Posted April 19, 2013 by evergreen-culture in Advocacy

Propaganda – Then and Now


ropaganda is all around us. Every political ad, every advertisement, every governmental notice has some element of it in there. It isn’t always motivated by evil intentions – but should always be scrutinized for such underpinnings. Sometimes it is motivated by good intentions, but uses misleading and outright false information in order to influence people’s opinions and line them up with a particular movement.

Back in the 1930′s, the government (being influenced and manipulated by corporate greed – see, things really haven’t changed that much) used propaganda overtly when trying to sell the idea of the “evil weed”. It started with “Reefer Madness”, produced by William Randolph Hearst and DuPont in an attempt to rid themselves of the competition that hemp posed toward their forest and wood-pulp processing empires. For more information on this history, read our article here. If you haven’t ever Reefer Madness, I suggest you do – here is the full movie:

Chances are that you probably laughed at how they present the dangers and effects of marijuana in this supposed dramatization of “what really happens”. But you have to put this into perspective. They sold this as the God’s-honest truth and literally created a public movement against this nefarious drug – one they had been buying in the pharmacy as a respected and doctor-approved remedy, but had been rebranded as something to fear through such propaganda. Soon other movies would follow, along with books and graphic novels which all demonstrated that one puff of marijuana and you would turn into a raving, sex-crazed serial killer.


Here is one such example from the 1930′s. These stories were presented as true-to-life and used to ensure that the government had the public opinion they needed to push preconceived policies through. Today this stuff would obviously never fly. “Yes, we all know about the common marijuana whore selling her skanky body on the street corner all strung out.” Have you bought weed lately? Or a bong? You would have to be one high-priced hooker to feed your marijuana habit with only your body as your earning potential. If that were the case the only people who could actually get their hands on marijuana would be rich white guys and hot women, and that would blow their whole plan because they use that same combo to sell everything else to us as good. Confused? You should be. That’s kind of the point. Present shocking info and then depend on the public to swallow it whole and look no further for the truth.
In the 1930s they counted on people not having enough information to actually challenge or rebuff their programming. The general public did not have a huge repository of knowledge and information at their fingertips, and so it makes sense that so many could be fooled so easily. In fact, the only people who really stood up to the government over these messages were the American Medical Association and other physicians. Did you catch that? The people who opposed the prohibition on cannabis were the doctors! Consider this statement read during the hearings that led to the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937:
Cannabis and its preparations and derivatives are covered in the bill by the term “marihuana” as that term is defined in section 1, paragraph (b). There is no evidence, however, that the medicinal use of these drugs has caused or is causing cannabis addiction. As remedial agents, they are used to an inconsiderable extent, and the obvious purpose and effect of this bill is to impose so many restrictions on their use as to prevent such use altogether. Since the medicinal use of cannabis has not caused and is not causing addiction, the prevention of the use of the drug for medicinal purposes can accomplish no good end whatsoever. How far it may serve to deprive the public of the benefits of a drug that on further research may prove to be of substantial value, it is impossible to foresee. – Dr. William C. Woodward, American Medical Association, July 10, 1937
But the misinformation fed to the pubic proved a more powerful force than education, experience and scientific study. Again, nothing really changes.

Fast forward to 1987. We were teenagers. Back then, there actually was good shit on TV after school. And mixed into this targeted programming was a lot of PSA-type material. All well-intended. But also largely propagandized. No real facts were ever presented. No scientific inquiries were cited. No study data was shown. They would just make a bold, sweeping allegation that had huge implications if true – and people would respond. One way to know for sure that you are being manipulated and controlled through these messages is when they present it in this way. “Obama is going to take all our guns away!” is a timely example. Is there any proof of that? No. But it whips people up into a panic and gets them to line up with the NRA, or the GOP, or whatever the intent of the message is. In the 80′s there was a huge push regarding anti-drug messages under the Reagan’s, and most specifically Nancy’s “Just Say No!” crusade. This was a frequently aired commercial:

Were they trying to harm anyone? No. In fact, we would agree that drug use amongst teenagers is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. But you have to put this into context. This was on the heels of Ronald Reagan making a statement regarding marijuana being “potentially the most dangerous drug on the planet.” What information did he have available to him that allowed him to make that statement? Actually, none. In fact, the information that was available (most notably large investigations commissioned by the very office he then occupied) literally stated the exact opposite. For instance consider this statement from the 1970 National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Use commissioned by former President Nixon (for more information on this, we encourage you to read our article on The True Origins of the DEA and the “War on Drugs”):

We have carefully analyzed the interrelationship between marihuana the drug, marihuana use as a behavior, and marihuana as a social problem. Recognizing the extensive degree of misinformation about marihuana as a drug, we have tried to demythologize it. Viewing the use of marihuana in its wider social context, we have tried to desymbolize it.

Considering the range of social concerns in contemporary America, marihuana does not, in our considered judgment, rank very high. We would deemphasize marihuana as a problem. – National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Use, Chapter V, 1970

The message Nixon received from his own commission was that marijuana was not a health or social threat, and the plan to launch a war on it should be rethought. And yet, the public was sold something completely different and marijuana went from back burner ancient history to a pervasive topic in society. But you have to understand this all from the historical context so you can see the propagandizing in effect and the motivations behind it. Nixon was dealing with the hippies who opposed him at every turn and represented a growing tide of opposition. Marijuana was popular amongst them (in fact, this was really the beginning of the popularity of marijuana in American culture) and getting enough of society to align with him against marijuana was needed to dispel their influence from the political and social scene. So truth was ignored and emotions were stirred through shocking statements and ads.

Today, the propaganda continues. We are told that it makes us stupid. That it is addictive. That it is dangerous. That it will destroy our brain. That it is a gateway drug that will lead us into all kinds of other dangerous substances. The thing is, what makes the propaganda work is our willingness to seek no further than what they tell us. And, unlike 1937, we have no excuse, we literally have it in our hands continually.

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