By: Sarah Scott
Prompt: Throughout history, there have been times when mass media were blamed for certain effects. In this paper, give an example of such a time, and discuss whether or not the blame was fair or unfair.
Did a country become influenced by the message spread through mass mediums? Mass media has many times been blamed for influencing the populace in both negative and positive ways. Mostly, the media is blamed for negatively influencing the populace. Sometimes this blame is wrongfully assigned, and sometimes it is rightfully assigned. In Hitler’s Germany, the Nazi party used mass media to spread propaganda that caused the German people to hate the Jews and support the war against the surrounding countries and against the Allied powers. Scholars have studied how and why this propaganda was accepted by the German people.
When Hitler become the dictator of Germany, he put Joseph Goebbels into the role of propaganda minister, who used radio, television, and films to spread an anti-Semitist message. Goebbels used the priming effect, the spiral of silence, need for simplification, and the need to fit in with society in order to cause his propaganda to have the desired effect. Frank McDonough says that, “(Goebbels’) aim was not merely to spread Nazi ideas but to bring culture under Nazi direction. He swiftly brought the press, radio, film, theatre, music, the visual arts, literature and all other cultural organizations under Nazi control (2020).”
The priming effect was used in the messages that Goebbels sent out, bringing up the thoughts that people already had. In this case, the German people already had anti-Semitic thoughts, so they were already willing to accept the ideals set forth in the propaganda. “Hitler took advantage of the existing prejudice that linked the Jews to monetary powers and financial gain (Hitler’s antisemitism, para. 9).” David Welch (2001, p. 24) talks about how Goebbels purposefully gave the Nazi government more control over the film industry so that their message could be spread with no opposition.
Since the Nazi party had control of these mediums, it meant that they could send out whatever messages and ideas that they wanted to with little opposing messages. The propaganda that was spread through mass mediums were used to appeal to people’s need to have simplification. “While Nazi…propaganda may seem ludicrous by twenty-first-century standards, the principle of reducing complex social problems to a simple issue of one common enemy that must be destroyed has proven effective in rallying support…(Nazi Propaganda)” The German people were more than willing to take this simplified answer and apply it to the Jewish people and the Allied forces, who they were told was infiltrated by Jewish thought.
The propaganda proliferated the idea that fighting and dying for Germany in the war against their ‘common’ enemy was important. “The ‘image of the enemy’ was of crucial importance to film propaganda in the Third Reich, because it was the enemy that would effectively become the scapegoat for the ills within German society and the rationale for extending their frontiers (Welch, 2001, pps. 45-46).” Now the German society had their common enemy to fight and a reason to fight.
It wasn’t an accident that the Goebbels propaganda was meant to prime anti-Semitic thought in German’s minds. Viogtlander and Voth (2015) talk about how the propaganda purposefully targeted places that already had anti-Semitic thoughts so that the priming effect was potently used. On top of priming the adult’s minds, the propaganda was also targeting the youth and children in this society, where anti-Semitic thoughts were prevalent, making it hard for the youth to have opposing thoughts to the government, their parents, and their communities. Viotglander and Voth quote a former member of the Hitler Youth, who said, “We who were born into Nazism never had a chance unless our parents were brave enough to resist…there were few of those (2015).” In this way, the Nazi propaganda created a society in which people wanted to fit in with what the thought the majority was.
This brings us to the spiral of silence. When Hitler first took control, he slowly started off by telling people to boycott Jewish-owned businesses. A website on Communication Theory talks about the Spiral of Silence, saying, “Adolf Hitler dominated the whole society and the minority Jews became silent due to the fear of isolation or separation (Communication Theory, para. 1).” Even the Germans that were more sympathetic to the Jews would stay silent and try to fit in with the majority opinion. Their silence was their way of trying to hope that the problem would go away, but instead it caused the problem to become worse because that was just another dissenting opinion that became silenced.
In conclusion, the mass media did help to cause Hitler and Goebbels’ ideology to spread for several reasons. The priming and playing off of the audiences’ already held beliefs about Jewish people was the biggest reason that people accepted the messages of the propaganda spread in mass media. The silencing of dissenting opinions through converts and causing fear in the Jewish people allowed more anti-Semitic thought to prevail and become what the country started to believe in. “Propaganda served as an important tool to win over the majority of the German public who had not supported Hitler and to push forward the Nazis’ radical program (USHMM, para. 1).”
Deceiving the Public. (NA.) United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved from: https://www.ushmm.org/propaganda/themes/deceiving-the-public/
Hitler’s antisemitism. Why did he hate the Jews? (NA) Retrieved from: https://www.annefrank.org/en/anne-frank/go-in-depth/why-did-hitler-hate-jews/
McDonough, F. (2020). 1933 Death of a Democracy. History Today, 10(2), 70–83.
The Spiral of Silence Theory. (NA.) Communication Theory. Retrieved from: https://www.communicationtheory.org/the-spiral-of-silence-theory/
Voigtländer, N., & Voth, H. J. (2015). Nazi indoctrination and anti-Semitic beliefs in Germany. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 112(26), 7931–7936. doi:10.1073/pnas.1414822112
Welch, D.(2001). Propaganda and the German Cinema, 1933-1945: Vol. Rev. ed. I.B. Tauris.