Monday, April 15, 2013

World Building A to Z: News and Propaganda

This month, I'm sharing my observations on world building and setting from a bunch of different stories. 

News and propaganda: First, a disclaimer: I am involved in the local news media; I enjoy learning about others and sharing about stuff happening in my community. I find that media folk in fiction are frequently portrayed as being cutthroat and fake, and they have an I'll-say-anything-to-get-ratings-or-readers kind of mentality. While there could be some media personalities out there who foster these negative stereotypes, I must say that I'm not one of them!

I find that the way news and propaganda are portrayed in a story can shed light on two things about the collective consciousness of a world: 

1. The public opinion on a given topic

2. The mainstream public's fears

A group's collective opinion or fears are not necessarily grounded in thinking that is fair or unbiased. The sentiments people have on a variety of topics are oftentimes shaped by their perception of the world around them.

In Emma Donaghue's ROOM, Ma goes through a horrendous ordeal of being kidnapped and imprisoned by her captor and rapist for years. During this time, she gives birth to a child; the story is told from this five year-old boy's perspective. BOOK SPOILER AHEAD--please scroll over the text for the next group of  lines if you don't mind reading what happens --- Ma is rescued, and she and her child become free. Then, a news reporter peppers Ma with accusatory questions, loudly suggesting between the lines that Ma has not done enough to give a better life to the child she had given birth to during her imprisonment. 

In ROOM, while it appears that those who judge Ma are in the minority, the news reporter's questions represent the sentiments of those in our contemporary world who blame and find fault with females who have been victimized.

A book that spotlights the effect government propaganda has on its people is Markus Zusak's THE BOOK THIEF. This YA novel takes place in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. The book shows how Hitler's propaganda spread by his ability to use words to influence others. With words, he exploited the fears and insecurities one demographic had by scapegoating another demographic. It's frightening to think how it had only taken words, spoken with conviction by a charismatic leader, to enable the horrors suffered by the Jews during World War II. In THE BOOK THIEF, a German family refuses to let the propaganda influence them;  they risk their livelihood to hide a Jewish man in their home. 

Can you think of other examples of news media or government propaganda in stories?

Now that we've seen in our history the horrors that can occur from the blind acceptance of hate-based propaganda, do you think people are more adept at rejecting such propaganda today?  Why or why not?


Francene Stanley said...

I don't know if it's propaganda or the things they've been taught as children, but people still perpetuate race-rage. This reminds me of the song in South Pacific. 'You've got to be taught to love and hate' ...

S.P. Bowers said...

I think the immediacy of information helps keep people from blind acceptance. People are getting used to being able to google something and finding all sorts of differing opinions, therefore being able to make informed decisions. Yet, at the same time, we've all seen the rage storms that will sweep through blogging and twitter. People hear something and "discuss" it, often without knowing all the details.

I don't think something like the horrors of WWII would happen again, but people will always be people and be swept up in issues.

Melanie Schulz said...

I think people (including myself at times) are prone to be sympathetic to whatever spin the media has on things.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I try not to get inundated with news in general. Not that I bury my head in the sand. I strive to find a balance between being informed and being drowned in negativity and despair.

And really, now I just want to re-read those books again. So good! :)

Pat Hatt said...

Yeah people still follow like sheep to whatever the media says, said but true.

Rosanna C. Rogacion said...

In the Philippines where I live, people have become used to government propaganda. We can tell what is news and what is propaganda. As for reading the book, I really can't read nor watch anything about the holocaust. It's too painful for me.

Happy blogging and thanks for visiting my site.

John Wiswell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Wiswell said...

Propaganda is a little more honed today than it used to be. Now people opt into hearing what they want, because media is so plentiful that there are several streams of messages. Want a libertarian bias? A pro-Obama bias? Pro-Israel? Never hear about the wars? Only hear about the wars? We've got websites and RSS feeds for you.

John at The Bathroom Monologues

Lynn Proctor said...

i think we can still be influenced very easily by propaganda

Ghadeer said...

I love the way Room accurately illustrated all the additional pressure that comes from your story being followed by the media.

I think Rowling does a good job in Harry Potter to show how powerful government propaganda can be, to the extent that they had even people close to Harry disbelieving him.

Stephsco said...

The Book Thief was such a cool story.

I was just reading a non-fiction book about people who escaped from North Korea, and that was so terrifying to read because it's not fiction. Those people have no choice but to obey--well, they do, but the choice is obey or die. Very sad.

Kathy said...

Honestly I think the media causes more trouble than they are worth. At times too much information is not a good thing. It inspires terror. Yesterday my kids schools were threatened. Security should have been strengthened and parents informed but the media shouldn't have been informed until after the fact, and maybe not at all. Instead this threat was made over a month ago. The media built up so much hype that people were running scared. Thankfully nothing happened. Things are scary enough these days without the media blowing it out of proportion.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

It seems much of the media today has one purpose - to scare people. People who live in fear are easily controlled.

baygirl32 said...

the media tells us what they think we want to hear, personally I think people put too much stock in it

A to Z Ninja Minion

Mina Burrows said...

So many people have been fed ideas since the beginning. I think its people's fear of not belonging that makes them accept the ridiculous.

Elise Fallson said...

We don't get tv reception at our house-by choice. Most of the news we get is via the radio. Of course some from the internet as well. But I feel that the public radio is less interested in the shock value of stories and more interested in providing news on current affairs. Maybe part of the reason is because there are no visuals to radio.

Nick Wilford said...

Propaganda done well - or badly, however you look at it - can sweep up a certain fervour and feeling in the public even with the diversity of news feeds available these days. It's the mob mentality. In my YA dystopian, all the news comes directly from the government and is very self-aggrandising - so people don't know anything else. It owes a bit of a debt to 1984, but I think a lot of dystopian does!

Jay Noel said...

With 24 hour news and the internet, we're bombarded with the news media so much more these days. All I gotta do is just turn on my phone.

The media does do a lot of good (i.e. getting the public's help when a child goes missing), but there's a lot of fear-mongering going on too.

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

We are all "the media" now. People don't get their news from a centralized TV anchor or a morning paper nearly as much as they used to. People spread information via social networks. The traditional news outlets have splintered across many outlets and channels, and they all have one eye on social media.

When bin Laden was killed, we heard it on Twitter first.

My biggest question is: Who's doing the fact-checking?

Michelle said...

Alright. The Book Thief just made it to the top of my "to-buy" book list. After starting this challenge, this list of mine has grown dramatically... lol ;) Book Thief sounds pretty good!

Thanks for sharing!

Cynthia said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone! Tonight I'm going to respond to the individual comments I've received today. I haven't done that for most of the days this month but I will do that for this particular post.

Francene: It's unfortunate that hate can be taught.

Sara: It's important to have the right info before discussing the big issues.

Melanie: I think that happens to a lot of people.

Madeline: That's a smart thing to do.

Pat: I believe there are exceptions too, judging by the responses here to my post.

Rosanna: Good thing you can tell the difference between the two.

John: Multiple viewpoints on a topic can be refreshing sometimes.

Lynn: I find that certain messages carry more weight than others.

Ghadeer: I think the Harry Potter books showed an excellent representation of distorted news and propaganda.

Stephsco: What's the name of the book?

Kathy: I'm sorry you and your children had to go through that stress.

Alex: Sometimes people can be persuaded to fear something they hadn't feared before.

baygirl: There are exceptions to this though.

Mina: Sometimes people are reluctant to announce that they disagree with something everyone agrees with.

Elise: You must get so much done without TV!

Nick: Dystopian stories often show distinctive examples of distorted media and propaganda.

Jay: That's true- there are many good things about the media.

Jennifer: Fact-checking is an important job.

Michelle: It's a great book.

Lynda R Young said...

I really must read the book thief.

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