#5 A little game called Propaganda

When I was a kid, I was given the opportunity to participate in something called the Academic Games.  How I was tapped for this challenge is a long and complicated tale that would take far too long to explain here.  In fact, I think I have enough material from this time period in my life to develop a lengthy biopic.  The trailer would go something like this:  Watch the coming of age story of a bright young girl, trapped in the middle of farm country where knowledge of livestock and cash crops is valued over book learnin’, as she struggles to realize her full potential.  Will she find academic and personal success or will she cave to the pressure, act dumber than she is, get knocked up, and end up marrying some local bohunk?

SPOILER ALERT:  She did occasionally flaunt bad grades in order to appear cooler.  Who knew that genuinely struggling in algebra could be a one way ticket to populartown?  She also did not get knocked up until much later in life after she was married to a non-local hunk of the non-bo variety.  Finally, she ended up teaching in competitive high schools where being smart was the only way to snag a seat at the lunch table for “IT” kids.  If only she had known of this utopia sooner.  Or maybe not.

My dear students, please do not whine to me about the difficulty of the college admissions process.  Try getting letters of recommendation when your school librarian also happens to be the local blacksmith and most of your farmhands teachers have hundreds of heifers cows to milk immediately after the bell rings!  Their response?  “Uhm miss, first, I’m not sure what a school librarian does.  I think I saw one in a movie once.  Second, why couldn’t your teachers just wait until later to milk their cows?”  Insert lengthy explanation to suburb dwellers about how milk gets from cow to big shiny truck to grocery store carton.  I am certain that at least one of my former pupils was able to weave such a shocking revelation into college essay gold.

Movie making aspirations aside, let’s get back to the original topic of Academic Games.  To those unfamiliar with these games of intellectual judo, an image of teens in blazers participating in a trivia showdown probably comes to mind, but this was not the case.  The Academic Games were a series of different competitions hosted by a local university.  Students would spend hours prepping for these brainy battles in the hopes of bringing glory to their school and qualifying for Nationals that took place somewhere in the middle of Georgia.  Picture a conference room filled from one end to the other with tables, surrounded by the brainiest kids in the county, hunkered over a nerdy kind of board game, making wagers on their ability to access and apply huge amounts of knowledge in record time.  The betting was just as fierce as any bunch of blue hairs on a twenty-four hour bus trip to Atlantic City.  The moderator overseeing it all was a quirky lady named Carol who feared enjoyed  a cult-like following among the competition participants.

A variety of games were offered to appeal to a range of interests.  There was a historical trivia game involving all of the U.S. Presidents which I enjoyed playing and winning and there was a grammar based game that I played occasionally.  There was also a math related game that I avoided like the plague.  Oddly enough, I am still able to rattle off hundreds of bizarre facts about most of our former presidents using mnemonic devices that I created decades ago.  Just to be clear, I am not bragging since this information is probably taking up valuable space in my brain that could be used for bigger and better things.  If I could just delete the President files, I could more easily track down missing cell phones and car keys or remember to take the recycling out to the curb on the appropriate day.  While dominating the presidential questions during a rousing game of bar trivia or chatting with a history nut at a cocktail party who happens to just adore Willam Howard Taft can serve a purpose, the skill set that I walked away with from these particular experiences was not extremely useful in the real world.

Except for one.  A game that stands out among all the rest, whose techniques have a useful application for every person on the planet.  This game tests your ability to recognize and analyze exactly how you are being manipulated and for what purpose.  It’s name?  PROPAGANDA.  While the scenarios for each question relied heavily on texts taken from the advertising industry, they were not limited to TV commercials and radio pitches alone.  In fact, it was quite surprising how many other areas of life are filled with propaganda ripe for the taking, from big government agencies to the sneaky scheming of our own family members.  After more than two decades, I am still able to spot propaganda and when need be I can even use the techniques for my own purposes.  For the most part, I use my powers for good and not evil.  This is a skill set that proves far more useful than being able to rattle off random data about obscure dead presidents.  The techniques were equally fascinating to my older brother, who never actually competed in the Academic Games but acted as a sort of coach to help me train for each upcoming battle of wits.  He is of the personal opinion that studying the techniques of the game PROPAGANDA should be a required first year course at all colleges and universities.  Both of us probably have a copy of the technique list filed away for safe keeping somewhere but blessed be the Interweb, I’ve been able to track down the list here.  Enjoy it for yourself and as always, stay skeptical!