Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pity and Guilt

by Justin Yates

As some of the clips shown in class will tell you (e.g. the Al Gore Global Warming clip), there are few things that are more depressing and pathetic than helplessness. Young animals appear to be helpless and tortured. A seal pup barking for its mother or a penguin looking for food on the shore have the tendency to cause us to revert back to our emotions, typically pity or sadness. Obviously we all have different levels of pity, but it’s very common for us all to feel helpless, maybe even guilty for these animal’s problems. For a brief moment, we forget about our own problems and feel it necessary to bring it upon ourselves to help these animals.

These videos are a prime example of propaganda being used in a positive manner. Rather than causing significant controversy, animal cruelty activists are generally working for the greater good. By using images, songs, and other means of persuasion, they can get their point across on a highly emotional level that typically does not leave them subject to ridicule or criticism.

The organizations themselves are not alone in their efforts. Celebrities have taken it upon themselves to help such causes. In Sarah McLachlan’s latest humanitarian mission, over $30 million has been raised for the ASPCA since the broadcast of her animal cruelty commercials since 2006. By depicting sad and sometimes graphic images of abused, malnourished animals, the ASPCA asks for financial assistance from its audience. These powerful images are the reason McLachlan’s commercial has been so effective. (Strom, 2008)

While animal cruelty is not considered a major problem in today’s America due to health care reform, H1N1, and economic recession, I still believe it is not an issue to be ignored.

This is only a small part of propaganda directed towards pity and guilt. A more controversial topic is that of abortion. This is a touchy subject, to say the least. Unlike animal cruelty, there are definitely those who feel very strongly on both sides of the issue.

For those who are pro-life, propaganda can be an extraordinary political weapon. By showing sad, sickening, or emotional pictures depicting abortion as a godless, cruel act they can drive their opinions home by affecting the moral and emotional psychology of their target audience. If there is one thing that’s more emotionally pulling than helpless animals, its young children being depicted as murder victims.

These methods are highly controversial, much as the topic of abortion itself. However, the attempted persuasion of lawmakers and other government officials is often not achieved through propaganda. (Chung, 2003) But the messages these sorts of ads convey are very powerful to the general population.

Now I am not going to state my opinion on either of these matters, due to the sensitivity of both. But animal abuse and abortion are two major areas that sometimes use propaganda. Our emotions are sometimes difficult to classify, and they have the tendency to overtake our thinking on occasion. Due to our complex psychologies, emotions have the ability to change our minds on a variety of topics. And some corporations can sometimes persuade others to think how they want them to think, act how they want them to act, or even encourage or persuade others to do the same.

Sometimes these strategies are very intrusive. With regard to abortion and emotions associated with it, some women may feel like ruthless murderers who are the scorn of the rest of society. And the constant debate between both sides of the issue just adds fuel to the fire. Sometimes the best policy for persuasion is to borderline insult the audience, like in the case of abortion. Guilt can be a powerful emotion, and it’s sometimes very effective in persuading and influencing the thoughts and feelings of others. (Carpentier, 2009)

In conclusion, propaganda that appeals to pity and guilt is a very broad area of persuasion. We’ve all been subjected to it, and most of us have probably been influenced by it. And growing up in a world so uncertain and controversial, I can only imagine that the amount of propaganda regarding such topics will only grow and become more blatant and forward.


Carpentier, Megan. (2009, Aug. 21). Federal judge upholds south dakota anti-abortion propaganda law. Retrieved from:

Chung, Sandra M. (2003, Nov. 7). Sifting through anti-abortion propaganda. Retrieved from:

Strom, Stephanie. (2008, Dec. 25). Ad featuring singer proves bonanza for the a.s.p.c.a. Retrieved from:

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