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Virtual Lecture Series - Propaganda: Mass Manipulation Through the Ages

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Techniques of mass persuasion throughout history culminating in today's propaganda and our perception of truth

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Propaganda: Mass Manipulation Through the Ages

Presented by Olivier Courteaux

WEDNESDAYS, 7 April to 26 May 2021

“Fake news,” “alternative realities,” “disinformation” and lies, not to mention conspiracy theories: more than ever, our world appears to be the instigator as well as the victim of mass information. Propaganda, the attempt by some to shape the thoughts and feelings of others, did not disappear with the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century. Fuelled by the digital revolution and social media, propaganda is increasingly present in our lives. This lecture series will look at the techniques of mass persuasion from ancient times to today.

7 April 2021 Introduction: a few preconceived notions about propaganda

Propaganda is the daughter of democracy. The totalitarian regimes of the 20th century and their use of propaganda on a scale never seen before gave the word its pejorative connotation. Propaganda as an organized effort to propagate beliefs and specific ideas first emerged in Ancient Greece. If the French Revolution paved the way for modern political propaganda, the democracies at war between 1914 and 1918 invented mass propaganda. The totalitarian regimes only followed in their footsteps.

14 April 2021 Influencing the masses: WWI and techniques of mass manipulation

The Great War gave birth to mass propaganda. As the conflict turned into a bloody stalemate, governments at war set up the first official propaganda services in history. The British learned quickly and became masters in the art of mass manipulation. The techniques of persuasion they developed proved so effective that Hitler and Goebbels later claimed that a significant part of their own propaganda technique was modelled after British propaganda.

21 April 2021 Public relations, marketing and advertising: creating a consumer society

Modern propaganda owes a great deal to advertising and its close relatives, marketing and public relations. Advertising was born in the U.S. in the 1920s. A look at the new techniques of economic manipulation and how they became an unescapable cultural phenomenon.

28 April 2021 The 20th century: the golden age of political propaganda

In 1939, Russian émigré scientist Sergei Chakhotin popularized the expression “rape of the masses,” which describes the techniques of persuasion used by political propagandists. A look at the techniques used in 1930s Germany and the Soviet Union, techniques based on the study of crowd psychology: individuals react differently in a group.

5 May 2021 The power of photography and film

During the interwar period (1919-1939), the propagandists discovered the value of the photographic image. Meanwhile, films from a mass entertainment industry revealed the extent of its propagandist potential between 1914 and 1918. In this lecture we will look at some of the most powerful images and films, the “best instruments of propaganda” until the U.S. “war on terror.”

12 May 2021 Television: persuasion and disinformation

“The medium is the message,” wrote Canadian communication theorist Marshall McLuhan in 1964. For most of the second half of the 20th century, television remained the main support to propaganda. Why? Because television, by associating image and comment, simplifies the messages it conveys to the public.

19 May 2021 Donald Trump: the “truth disruptor-in-chief”

The election of Donald Trump in 2016 paved the way to a new age of propaganda and, above all, our perception of the truth. His victory appears to be the result of a strategy of conquest based on scandal and provocation. “If you are different or scandalous, the media will write about you,” he declared in 1987. We will look at techniques of disinformation, “fake news” and “alternative realities under Trump.

26 May 2021 Political propaganda and the internet

The digital revolution has had a deep impact on the methods and techniques of propaganda, as well as on mass manipulation. Today, more and more people get their news from Facebook, a phenomenon that greatly contributes to the extreme polarization of our societies. A look at the digital revolution and how it is reshaping politics.

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