Publicity-Propaganda

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I wonder what Eddie Bernays would say if he were here to see it?

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Summary. The authors discuss the demarcations between what is considered journalism and what is considered public relations. However, the authors use the professional societies of each to describe, define, and delineate between what constitutes the key elements of each profession.  While acknowledging the professional job descriptions of each, the authors also acknowledge that the development of information and communication technologies as well as social development processes has blurred the lines between the two where now a journalist may contribute to the promotion of some goods or services. (p. 218). While I understand this is a summary of a study, I disagree with the generous assessment of the authors regarding the long-standing “impartiality” of journalists who retain biases from what they are assigned and from what they write and ask.

Problems. The authors admit that both journalists and PR specialists are increasingly blurring the lines of demarcation between the two professions due to the proliferation of information on the Internet that is freely used by both. The authors make a distinction between PR, advertising, and propaganda (the former subcategories of propaganda), admitting that the PR specialist uses these and the journalist frequently uses the press releases wholesale as “stories” from the PR specialist.  Additionally, the authors cite the acceptable practice of negative coverage of a featured advertiser as a story subject until their advertising budget is paid to the media outlet.  This, according to the authors and the ethics of the two groups societies, is acceptable.  The authors are not interested in eliminating the demarcation problem, but they point out further trends for discussion.

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(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.

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(This something that I have considered since working for local network television news.  The readings lately and the other students viewpoint on this have just codified what I have known all along.  Now I just have to find a way to research with this in mind.  Stay tuned.)

Everyone has a bias, and objectivity is an illusion.  If one admits and begins from this assumption, then individually, each of us can step back and analyse those biases to determine each of our qualifications or disqualifications for a particular study.  However, if each of us can scrutinize those biases in depth and lay them out in the research study for all to see, construct study questions in such a way that the bias is minimized (admittedly difficult), allow the study participants to speak for themselves without any interpretational editing after the fact, and minimize the usage of linguistically loaded language that implies inferiority or superiority, then a valuable research study might result.

All of these issues and more are built into what Davidson describes in the table of four-fold perspective on subjectivity in Qualitative Research Design for the Software User.  The subjectivity and role of the researcher are things that cannot be realistically controlled, given our individual environmental and cultural conditioning.  Subjectivity, especially, is something that most individuals take for granted.  Individuals assume that most people in their immediate surroundings are similar to  them, but when behaviour that is counter or alien to what they assumed or expected, the response can be inconsiderate, and sometimes even culturally insensitive.  Role can be controlled to some extent by certain personalities, but it is still subject to the same environment and cultural conditioning.  Admitting these shortcomings as much as possible places more value on an individual as a researcher and on the research he or she is conducting.

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Changing Modes 8 June 2011, Atlanta, GA

Changing Modes 8 June 2011, Atlanta, GA

My driving research interests are more like lifelong passions, as any glance into one of several bookshelves of my library will reveal.  However, those interests are usually distilled into a few topics that contain a myriad of additional subjects.  I am fascinated by sociology in general, but I am especially fascinated by how people react and act in various contexts towards other people whether they are individuals or small groups and vice versa.  This fascination predates my knowledge of Erving Goffman, though Goffman and a handful of others have codified this interest into the myriad of interests that encompass small group propaganda.  That driving research interest has been and will be the subject of several papers, a thesis, and several conference presentations.

Previously, I stated that my driving interests contain a myriad of additional subjects as well. This is especially true of my interest in music, local, independent, and unsigned musical artists.  Here, my two lifelong interests in propaganda and music converged in New York when I attempted to be a big-picture propagandist, what is commonly called a publicist, for a few bands and one open mic night at a New York bar on the Lower East Side.  I succeeded in achieving some publicity in a few local newspapers (which I am pretty proud of), but I realized shortly that I was always mediocre as a publicity propagandist at best.  I have always understood the whys of propaganda better than those who practice it, but the how was always elusive.  When I decided to return to school for a master’s degree, I toyed with the idea of an MBA in Marketing for a quick minute until I looked into the propaganda bookcase and saw nothing but sociologists or practitioners influenced by sociologists. Marketing would have also bored me to tears.

And so I arrived at sociology and I arrive at Music and Propaganda as driving research interest.  I suspect that this driving research interest will be fine-tuned in the near future, but I would like to dig a little deeper into how musical artists, independent of labels (or signed to a label so small there is no advertising propaganda budget), use propaganda to promote themselves to sell “merch,” promote themselves as artists, and promote a series of shows, whether local, regional, national, or international.  It is independent artists that I am interested in,  and so it is small group propaganda that is still the most applicable.