In 1961 American historian Daniel Boorstin introduced the idea of “pseudo-events” in The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America. Arguing that the rise of mass media in modern culture left us with an insatiable demand for constant news and information, Boorstin says staged techniques were created that make news, rather than waiting for news to occur naturally.
Boorstin applied this analysis to media coverage of American politics, and found that the Presidency is particularly tied to pseudo-events. Writing just after the 1960 election season—where the landmark televised “Great Debates” were critical to JFK’s victory over Nixon—he criticized how a series of pseudo-events reduced “great national issues to trivial dimensions” due to the debate format.
Similarly, Journalist Neal Gabler examined the pseudo-event in his work “Life: The Movie, How Entertainment Conquered Reality,” written in 1998. Gabler argued that the pseudo-event transformed in into “pseudo-life.” In Gabler’s analysis, entertainment forms have tainted the way in which news and politics are packaged resulting in a world where reality and fiction are blurred, undermining the authenticity of our news.
We can find examples of this blurring of reality in politics. Politicians go to great lengths to script the unscripted—sometimes creating advertisements that resemble non-fictional documentaries such as Sarah Palin’s Alaska (when in fact they are fabricated and staged) and other times creating advertisements that are highly produced movie previews (such as this ad by Ron Paul.)
The Ron Paul 2012 Presidential Campaign released a national security-themed television ad that portrayed him as a veteran who will secure America’s borders and rebuild its defenses. The 30-second spot titled “Secure” includes flashing images of military helicopters and aircraft carriers. The ad states that America will not be the world’s policeman and spend trillions overseas.
The ad tries to position Paul as a leader who is prepared to deal with threats to U.S. national security and someone who is ready to be the nation’s commander-in-chief. The ad suggests that a strong national defense means ending destructive unconstitutional wars having an unclear connection to national security, ending costly state-building in regions where our presence is unwanted, and bringing hundreds of thousands of troops home to make America safer and cut overseas spending.”
I transformed his own political ad into an ad that counters his argument. I wanted to instill fear/anger/outrage at what would happen if Ron Paul were elected. I did this by using exaggerated and misleading images that played up the notion of security to transform his own political ad into an ad that counters his argument.
A common tactic used when attempting to influence opinion is to scare people with fear-arousing communications. A good examples of such communications are the advertisements made by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, which often portray the horrific consequences drugs can have on people’s lives. By stirring up people’s fears, these communications hope to imprint imagery or ideas in the mind that will keep people away from drugs.
I tried to do the same in my ad. For example, when he talks about securing our nation, I portray him as taking security too far resulting in an oppressive society where citizens are scared, greeted by guns when exiting the metro.
When he says he doesn’t want to act as the world’s policeman I show this image of armed guards outside of the Capitol, essentially saying “Yeah, right. This is what would happen if you elect this guy.” Whether its true or not, I have just planted the notion that it is true and that this would happen.
When he talks about how he’ll control wasteful spending, I play up that he wants to eliminate the department of education. On November 14, 2008 Ron Paul said in a New York Times interview:
“The Department of Education has given us No Child Left Behind, massive unfunded mandates, indoctrination, and in some cases, forced medication of our children with psychotropic drugs. We should get rid of all of that and get those choices back in the hands of the people.”
To illustrate this point, I used an image of children learning in a classroom setting.
In this case, my alteration revealed a truth. Ron Paul does want to eliminate the Department of Education. However, I manipulate the viewer to believe that he wants to get rid of education all together (not just the government’s involvement in it) by placing this image with his statement. This technique gives the illusion that a false statement is true for the purpose of propaganda.
The images I chose were designed to create an emotional effect on voters, instilling fear anger and outrage at what would happen if Ron Paul were elected. I was able to use digital tools to manipulate Ron Paul’s words and advertisements in a way that blurred reality and fiction.
Fear-arousing communications work best when the speech or advertisement instills the fear but then explains how to avoid/reduce such fear. If the advertisement simply causes fear but doesn’t offer information on how to avoid it, then people will likely dismiss the purpose of the communication. This is why at the end of my ad, I say to “vote no to Ron Paul” giving them a way to control the fear.
People often think of propaganda as something negative, as in a con or a lie. But propaganda really doesn’t have anything to do with negative or positive. It’s a technique. The word propaganda refers to any technique that attempts to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes or behavior of a group in order to benefit the sponsor.