Where it all began…
Like most great stories, we must look towards the beginning to fully understand where we ended up. To do so, I looked toward the very question I posed to my fellow classmates at the start of this semester “What happens to society when an over saturation of propaganda results in a large population of society to simply tune-out all traditional mediums? I'm extremely interested to delve into the ways our most favorite movies and video games exploit our interest to push propaganda. Is this practice ethical? Moral? Legal even?” A question, I’ve since learned has many catalysts yet even fewer answers.
I Speak for the Trees
One of the more enjoyable topics from this semester, for my LEAP 1 project I recounted the famous tale of the Lorax Written and first published in 1971, The Lorax, a charming tale detailing the struggles of an environmentalist who quite literally “speaks for the trees” when nobody else seems to be listening. This project focused primarily around a single quote of propaganda from the Lorax, “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful low, nothing is going to get better. It’s not”. A profound truth that upon further investigation revealed many key points, among them the most notable being we all don’t hold the same values to equal esteems and the conflicts that may arise due to such facts. Take for instance, logging communities entirely dependent on the cultivation of trees and lumber for their very way of life. As pro-environmentalist groups push for the conservation of wildlife in this country, more-and-more traditional citizens with careers as lumberjacks will undoubtedly become unemployed. A double-edged sword, as it were.
Propaganda on Both Sides of the Isle
One of the most significant truths I’ve learned this semester is that propaganda does not discriminate, well it certainly could. I’m more so referring to the sense that no politician is above or immune to using propaganda as a means to push their own agenda. As we saw in 2008 with democratic presidential elect Barrack Obama and his iconic ‘Hope’ campaign that became iconic almost instantaneously. According to Shepard Fairey, the artist behind the poster, “a lot of people were digging Obama but they didn’t have any way to symbolically show their support. Once there was an image that represented their support for Obama then that became their Facebook image or their signature or something they use on their MySpace page (Wortham, Wired).” This project opened my eyes to the sheer power of symbolism and the way such propaganda can even alter our perceptions of ourselves; including our values, morals, and behavior.
The Infamous MAGA Hat…
An even more recent example, would be Donald Trump’s “MAGA” Hat, or “Make America Great Again” hats. Though, in the opinion of this author, representing the near polar opposite of the “Hope” poster. This example still exemplifies the sheer power behind symbolism and its ability to affect our very nature. As we’ve seen in recent headlines, such propaganda does not always result in positive outcomes for the greater good. In fact, I think one could make a substantial case for arguing the exact opposite, that being such symbolism can actually be a catalyst for hate and even violence against one-another. As I put it in my LEAP 2 project, these MAGA hats are “Perhaps, the most controversial piece of clothing since the invention of white-hoods.” What can’t be denied, is that the Make-America-Great-Again hats helped to unify a deprived right-wing America. What started out as symbol for Donald Trump’s administration, transformed from a stance on immigration or national policy eroded into something far worse.
Downsides to the ‘Unconventional Classroom’
Having not previously taken part in a plethora of online learning environments, this past semester was no doubt a learning experience filled with its fair share of challenges and opportunities for growth. Admittedly, the various forms of blogs, charts, forums, etc. took a great deal of time to adjust too. Having spent the vast majority of my time here at the University of Rhode Island utilizing Sakai for all my forums, tests, quizzes, and assignments, being forced to create a myriad of accounts in attempt to post my assignments on unfamiliar websites was not easy. Even completing this very LEAP assignment, I’d argue became more difficult as I had to sift through each week to rediscover the unique website link I was asked to post for that given week. Instead, in my humble opinion, I feel I’d better serve my personal learning toolkit by consolidating all my hard work and posts in one singular entity such as Sakai. This issue became most prevalent during LEAP 2, when we were allotted a partner to work with. Despite any effort on my end to establish a consistent line of communication with my partner, I simply could not push them to engage and contribute to our efforts like I’d hoped. Unfortunately, such lack of communication resulted in me doing the majority of our project myself. Perhaps, just chalk it up to learning styles, which isn’t to say one is better than another when it’s simply a matter of preference and comfort. All in all, I just feel that all the time I spent trying to teach myself the minutia of a new website would be better spent reviewing the actual material I was asked to cover.
Education on the Verge of Renaissance
With all the challenges and disadvantages being stated. I still strongly support online classes in their entirety. For example, I would not be able to attend such informative and eye-opening classes if it weren’t for their electronic setting. Not to mention, the opportunities e-learning create for all types of people from all walks of life. I for one, am extremely grateful for such opportunities. Since the very beginning of this course I’ve moved to an entirely different state, started a brand-new career, and became completely independent, all challenges in it of themselves. Such things became external obstacles that I had no choice, but to adapt and teach myself to better prioritize and manage what little free time I was given properly. The sheer nature of my profession often calls for 50-hour work weeks combined with 12-hour days that would leave anyone drained and completely exhausted. Had I been enrolled in a traditional classroom setting I surely would have been dead at square one. So, in a much greater sense this course has quite literally taught me to manage new life, my life as an adult member of society.
Everything I Know is (a lie) Propaganda!
Perhaps the most interesting, applicable, and shocking truth to emerge from my semester studying propaganda is that quite literally everything I love could very well be propaganda. A jaw-dropping realization for me personally, whether it be my favorite video game or string of Marvel cinematic movies, in some way shape or form the messages we’re absorbing have been influenced by a higher government entity with an agenda of its own. Look no further than Tom Secker and Matthew Alford’s article entitled “Documents expose how Hollywood promotes war on behalf of the Pentagon, CIA and NSA” to begin to understand just how prevalent this practice is. Despite being able to understand the intention behind such censorship, I was floored to realize my favorite cinematography is not immune to government intervention “It seems that any reference to military suicide — even an off-hand remark in a superhero action-comedy adventure — is something the DOD’s Hollywood office will not allow. (Secker, Tom)” As I noted in my Spark page, this fact is far from shocking, in the sense of course that this would be something the DOD would wish to avoid. Yet, it’s very much shocking to see the DOD’s reach extend across to one of our most iconic franchises and… (SPOILERS)… the galaxies greatest hero, Tony Stark (IronMan).
What Disgusted Me the Most.
The most gut-wrenching realization for me this semester was shortly after the terrorist attack in New Zealand against a sacred Islamic house of worship. For far too long the mainstream media has neglected a reality of these mass-shootings, that being many of the culprits aren’t Islamic extremists, but white supremacists subscribed to the philosophies of the far-right extremist. As we saw in the article by author Charlotte Graham-McLay of the New York Times, “mainstream social media companies had generally succeeded in suppressing content from groups like the Islamic State on their platforms, but that far-right groups had not received the same treatment (Graham-McLay,New York Times).” A gross oversight that speaks volumes towards the general cultural ignorance abundant in 21stsociety. Graham-McLay continues on with the perfect phraseology to illustrate how responsibility falls upon the shoulders of mainstream social-media outlets like Facebook, “We cannot simply sit back and accept that these platforms just exist and that what is said on them is not the responsibility of the place where they are published,” she told Parliament on Tuesday. ‘They are the publisher, not just the postman (Graham-McLay, New York Times).’ Truth be told, just as much responsibility falls upon the consumers of such massive mediums. It’s up to the audience that receives these messages to not just sit idly by waiting for widespread change, but to demand it. Because, frankly it’s simply taking too damn long. How many more lives do we need to watch end prematurely? How many more families must be destroyed, before we finally put out feet down and say enough? In my opinion, we’ve become numb, a state we simply can’t allow ourselves to wallow in.
Dude, Have You Seen Traditional Journalism?
This semester, I can’t help but reflect on one of my most profound realizations We now find ourselves, plopped down straight in the middle of a world filled with short attention spans, which consequently results in the most attention-grabbing, bold, and at times outrageous headlines become most prevalent. Recent waves of propaganda not only tarnish and disregard traditional values of journalism, but have combined with a growing lack of national apathy towards the media to create a disinterested and skeptical 21st society. A society, I’m quite ashamed to say I’ve been part of despite all efforts to escape. Now more than ever, I don't want my news-outlets or media personalities to be storytellers, leave that sort of thing for the big screen and Hollywood, but instead become vessels of truth, fact, and objectivity. As noted in Week 6, entitled ‘Virality’, “we make our own reality by the interpretations we make of our immediate experience plus the vast array of media messages that surround us (Hobbs).” A profound statement, of which I believe holds significant truth. It's simply the reality of the world we live in, often times people only seek out to find beliefs that reinforce pre-existing or predetermined ones already held in their minds. This becomes quite dangerous when we no longer live in a world of objectivity and allow the lines of fact and fiction to blur. What is undeniable, however, is the power of messages and their ability to shape our very interpretation of the world we live in, as well as the way we act and act towards one-another in that very same world.
Where Do We Go from Here?
When I first started this course, my initial question had driven me in the wrong direction. It didn’t take long for me to truly grasp and come to realize just how prevalent and serious propaganda was in my life. This is far from a new development in any sense of the word. In fact, one can assume much of the foundation and principles I’ve come to hold and base my very essence off likely have been influenced by propaganda in some shape or fashion. As we’ve seen through countless examples, week after week, you never exactly how propaganda will try to influence you, but you can be certain it inevitably will. Whether or not you’re going to absorb it is one thing, but whether or not you’ll be able to discern and recognize it is an entirely different demon to conquer. In fact, a healthy dose or general sense of skepticism in today’s world should be rule number one in any communications-major’s survival guide for 21stcentury media consumption. Because of this fact, I am actually quite grateful for both this class and equally the teachings of Professor Hobbs. Without question I’ve learned and adopted new techniques for identifying the underlying message of a sender. In a sense, I’ve since awoken as a result of being capable to do so and am better off for it.
Bernays, E. (1928). Propaganda.
Graham-McLay, C. (2019, March 21). Spreading the Mosque Shooting Video Is a Crime in New Zealand.
Secker, T., & Secker, T. (2017, July 04). EXCLUSIVE: Documents expose how Hollywood promotes war on behalf of the Pentagon, CIA and NSA.