By contributor Dr. Gordon Hak

Courtesy of Dr. Marshall Soules

Courtesy of
Dr. Marshall Soules

“In our time,” says Dr. Marshall Soules of the Media Studies Department, “creative deception keeps us amused and confused.” He is reflecting on the fact that we live in a media-saturated environment, crowded from all sides by persuasive messages. All this advice, promotion, and propaganda form a spectrum of persuasion, according to Soules, and everywhere we see it performed with actors, scripts, props, and costumes.

“Persuasion and propaganda have consequences and we need tools—both old and new—to decode the stories, biases, stereotypes, and metaphors attempting to influence us,” Soules said. Grappling with these issues is crucial to our lives. This will be the subject of Soules’ Arts and Humanities Colloquium presentation entitled “Media, Persuasion, and Propaganda.” The talk will be held in the Malaspina Theatre on January 23 beginning at 10 am.

His talk will challenge widespread beliefs about news-making, democracy, expert opinion, social influence, activism, and deception in societies where “truth happens to an idea.” Where do persuasive messages originate and how are they propagated through media? What is the relationship between publicity and news in a time when public trust in politicians and journalists is so low? How do we defend ourselves against manipulation and undue influence? And when does persuasion turn into propaganda?

In developing his case, Soules draws on many disciplines: “advances in cultural criticism, cognitive science, and behavioural economics are transforming the study of persuasion, influence, and decision-making. Moreover, digital media and mobile computing are revolutionizing social communication and realigning power networks.”

Dr. Soules, who taught at VIU from 1987 to 2009, and was awarded the Outstanding Service Award by the university in 2011, has been long involved in this field of study. The January 23 presentation is a preview of his new book, Media, Persuasion, and Propaganda, which will be available from Edinburgh University Press in February 2015.

Previous publications reflect his interest in performance, improvisation, digital media, and street art, and he has investigated graffiti and wild postering, the Cuban government’s use of billboards to spread propaganda, and the collective improvisations and expressions on the walls of the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.

The connection between media and political context is prominent in his work. In a July 2012 interview with the Nanaimo Daily News, he developed this theme: “in North America there needs to be a place for people to communicate their messages in the public sphere, and they shouldn’t be called vandals for doing it. People of limited means don’t have access to public media. A businessman can put up a sign or a billboard that can say virtually anything. And it can block the view, and it can be ugly as sin. But a women’s group who wants to advocate for the empowerment of women­—where can they get that message out?”

His new book explicitly links politics and the media: “The media is extremely important, in my view, for forming opinion.  And forming opinions elects governments, and those governments have policies, and those policies are often prejudicial.” The Daily News article concluded that, according to Soules, “media is simply the oxygen of democracy.”

The Colloquium presentation on January 23 promises to be both illuminating and insightful. The illustrated talk is open to faculty, employees, and the general public. Students are especially welcome and there will be refreshments.