Just how powerful are symbols?

31 Mar

What does Walter Lippmann mean by stating that “In thinking about symbols, it is tempting to treat them as if they possessed independent energy?” Symbols are brought to life by our perceptions of them, and are typically more potent when presented by an authoritative figure. That’s why using symbols to advertise propaganda has worked on the public throughout history. For example, “The Torches of Freedom” campaign was created by Edward Bernays to lure women to become consumers of tobacco products during the women’s liberation movement. This strategic plan was successful because propagandists used the factor of timing, consumerism and emotions to push forth a symbol that now had significant meaning, because it was presented a certain way through the platform of media.

Symbols are given independent energy through the media, and just how much energy they are given is determined by trust. Television channels such as CNN, NBC, FOX and CBS are likely to have a high trust value from its viewers because they are the most frequently aired networks on cable for American’s to view. If American’s wanted Independent News, they’d likely have to search the Internet, and not all of them are educated of the fact that perhaps a channel like CBS is not showing all of the sides to a story, where as an Independent network such as Al Jazeera might be exposing.

In “The War You Don’t See” by John Pilger, Pilger exposes that Al Jazeera’s office in Kabul was bombed for airing the destruction of the war in Iraq by the American Armed Forces, yet it was the U.S. that warned Al Jazeera’s employees to leave the offices before they would bomb. This was an attempt to shut them up, and create censorship in an independent news outlet. The United States only wanted the world to see footage that would create further support in the motivation of the war on terror. It was President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair who promised the public there would be no bloodshed in Baghdad during the search for Sadam, and that was made clear with the footage of the Iraqi people parading with U.S. flags, and soldiers covering the Sadam statue’s face with the flag. Yet this was only one part of Iraq, and the footage that aired on Independent news stations stated the war in Iraq as a different, more barbaric one.

Embedded journalists also helped the United States cover-up the deaths of civilians in Iraq. Embedded journalists only reported mundane topics such as segments on uniforms, war weaponry and profiles of honorable soldiers overseas. This creates limits as to what the public can create their own judgements from, and thus creating a censored pseudo reality that is not being portrayed in its truthful light. This is what President George W. Bush wanted during the war on terror which was actually a war over oil in the end. Bush knew these symbols in the media had worked, and thus the people didn’t question whether or not the evidence of weapons of mass destruction was factual in Iraq. It was only after the war ended, did the public learn the truth.


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