Propaganda Analysis of "Rang-tan: The story of dirty palm oil"
The piece of propaganda I decided to examine for my LEAP #1 assignment is Rang-tan: The Story of Dirty Palm Oil, created by the nonprofit organization, Greenpeace. I was first exposed to this video whilst browsing my Facebook timeline. I viewed the seemingly trivial clip and felt an immediate surge of emotions ranging from confusion, to anger, to sadness and guilt. This video lingered in my mind as I recalled the cute animation paired with a troubling message. I was delighted to stumble upon this example of propaganda on the mind over media website and eager to analyze it at an academic level.
The organization responsible for this piece of propaganda is Greenpeace, an organization that identifies as “a global, independent campaigning organization that uses peaceful protest and creative communication to expose global environmental problems and promote solutions that are essential to a green and peaceful future”. Greenpeace’s main goals revolve around preserving the environment, which is highly relevant to the global climate issues we are currently experiencing. This particular campaign aims to end palm oil sourcing and deforestation to ultimately save the world’s rainforest habitats, and more specifically, to save the orangutan population. This propaganda targets the general public, and more specifically, consumers that use products containing palm oil, which essentially includes every consumer. The central purpose is to convince people to sign a petition in an effort to end deforestation and palm oil sourcing in order to save the rainforests and the orangutans.
The ideology behind this propaganda clearly stands on the side of mother nature. The set of values that the piece represents are those held by Greenpeace, and center around the preservation and salvation of the environment. The position that is considered “right” stands with the saving of the rainforest, and the habitat of the orangutans. The position that is presented as “wrong” is the destruction of the rainforests for the production of palm oil, or in simpler terms, the uninvited inhabitation of someone else’s home. Rang-tan: The story of dirty palm oil is an example of “Agitation propaganda”(Jowett, O’Donnell 271) which is defined as propaganda that “seeks to arouse people to participate in or support a cause. It attempts to arouse people from apathy by giving them feasible actions to carry out.”(Jowett, O’Donnell 271). A call to action is the overarching message of this video. The advertisement aims to make the viewer feel the desire or obligation to help save the orangutans.
The propaganda technique that is exercised here is the attempted manipulation of sensitive emotions. The illustration style paired with the pleasant looking characters give the video a warm, storybook feel that draws the viewer in by presenting an unfamiliar scenario; an orangutan inside an urban home. The first emotions that are incited by the propaganda are curiosity and confusion. The first exchange simply makes the viewer want to know why the orangutan is in the house and may pose as unimportant. Before the viewer has a chance to click away, the video takes a dark turn and evokes feelings of sadness and concern from the viewer. While the viewer is feeling sad and concerned for the orangutan, they learn that palm oil sourcing is the cause for this crimeless animal’s grief and displacement. The next emotions that are accessed by this artifact are anguish, guilt, and outrage. If the goal of Greenpeace is achieved, the stimulation of these sensitive emotions will result in a feeling of social responsibility, and the viewer will take action, sign the petition, and pledge to stand with the cause. This is the technique of activating and manipulating the emotions of the masses to result in a specific thought/action process. According to Edward Bernays, “the group has mental characteristics distinct from those of the individual, and is motivated by impulses and emotions which cannot be explained on the basis of what we know of individual psychology.”(Bernays 47) A campaign of this nature effectively demonstrates the ways in which the mind can be manipulated through the influence of the emotions of the masses.
Multiple points of view are explored in Rang-tan: The story of dirty palm oil. The first perspective is that of the little girl. She is pictured in her bedroom which appears to be in an urban home. The concept of personal property and one’s own home is introduced here, when the girl expresses displeasure at the presence of an orangutan in her bedroom. As the primate swings around the room knocking over furniture and breaking belongings, the viewer is reminded of their own home and activates a feeling of ownership. The perspective of the orangutan is explored when the viewer is faced with rainforests being burned and destroyed for the harvesting of palm oil. The viewer is forced to consider the concept of a home, and is faced with the reality that animals are losing their homes at the cost of production of convenient hygiene products for humans. While some people may not be swayed from a position of apathy towards the subject, most people would feel some degree of social responsibility towards the topic of deforestation and endangerment of species. This example of propaganda is a perfect example of how the minds of the masses have the potential to be influenced through the manipulation of human emotion.
“About.” Greenpeace International, www.greenpeace.org/usa/about/.
Bernays, Edward L. Propaganda, By Edward L. Bernays. 1928.
Jowett, Garth S., and Victoria O'Donnell. Propaganda and Persuasion. Sage Publications, 1986.