Propaganda 101: I.Q. TEST (Living Waters Tract #209)

This little gem is published by Living Waters Publications and portrays a very simple, albeit headache inducing, visual phenomena that involves the way that the brain processes glyphs. The front has a highly stylized word that may take a few moments to decipher.

“The answer is ‘Eternal Life’ (‘Eternal’ is hidden in the ‘L’ of Life—see Romans 6:23).” I guess it is, as you can see in the scan of the card the actual word hidden on the inner curve of what is an “L” upside-down and an “h” if oriented otherwise. We have to trust the message on the back as to what exactly those blobs say, their font is so small that they greek into the ink bleed. Does this mean that it reads “Death Lanrete” when right side-up?

Then the propaganda starts.

First, the reader is subjected to what in propaganda jargon could be called a “framing sentence.” The point of this is to set the frame of mind of the reader to the singular context that the propagandist wants: “Here is another intelligence test.”

What follows isn’t exactly what it says on the tin.

“Answer Yes or No OUT LOUD: 1/ Is there a God? 2/ Does God care about right and wrong? 3/ Are God’s standards the same as ours? 4/ Will God punish sin? 5/ Is there a Hell? 6/ Do you avoid Hell by living a good life?”

At this point the savvy reader will realize that this is not a test of intelligence. It’s not even a proper test of knowledge. It is a memory test for the particular dogma of the Living Waters Publications editor who prepared this text. A person who answers most of these differently than the answers given immediately afterwards is no more or less intelligent than anyone else for their answers.

Here the propaganda makes the assumption that the reader knows what it’s talking about. It’s reaching out to someone who is culturally Christian. Mostly in the phrase “Is there a God?” I find myself bemused by the phrase. It’s a lot like saying, “Is there an Elaine?” The question is pandering, but only with its capital letter—I guess that “Is there the God?” just doesn’t have the same ring, we just don’t speak that way; and they wanted to avoid saying “Is there a god?” or “Are there gods?” This goes back to pandering to assumed knowledge. A pagan, Hindu, or other polytheist would snicker at this line.

The “correct” answers are, of course, amusing in of themselves. There is a God who cares about right and wrong; but doesn’t have the same “standards” as we do… Invocation of threat of Hell. I understand they’re working under a lot of pressure to fit this 10-point font paragraph onto the back of a business card, but I’m not impressed.

“You can’t afford to be wrong. Find out the truth – ask God to forgive your sins, then trust in Jesus Christ. He took your punishment by dying on the Cross for you. Then He rose from the dead. Read the Bible daily and obey what you read… God will never let you down.”

Another feature of religious propaganda is the use of designed jargon; these are often words coherent only to the culture of the religion. First there’s elements from Christian mythology: the Cross, Jesus Christ, death and resurrection of the former. Then there’s the jargon word “sin” which is only meaningful in the frame already set up based on the assumptions of the Living Waters dogma.

Did anyone else notice that the word “Cross” got a capital? Symbolism and semiotics lay at the heart of a lot of social propaganda but are also central to cultural context. In this case the tract editor is trying to connect with the implied cultural Christianity of the reader by using a shared symbol. It’s not just any mundane crucifix used by the Romans to torture and murder people, no, it’s the specific device used to torture Jesus.

Is it just me who felt their skin crawling when they saw “Read your Bible daily and obey what you read”? Do the people who edit these tracts actually read their Bible? I only have one thing to say to this: What is an Amalekite and if I ever meet one must I really murder him or her? Who in their right mind in this day and age would obey such a command?

Further: Obey? Bob the Angry Flower “Submission Channel” much? SUBMIT. SUBMIT. SUBMIT.

And finally, my favorite part of this review. The very last line of the tract:

“God will never let you down.”

Never gonna give you up
Never gonna let you down
Never gonna run around and desert you
Never gonna make you cry
Never gonna say goodbye
Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you.

Propaganda 101: Investigator

Hello everyone, my name is Elaine Hadaly Mercer, and it looks like I’ll be joining you all for a while. I’m not a member of the ASU Secular Free Thought Society or the Mill Avenue Resistance, but I have seen you guys out there—I am the Secretary at Arms of the Godless Society of ASU. I study Computer Science and Engineering and it is my intent to give scrutiny to propaganda gathered from campus and local venues via the route of language as code.

I am going to be critiquing propaganda pamphlets published by religious forums and collected from around campus. So if you have anything that you’d like me to lay a discerning rational eye on, please send it my way and I will vivisect its still-wriggling corpse for your entertainment!

Psycholingustic code works at a very primal level in most propaganda; it hijacks various emotional responses from readers in order to suspend disbelief and critical examination, and spreads through general credulity and confirmation bias in both would-be believers and the undiscerning. I expect that most pamphlets that I examine will spend most of their time using jargon and special slang, and metaphor singular to the culture that is prostytizing. I will do my best to define the jargon as used by the propagandists and elaborate on the effect and intent.

I may end up doing similar pamphlets over and over as I receive more of particular types. For example, there are almost twenty dollar-bill style tracts released by different publishing houses. To keep these examinations relevant and entertaining, after comparing each to every other I will try to add some other appeal to the resources of my study.

Bring one. Bring all.

No unfortunate propaganda or scurrilous cant will be rejected.

I have my red pen and my debugger. Let’s do some damage.

Roosevelt Resistance Reports: Friday, March 6th 2009

The Mill Avenue Resistance reports are written by Kyt Dotson as an extension of anthropological research on the population of Mill Avenue in Tempe, Arizona. Since the Resistance does their protests Friday and Saturday there are two reports a week. The supporting material not related to the Resistance reports can be found on the Under the Hills blog.

The Resistance left meetings at ASU taking cars and light rail up to the First Friday Art Walk, arriving in parts around 7:30pm and found an noticeable crowd attending the various parts of our favorite artists’ faire. They set up in their usual spot in the triangular easement between the split of 3rd at Roosevelt. Joining the Resistance again with Kazz also was Spyral who spent most of her time next to the Resistance speaker on Roosevelt.

The Way of the Master preachers set up on the same corner and also across the street closer to 4th and Roosevelt. In attendance we had Valerie, Al, Lee, John, Edwin, among other notable faces. Passing out tracts and using their amplification. Both the position on the triangle and across the street used amplification; and later into the night two positions were set up on the triangle on opposite when Edwin came from across the street to the triangle.

Omar spent most of the night talking to John2 from Streetfishing. He is the large male with a heavy face and loud voice who generally sets up on the opposite side of 4th and Roosevelt. He also brings two young girls with him ages ranging possibly between 8 and 10 years old, who he uses as an excuse to tell people to “Watch their language,” and also uses to pass out tracts. The girls are polite and quiet, clean up after themselves and attempt to avoid people littering tracts by simply dropping them on the ground—it’s not uncommon to see them darting out from where they’ve huddled near John2 to hand one out.

During Omar’s stay John2 switched out once or twice with another preacher. They compose themselves of a behavior where they totally ignore Omar and other passersby who he offers his amplification to. No actual conversations happen. They spend a lot of time claiming the attention of members of the general public and then make broad claims about respecting them when others who are in the cone of the amplification want to also ask and answer questions.

At one point Omar began playing EBM music in between his questions and John2 approached him.

“I appreciate the discourse,” John2 said to Omar, “but the music is beneath you.”

“We don’t really have a discourse, though, you just ignore me the entire time,” Omar replied.

And there certainly was none the entire time that I observed.

Amid those who took up Omar’s offer of amplification—he would switch to his megaphone—were a few young ladies, a passing man, and Nicky, a bespectacled, outspoken young woman who had joined him last First Friday when speaking to John3. As always, the Streetfishing preachers spent most of their time totally ignoring them, using mirror-speech, and expectedly ordinary rhetoric on anyone who stopped to talk to them. Ignoring Omar and Nicky also managed to produce something of a cacophony on that corner very similar to what happened to the WoTM preachers on Mill when they wouldn’t reply to the Resistance early on.

The crew from Rocky Horror Picture Show passing out pamphlets also came to visit the WoTM preachers on the triangle at 3rd and became embroiled in some sort of strange siege, with black fishnets, lace, and eyeliner—oh and golden underwear (as per an overweight Rocky with a friendly face and red fliers for all.) After a small discussion they dispersed, took over the corner there, and handed out their fliers by pronouncing ecumenical acceptance of everyone using talking points counter to common Christian fundamentalist rhetoric. “At RHPS we accept you even if you’re gay! We don’t care. Bi? Come with us! Boy. Girl. Whatever. RHPS is the place for you.” Their position and the verbiage certainly increased the number of people who took pamphlets from them.

The WoTM and Streetfishing preachers finally left the area around 10pm—slowly filtering out as that witching our rolled around.

The night wound down with a few groups of Christians stopping to talk to Issac, Rocco, and Kazz. At last one of them had an alpha who promised to pray for Kazz, and another promised to pray for Omar. To which he stated that it wouldn’t have any effect, she said she was going to pray anyway.

During one encounter, Spyral stood by handing out various tracts as Kazz was speaking as the conversation necessarily wended between common points from the Nephilim. When Spy attempted to give one of the atheist tracts to one of that group she was roundly refused.

“Why won’t you take it?” Spyral asked.

“Would you take a tract from me?”

“Yes.”

“Why would you take one if you don’t believe in God?”

This went around a few times where Spyral pointed out—like I would—that we do actually read all of the material we take. That, in fact, taking a tract is precisely like giving someone else time to speak to us, time to listen to their words. It is extremely common that tract bearers will refuse literature from us after we accept it from them; it is also common for them to not want to listen to us while at the same time proselytizing. This group managed to both listen and speak, but that fell down when it came to exchanging tracts.

One of the members of the group mentioned that this was her first time at First Friday but she had not been able to take any time to enjoy the booths and artists because she had come out to hand out tracts. Notably, a similar thing happened to Spyral because she kept to the Resistance speaker and didn’t manage to spend time around the various artists and music.

Hopefully next time both can have a much better experience by being able to be part of the celebratory atmosphere, the art, and the glimmering amazement that is the Art Walk.

Mill Avenue Resistance Reports: Friday, February 13th 2009

The Mill Avenue Resistance reports are written by Kyt Dotson as an extension of anthropological research on the population of Mill Avenue in Tempe, Arizona. Since the Resistance does their protests Friday and Saturday there are two reports a week. The supporting material not related to the Resistance reports can be found on the Under the Hills blog for Friday, February 13th 2009.

The cold air and red bricks greeted none of the Resistance in organized fashion tonight. However, two separate evangelical prostylizing groups did meet on the Ave: The True Vine Baptist Church from Glendale, and the Payson First Baptist Church “An Embassy of Heaven”. Ed Ware was out with the True Vine group, but I didn’t get a chance to talk to him at all; Kazz and Spyral spent most of their time talking to the children in the group—mostly flashing funny phrases in sign language.

Between them they covered between four and five different corners, carrying small white plaque signs with large black lettering exemplaring quotes from the Bible—these signs did not seem constricted only to the True Vine group.

I collected quite a few tracts which have been given to Elaine Mercer, aka Carmina.

Kazz and Omni spent their time talking to one of the members of the Payson Baptist church. That encounter lasted about an hour where various aspects of the loss-of-miracles (i.e. why the contemporary world does not match mythical time of any mythology.) Heard some strange commentary which tried to use the Abraham Dilemma as a discussion of justice.

No recordings were made, but Omni did spend a lot of time talking and Kazz did get some changes to absorb some mirror speech.