that act as a common bond between individuals in a group. It is the schoolteacher teaching the dominant version of national history from a textbook written from a dominant viewpoint that is reinforced in the classroom. It is promoting the “American Way of Life”. It is not a nation’s history that includes minority viewpoints, and it is not something that would be questioned as inaccurate by anyone except a historical scholar or someone espousing an alternative political agenda. (Doob 1966: 370, Ellul 1965: 64,65). It is wearing logoed T-shirts that promote products, services, or brands without realizing they are being worn. It is repeating intentional propaganda to an individual or otherwise discussing it with someone in his or her group. This can and does happen in perpetuity.
Erving Goffman does not confront propaganda directly in Frame Analysis that built upon his previous research in this area, but his discussion of frames, judgments, impressions, and behaviors bear directly upon my discussion of intentional and unintentional propaganda that occurs in small groups. In his introduction to The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Goffman uses a salesperson offering a product for sale where the group is more than likely to rely on first impressions and group stereotypes because they have nothing else to judge the character of the individual salesperson. The individual salesperson also relies heavily upon these impressions and his evocation of favourable impressions to control the thoughts and the conduct of others (Goffman 1959: 2). He sees this means of managing the control of ideas of the group as impression management. “Shared staging problems, concern for the way things appear; warranted and unwarranted feelings of shame, ambivalence about oneself and one’s audience. . . . .” (Goffman 1959: 237). This is controlling an audience’s impression so that it is in line with the desired goals of the actor, whether conscious, subconscious, or unconscious. In other words, this is propaganda.
Most small group members are not aware that they are unintentional propagandists. Within the frame, lies the social framework that Goffman describes as “guided doings” that control the agency of an individual “to standards, to social appraisal of his action based on its honesty, efficiency, economy, safety, elegance, tactfulness, good taste, and so forth.” (Goffman 1974: 22). This social framework is exploited by standard propaganda to build a framework that makes propaganda possible because it is perpetuated by the group and the individual utilizing the internal “judge” within that social framework. Goffman’s key is “the set of conventions by which a given activity . . . is transformed into something patterned on this activity but seen by the participants to be something quite else.” (Goffman 1974: 43-44). Two of these keys are play and ritual whereby propaganda controls the activity of individuals through symbolic punishment and reward utilizing the “prestige” of ownership of the particular object, and “punishment” for non-ownership, that in turn influences others with the propaganda that they have been influenced by. These controlling judgments by both the individual and the group is described by Doob as the principle of the arousal of related attitudes and the principle of auxiliary submissive attitudes where the propagandist reveals his aim after arousing related attitudes and attitudes associated with being associated with prestige (Doob 1935: 109-113, 132-135). A representative example of this occurs when children play with toy objectifications of television shows or movie characters and props, influencing other children in play activity, thereby influencing those children to influence their parents to purchase the toys that they see on television and play at their friends’ houses down the street. This same phenomenon occurs with teens and adults with the prestige principle that is associated with wearing designer clothing and the ownership of expensive electronics, or Veblen goods, commodities that are desired for their higher price points.
This prestige-inducing stimulus (e.g. a celebrity-endorsed product or idea that someone in the group may possess) does not necessarily have to be mass-produced or mass-celebrity induced. If one co-presenter has a level of local prestige or celebrity in the group, the others co-present will want to associate with him and his ideas. In Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Goffman describes this as the personal fronts that people adapt that include insignia of office or rank, clothing, sex, age, and racial characteristics. Here we see most people utilize gender, racial, and economic inequality as well as personal fronts of political, cultural, and economic beliefs, as well as purchasing choices that are in line with Cooley’s primary group and Mead’s generalized other programmed into a personal shorthand to navigate their daily lives. Goffman would readily add patterns of speech and slang that reveal education, socioeconomic class, and racial characteristics and stereotypes. All of this adds up to the aura of prestige that Doob discusses. And when those co-present share similar characteristic attitudes they feel that they are a part of the same social or economic group and will therefore strongly associate with the prestige of the ideas (Doob 1935: 61-66), although that associative influence can and has moved freely back and forth across class lines depending upon the popular movements of the day (e.g. the Beats, Hippies, popular media celebrities).
Propaganda does not necessarily have to be mass-produced and directly subjected to the masses, millions at a time. It is perpetuated by anyone interested in drawing individuals of a group into his/her or their sphere of influence who are willing and eager to be accepted by this individual as an intimate. Goffman calls this fabrication, “the intentional effort of one or more individuals to manage activity so that a party of one or more others will be induced to have a false belief about what it is that is going on.” (Goffman 1974: 83) He elaborates further when he describes exploitive fabrications, “where one party containing others in a construction that is clearly inimical to their private interests. . . .” (Goffman 1974: 103). He cites advertising and police interrogation as examples of this. However, the belief and the fabrication from that belief do not necessarily have to be false. While the original concept may vary from what the fabricator intends, his interpretation of it and his belief may be sincere. Propaganda, in order to be effective, must contain an element of perceived truth. Fabrications exemplify this beautifully when an individual or a group utilizes the propaganda that it has been influenced by and perpetuates and subjects that propaganda on another individual or group.
Goffman’s theatrical frame incorporates a line that is “ordinarily maintained between a staging area where the performance proper occurs and an audience region where the watchers are located,” but it is also “. . . the obligation to show visual respect which characterizes the frame of ordinary face to face interaction.” (Goffman 1974: 124-125) Within the social framework, the frame, the line, and the audience are never absolutely maintained. They evolve and shift at any given moment depending upon the action and the actors. It shifts. Even Goffman admits here that the “. . . theatrical frame is something less than a benign construction and something more than a simple keying.” (Goffman 1974: 138). Thus the propaganda utilized at the face-to face and group level obviously shifts within the frame and the group as the conversation shifts depending upon the dominant actor and dominant propaganda being espoused. This frame is also subject to shifts and moves, transformations or replicating processes, or copies, ‘each capable of littering the world with a multitude of copies: keyings and fabrications. . . . . the ‘actual’. . . is something that is subject to these two modes of recasting.
These infinite recastings are easily recognised everywhere where propaganda within film, television, advertising, marketing, print, and radio easily influences and perpetuates stereotypes, prejudices, and “subtle” or overt racism. These recastings occur in media rekeyed from original media. These can be copies whether they be advertisements paying tribute to or spoofing popular movies or other media that influence small groups through reinforcement of stereotypes from the original source, in small group gatherings in a locker room, in alternative groupings, whether of musical subgroupings of punk followers or another subgenre of popular music, or even anarchist groupings where younger followers emulate and copy older veteran followers. As a result of the reinforcement of these stereotypes, new groupings can be formed to perpetuate new propaganda and new stereotypes, some of them positive and empowering, including the Riot Grrl, and Anarchists Of Color movements. To take a current example from the media, there was the precarious and impending threat of closure of Hostess Brands when they blamed the unions for their bankruptcy. The media reported the union’s involvement as fact, and small group and face-to-face gatherings recycled and perpetuated that propaganda generalization into other areas of their personal life without further inquiry, thus influencing others to continuously repeat that generalization without question until it was accepted as “fact”.
But we also have to consider out-of-frame activity that Goffman describes where “participants pursue a line of activity—a story line— across a range of events that are treated as out of frame, subordinated in this particular way to what has come to be defined as the main action.” (Goffman 1974: 201). This is the case when an out-of-frame actor is directly concerned with, as a temporarily absent actor, but denies within his current out-of-frame group where his main action is occurring, as in a deposed dictator temporarily out of the country on a diplomatic visit to obtain government financial support. This is also the case where an out-of-frame actor forcibly enters a frame to cause a disruptive action whether physical or linguistic in a protest movement where a member of the main protest group forcibly becomes a temporary part of the main status-quo group that denies or ignores the protest group and protest movement’s validity or existence, such as the protests that surround the meetings of the World Trade Organization or national political party conventions. Of course, the propaganda of each small group can and does influence other groups, whether it be to reinforce the belief that one group must cross pollinate another out-of-frame group’s belief structure or to reinforce their own belief structure by reinforcing or increasing the size of their group.
The anchoring of activity is directly tied to ideas that Goffman introduced earlier in Frame Analysis. “The question of how a framed activity is embedded in ongoing reality appears to be closely tied to two others, namely how an activity can be keyed and (especially) how it can be fabricated.” (Gofman: 1974: 250). This idea is directly related to a question of the framing of social reality and what exists for each of us in the social world. But even if it is just social reality that we are analyzing, it calls into question whether or not the “reality” that we are seeing is what we see or a fabrication by those that want to dupe or mislead others into believing what is in front of us, be it a crude example of a mirage in a desert or the gambling speakeasy scene in the film, Robin and the Seven Hoods where, once the lookout spies the Feds entering the neighborhood, the scene changes to the interior of a church once the Feds break the door down. This is propaganda nonetheless because it contains elements of a perceived element of truth, the front that Goffman describes as the props that make the frame credible to the individual and the group. “The way in which strips of activity are geared into the world and the way in which deceptions can be fabricated turn out . . . to be much the same.” (Goffman 1974: 251).
This anchor includes the bracketing that occurs before and after the time of the activity to mark off the area of the collectively organized social activities from outside events and activities. These occur in games, a gavel calling a court or meeting into session and vary across cultures and within society over time. Within these brackets there are standard role conventions that differ between the individual person and the role the person is playing, including the hierarchic authority of a cult or a Communist Party general meeting or even a band. Within these hierarchies, there is dynamic and varied personal propaganda that is reinforced and repeated to accomplish belief and compliance within that group. The personal propaganda and the anchor are inherent in the individuals that make up the group and the activity and are not always independent of one another, where one may obviously influence the other.
Within the frame, Goffman considers everything “straight” activity, where all participants share the same understanding of a key, and one that involves an outer construction that leads to deception. He calls this ambiguity, where there are two groupings, “those in the know and those taken in, and each will have a different view of what it is that is going on.” (Goffman 1974: 301). This recalls Abraham Lincoln’s saying, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time.” This also recalls that effective propaganda must contain a perceived element of truth. Granted there are ambiguities here where the actions are careless and uncalculated and there is no overt fabrication intended by one group or individual, such as a pilot landing on the airstrip of enemy territory, but there are others, including events that are staged for publicity, such as the “Torches of Freedom” events that encouraged women to smoke in public places. While an “event” may be suspect for some, I disagree with Goffman’s assessment that most people would be suspicious of the sincerity or the veracity of the event or even doubt it. Most people will accept it at face value or ”ignore” it, meaning that they will overtly dismiss it, but internally accept it. This occurs with the “Red Bull” brand races that are sponsored by the brand. While people attend and participate, and even drink Red Bull, they accept it as a bona fide event rather than a publicity stunt. In the case of overt and covert political propaganda where politicians enter speaking engagements casting doubts on their opponent using negative language and information, most of the supporters in the audience will believe what they are being told. But there are also those that have not “decided” who to support that misread and misunderstand these fabrications without perceiving their ambiguity, and they may start casting doubt upon the opponent as the “better” choice. Repeated often enough, the “white lie” becomes a perceived truth that is difficult to dispel. This occurred in the recent presidential general election and several previous Republican primaries.
The frame can occasionally be broken when the borders of that frame are stormed and an audience member, for example, halts the activity, storming a stage to directly address the actors in character. This can be the manufacturing of negative experience where a deliberate attempt by an individual within frame acts to drive the audience members into a frenzy, perhaps to cause a few to react negatively to sell the event propaganda as something spectacular to the present audience and to future audiences during repeat performances in other locations, such as during a small riot at a music festival or concert. This gives the propaganda more veracity and much more value to the concert going public and, thus, increases the opportunities of selling more tickets, and attendees will certainly promote this face-to-face propaganda by telling their friends and acquaintances to attend the next night. This can even be performed where an actor in frame will “break frame” to address the audience directly to express pleasure, indignation, shock, and any other variety of emotions, designed to increase audience interest and credibility in the propaganda.
For Goffman, the vulnerabilities of experience are a matter of interpretation. The actors involved will, of course, interpret people and their personal events differently, whether positively, negatively, or neutrally. Take Goffman’s example of appearance. “He who cleans off his dinner plate can be seen as starved, polite, gluttonous, or frugal.” (Goffman 1974: 440). This framing will depend upon the varieties of gender, socioeconomic class, race, ethnic background and other primary groups and the generalized other of the observer. Camera angles are another area of interpreted frame from local, national news, documentary film, and Hollywood film where a high angle implies inferiority status and a low angle implies superiority. A similar framing can occur with the placement of lighting where placement can imply menacing evil or angelic goodness.
Linguistics is the personal propaganda of the actor, the words that he uses to describe the action, and the manner in which it is interpreted. People experience words differently and thus different words, whether innocuous or not, can imply racial or sexist stereotypes and varying forms of prejudice. It is in the context of Frame Analysis of Talk and the choice of particular words in face-to-face interactions that carry specific weighted terms that are understood as positive, or negative, and (rarely) neutral. This includes the language used in everyday conversations that refer to women, men, whites, blacks, Jews, Italians, Hispanics, and the Rroma. Racism in this context and in all contexts, really, is understood differently where those subject to the racism judge individuals by their actions and those practicing racism understand it by the intent or use of specific words or other coded words that are used to avoid the specific word in question. Such conversational linguistics and emphasis, whether intentional, unintentional, or misunderstood, can subject and influence individuals in small groups to propaganda the same way that mass media utilizes propaganda to influence anything from the smallest and innocuous news stories about a minority teen to a regional or national election. In most cases, the reporter involved is just as unconscious of the tone and effect of the language as the person repeating the story to his or her friends (Goffman 1974: 496) unless there is some known or unknown intent where the speaker intends to influence but declaims responsibility for what he or she is about to say (Goffman 1974: 512)
All propaganda, like all information, is self-interpreted and self-interested, even in the mind of the propagandist. “. . . while men are willing to admit that there are two sides to a ‘question,’ they do not believe there are two sides to what they regard as a ‘fact.’” (Lippmann 1997: 82). We rely upon our own generalities that develop or devolve into cultural conditioning that leads propagandists to reinforce those elements that become elements of perceived truths in the propaganda. In groups as well as in the face of mass propaganda interpretation, we are left to our own biases that are reinforced by the propaganda, whether it is to believe and obey the government, purchase a deodorant or a computer device, sign up for life insurance, or become friends with the new group member that will give us the prestige that a presenter so adamantly and convincingly claims. This is no different in the small group gatherings, in the co-presenters, in the fronts that Goffman reveals to us, especially given that anyone can be influenced by infinite varieties of propaganda. Additionally, Goffman adds frames where formal situations are deliberately manipulated by a performer or performers to have a certain effect (Drew and Wooton 1988: 506).
This is also the case with latter day social networks, albeit with the potential for several hundreds and millions more co-presenters that Goffman may not have envisioned. But certainly the presentation and framing of an Internet social network, if not the front, is that of a very personal gathering where participants associate with like-minded individuals and co-presenters. The idea of prestige and celebrity, whether local, national, or international is certainly valid here when one can become “friends” with sports, television, film, and musical celebrities and “like” what a celebrity individually “likes” to become more like a favorite celebrity. Corporate propagandists know this and take advantage of it as often as possible when various companies in the side bar of a web site ask one to personally “like” them as your closest contacts have already.
Face-to-face and small group interactions inherently incorporate propaganda whether it is personal propaganda or the result of mass media propaganda that infiltrates the small group. In some cases, it is easier to distinguish the source, but in others, the origin becomes a little more difficult to trace, given the permeating nature and effectiveness of the propaganda or propaganda campaign in question. Consider alternative and “non-mainstream” groups such as punks where conversations turn to local punk bands, festivals, and local styles of clothing (pre-media popularization of punk culture) where thoughts, ideas, trends, lifestyles, clothing, and music of one member influenced the varieties of style choices in another and vice versa. Although this occurs primarily on the Internet now, it is still valid for small group interactions and is usually referred to as social commerce, social media that supports social interaction and user contributions to assist in the online buying and selling of products and services. Local and independent music fans of underground bands that few have heard utilize small group propaganda in such a way that one fan passes her or his favorite underground band to another internet friend, whether middle school, high school, college or beyond, and makes a fan of a new person. This cycle can be infinite without the aid of mass media propaganda or availability of the music in the department store chain.
The physical proximity to media capitols such as New York City or Los Angeles should also be considered where the denizens of a metropolis influence smaller cities throughout the remaining areas of the country (and now the world) and sometimes vice versa.
. . . in the case of class barriers, a happy innovation which has happened to originate and make its way in a lower class, does not during periods of hereditary aristocracy and physiological inequality . . . spread further, unless the advantage of adopting it appear plain to the higher classes; but, . . . innovations which have been made or accepted by the latter classes easily reach down. . . to those lower levels which are accustomed to feel their prestige. (Tarde 1969: 190)
Mainstream media propaganda is also a source of influence of popular music upon elementary, middle school, and high school students who influence less popular classmates and mirror the popular musical tastes of those of the popular peer group. This face-to-face influence, of course, also influences less popular classmates to seek out mainstream media propaganda that in turn influences others in their peer group or proximate peer groups that they want to impress. Consider bar room conversations, high school and other cliques where conversations turn to iPhones, brand name clothing, shoes, TV shows, movies, and even politics where not only face-to-face conversation influences thought and action in an effort to emulate friends or even to fit in to a particular clique.
While Goffman did not specifically include propaganda from a gathering or co-presenter level, it would be hard to believe that it did not cross his mind a few times, given his in-depth analysis that encompasses several sociological and psychological characteristics of speech, of groups, of gatherings, of fronts. We all utilize speech patterns, we all gather in groups, and we all utilize fronts to interact with others in public, in private, and we engage in conversations where we are either convincing others of our viewpoint or convinced by another’s viewpoint. This is nothing more or less than propaganda at a base level, propaganda on a personal level. I speculate that the necessary perceived sense of truth in the propaganda probably varies from group to group, depending upon the interests of each group, but what is that perceived sense of truth within the propaganda from group to group? Is there a universal perceived sense of truth the remains the same for every group or does it vary from group to group?
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