Samuel Spitale offered his version of a crash course in media literacy, covering all the major bullet points of a semester-long college course in little under half an hour. Those attendees who had taken any mass communications class would recognize the history and stories behind the slide show infographics instantly. For those that did not, “Crash Course” would expose the myths behind some of the more popular catchphrases and cleverly disguised publicity campaigns.

Samuel Spitale speaks on “Crash Course in Media Literacy” at the San Diego Library.

The Thursday afternoon panel was part of the San Diego Public Library’s “Comic Conference for Educators & Librarian” series. And Spitale was at the library to promote How To Win The War on Truth: An Illustrated Guide to How Mistruths are Sold, Why They Stick, and How to Reclaim Reality. The book itself could be the textbook for any mass communications course. It is a concise visual compendium that exposes the secrets of how corporations and governmental entities shape language to “get inside our brains to sway public opinion.” By the way, all this is called propaganda. And it just so happens that the people who do this work of selling ideas for financial gain are very good at it.

According to Spitale, the average American encounters 4,000 to 10,000 media messages a day, and few of us can differentiate the news from all that noise.

“What was supposed to be the Information Age has instead become an age of information. From welfare queen to WMDs, climate change to critical race theory and the war on drugs to the war on Christmas, much of what Americans believe is more mistruth than truth, and that’s by design.”

Infographic-by-infographic taken from his book, Spitale explained the rationale behind many popular advertising, public relations, marketing, and branding campaigns. Take examples of propaganda campaigns that Americans accept as truth:

    • A low-fat diet is good for you (a sugar industry campaign in the 1960s that attempted to downplay the risks of sugar and highlight the hazards of fat)
    • Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (marketing to sell Americans on the Iraq War)
    • “Keep America Beautiful” anti-littering public service announcement (a public relations campaign disguised as a non-profit; founded in 1953 by the manufacturers of Coca Cola, Pepsi, and Anheuser-Busch to convince Americans that litter was a consumer use issue, not a packaging issue)

Afterwards, Spitale answered questions from attendees on how to spot propaganda. Hopefully, attendees walked away with a better understanding of how corporations and government manipulate media for their own financial benefit. After all, if it sounds like propaganda, it probably is.

Miss any of our earlier SDCC ’23 coverage? Find it all here!