by Melanie Anne Phillips & Chris Huntley
Co-creators of the Dramatica Theory
Presenting an audience with an alternative life experience is yet another way to impact your audience. By ignoring (or catering to) an audience’s cultural bias, you can present your story as an alternative reality. This impacts an audience by undermining or reinforcing their own personal Memories. By experiencing the story, the message/meaning of the story becomes part of the audience’s memory base.
The nature of the propaganda, however, is that the story lacks context, which must be supplied by the audience. Thus personalized, the story memory is automatically triggered when an experience in the audience’s real life summons similarly stored memories. Through repeated use, an audience’s “sensibilities” become conditioned.
In Conditioning propaganda, audience attention is directed to causal relationships like When A also B (spatial), and If C then D (temporal). The mechanism of this propaganda is to leave out a part of the causal relationships in the story, such as When A also B and If ?? then D. By leaving out one part, the objective contextual meaning is then supplied automatically by the audience. The audience will replace ?? with something from its own experience base, not consciously considering that a piece is missing because it will have emotionally arrived at the contradiction: When A also B and then D.
This type of propaganda is closest to the traditional usage of the term with respect to stories, entertainment, and advertising. For example, look at much of the tobacco and alcohol print advertising. Frequently the Main Character (the type of person to whom the advertisement is supposed to appeal) is attractive, has someone attractive with them, and appears to be well situated in life. The inference is that when you smoke or drink, you are also cool, and if you are cool then you will be rich and attractive. The connection between “cool” and “rich and attractive” is not really in the advertisement but an audience often makes that connection for itself. In Conditioning propaganda, more than in the other three forms of propaganda, the degree of impact on your audience is extremely dependent on your audience’s life experience outside the story experience .
Crimes and Misdemeanors is a film example that employs this conditioning technique of propaganda. The unusual aspect of the film is that it has two completely separate stories in it. The “Crimes” story involves a self-interested man who gets away with murder and personally becomes completely OK with it (a Success/Good story). The “Misdemeanors” story involves a well meaning man who loses his job, his girl, and is left miserable (a Failure/Bad story). By supplying two competing stories instead of one, the audience need not supply its own experiences to arrive at a false context while viewing this work. Audiences will come to stories, however, with a particular cultural bias. In our culture, Failure/Bad stories which happen to nice people are regrettable, but familiar; Success/Good stories about murderers are uncommon and even “morally reprehensible.”
The propaganda comes into effect when the audience experiences in its own life a Failure/Bad scenario that triggers a recollection of the Success/Good story about forgetting the grief of having murdered – an option that the audience would not normally have considered. Lacking an objective contextual meaning that sets one over the other, both stories are given equal consideration as viable solutions. Thus, what was once inconceivable due to a cultural or personal bias is now automatically seen as a possible avenue for problem-solving.