In the important new book Propaganda 2.1: Understanding Propaganda in the Digital Age by Peter Fallon, the author attempts to bring the ideas about propaganda of Jacques Ellul into the current digital age. Ellul wrote one of the most famous books on propaganda called Propaganda published in english in 1964 and died in 1994 at the beginning of the Internet and the digital age. As a leading scholar of the discipline called media ecology that grew out of the work of Marshall McLuhan, it is fair to say that Fallon’s goal is also to view Ellul’s ideas through the lens of media ecology.
Few outside the area of media ecology are probably going to hear about this unique look at modern propaganda. This is unfortunate because the book provides insight into the thinking of one of the most brilliant thinkers of the 20th century in Jacques Ellul. Written for the general reader, it does not forget readers in the intellectual and academic world.
I thought I knew pretty much about the topic of propaganda as I had researched and written about it in articles and essays published on the Internet over the years. In fact, my book Battle of Symbols (Daimon Verlag, Zurich, 2003) was much about the propaganda of symbols. But Fallon’s Propaganda 2.1 is such a welcome addition to my understanding of propaganda.
Fallon takes an interesting approach to his subject. First of all, rather than attempt to analyze the present state of propaganda, Fallon takes the reader on a quick tour of the history of it starting with Aristotle’s Rhetoric of 400 BC through the development of persuasion, mass communications and finally into the digital age. A good choice on how to present this perpetually ambiguous topic. Within this historical approach, Fallon offers many questions or “probes” as McLuhan would say. In fact, McLuhan might say that the book is “cool” offering something the reader participates in through all of the probes throughout the book. When we finally arrive at the modern world of propaganda – or what Fallon calls Propaganda 2.1 – we have reached a time Fallon defines as paradoxical more than anything else.
I saw notice somewhere of the new book. Most likely on one of the media ecology sites I frequent. It looked interesting and it had that wonderful quality I like in books these days … it was short at only 170 pages. I asked my editor friend Bob Logan at the media ecology journal New Explorations in Toronto if I could review Fallon’s new book and he said yes. The PDF if the book arrived from the book’s publisher Cascade Books in Oregon and I set off to read and review it. I had other writing projects barking for attention at the time so it was not something I could spend much time on.
But it didn’t turn out this way. The little book caused me to download at least twenty files in my Propaganda 2.1 file on my Mac. As well as a 60,000-word document. In addition, downloads of pdfs off the Internet of key works by Jacques Ellul: The Technological Society; Propaganda; Presence in the World and The Humiliation of the Word. There were also articles and essays to read on Ellul. I read the articles and books with growing interest. Without a doubt, the discovery or rediscovery of Ellul – somewhat forgotten or never really understood in the first place – is the real treasure this smart little book offers to readers. Fallon makes the difficult works of Ellul more understandable by putting them into the context of history.
Perhaps more than anything (it seems to me) Fallon’s Propaganda 2.1 is a book that demonstrates McLuhan’s “probe” method of investigating subjects. Always providing the “cool” media of questions rather than the “hot” media of answers. Our time of paradox needs more questions and fewer answers.
The new book Propaganda 2.1 by Peter Fallon is available on Amazon.
My 7,000 word review of Propaganda 2.1 will appear in an upcoming edition of New Explorations. The editor invites readers to explore the journal and consider submitting an article which will be peer reviewed and – if accepted – published. The author retains copyright of their article.
Propaganda 2.1 is published by Cascade Books an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers one of the most innovative publishers in America.