Figuration–e.g. metaphor, analogy–may be defined as an experience of semantic continuity when terms are combined. Time and money, heart and brittle glass, blood and family–are combinations of simple terms that combined return a higher level of meaning on comparative grounds.
Similarly, a viewing subject will experience a continuity of meaning in the juxtaposition of images. In the study of film this is called the Kuleshov Effect. In Kuleshov’s famous experiment he filmed an actor looking into the camera with no expression. Participants in his study were exposed to four conditions. In a first condition participants were exposed only to the actor. In a second condition viewers were exposed to the actor with a jump cut to a bowl of soup. In the second and third conditions the jump cut was to a dead child and to a reclining woman. Viewers in the first condition were undecided about what the actor could be thinking. Viewers in the first condition, however, reported that the actor was hungry. In the third, that he was sad. In the fourth, that he was in love.
Edit image a to image b and the viewing subject will attempt to make sense of the combination.
The Combination of Images And The Master Narrative of the Propagandist
In the Two Minutes Hate scene from Radford’s 1984 images of agrarian and industrial plenty combined with a voice over of THIS IS WHO WE ARE pass into images of burning facades combined with a voice of THIS IS WHO THEY ARE.
From peace and plenty to threat. From threat to the call of a community to action in the form of party members rising to give voice to their anger and rejection.
In Pakula’s The Parallax View propaganda is no longer an appeal to the crowd. Now it takes the form of personal experience as the viewing subject confronts a montage of images passively, and alone.
From warm and engaging images interspersed with words like Home, Family, Mother, God, Me, to a sense of threat in the form of striking and editorial images combined with the same words: the method is the same though the execution is different. Two thirds through the montage and the combination of music and images return from dissonance to resonance to create a sense of a conditional resolution.
These two examples are laboratory pure specimens developed by film-makers. They are caricatures; the viewer is supposed to experience them not as persuasion but negatively, as propaganda. Actual propaganda is often just as obvious. But it is often far more subtle.
In our own era social media is used to as an instrument of propaganda and impression formation by means of Astroturfing and other techniques, e.g. Katy Waldman’s article titled Facebook’s Unethical Experiment; It intentionally manipulated users’ emotions without their knowledge.