Adventures in Everyday


The Legitimacy Farm – 4/7

A psychological interpretation of the propaganda model

The American educational film studio Coronet Instructional Films produced many, now definitively cliché, educational videos (e.g., Personal Hygiene for Boys, Nature of Heat, and Our Country’s Emblem; see Library of Congress, n.d.). One video of particular interest is the film Propaganda Techniques, which details the seven primary techniques of propaganda; “glittering generalities, transfer, name-calling, card-stacking, testimonial, plain folks,” and “band wagon” (Brink, 1949). The list of techniques may have been popularized by the video, but it was originally conceived of by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis (IPA) in its 1939 book The Fine Art of Propaganda (Lee, & Lee, 1939), and is still a highly regarded tool of contemporary propaganda analysis. Although the IPA has been long shut down, Dr. Aaron Dewlwiche from Trinity University has created a website featuring an updated list of the IPA propaganda techniques (Delwiche, September 29, 2002). Dewlwiche’s website features eight techniques, five of which is analyzed in this paper according to the psychological principles revealed in the studies of justice and legitimacy.

There is a vast reservoir of psychological studies that are helpful in making this analysis. For instance, psychological principles such as group identification, victim derogation, out-group homogenization, in-group glorification, group history, etc., may be directly applied to studying the effects of propaganda. Studies show that the manipulation of these psychological principles (and many others) in controlled studies can produce significant changes in the beliefs and behavior of participating individuals. These effects must also occur in some form in the real world, and so the rest of this paper is dedicated to analyzing each of the IPA propaganda techniques, using contemporary psychological terminology. This analysis will show that the general effect of modern media manipulation or propaganda is that affected individuals become more likely to attribute a greater degree of legitimacy to their government and media providers. A grasp of the psychological understanding of legitimacy is required to fully understand how significant this effect is. Legitimacy is defined by Tyler (2006) as:

The belief that authorities, institutions, and social arrangements are appropriate, proper, and just. This quality is important because when it exists in the thinking of people within groups, organizations, or societies, it leads them to feel personally obligated to defer to those authorities, institutions, and social arrangements. (p. 376)

A high degree of legitimacy is also known to provide an authority with a protective buffer that softens the public reaction to executive decisions which may otherwise be thought of as very negative (p. 381). Tyler says that such a buffer is “of particular value during times of crisis or decline, when it is difficult to influence people by appealing to their immediate self-interest” (p. 381). Legitimacy, then, may function in some cases as a form of “currency” which authorities invest in and, later, “spend” on policies that could otherwise provoke a public outcry. This psychological interpretation of the propaganda model shows how the manipulation of media functions in just such a way; by inducing people to attribute to their government and media providers an unrealistic degree of legitimacy. In this way, the public’s partial awareness of the manipulation of media does not provoke popular outrage if the government and media providers possess a reserve of legitimacy. Finally, the legitimacy currency produced by propaganda may be spent on further manipulations of the media, which in turn further legitimize the system in the minds of many citizens. A “legitimacy farm” analogy can be made, in which a portion of each season’s legitimacy harvest is used to produce the next season’s crop.

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Table of Contents

1 Background

2 Abstract

3 Introduction

4 A Psychological Interpretation of the Propaganda Model

5 Analysis of the Institute for Propaganda Analysis Techniques of Propaganda

5.1 Name-Calling

5.2 Glittering Generalities

5.3 Transfer

5.4 Testimonial

5.5 Plain Folks

6 Discussion

7 APA-Style References

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