Gardy Stern on Bill Idol’s “Propaganda” Class

As Gardy was unable to attend Reunion 2011, James Marienthal read this for him at the workshop held Saturday, September 24th, 2011, “The Wisdom of the Non-Rational: Revisiting Parker’s ‘Media Program’ 40 Years Later.”

I was honored when asked to record a few of my recollections about the “media curriculum” program. I remember it as if it were yesterday; if yesterday were 44 years ago. To be honest, I don’t remember a program that, according to a Daily News article, was a combination of “art, dance, drama, music, physical education, photography, sculpture, shop, and writing.” Nor do I remember being interviewed for the article. Unfortunately, the14-year-old me couldn’t come up with anything pithier that “I notice things more.” Oh well.

As far as the “media curriculum” program goes, I do remember many of its constituent parts.

I remember shop. I remember toiling under the somber scrutiny of Steff, as I carved what would ultimately be a wooden lamp. It was the kind of lamp one might see today in a nautically-themed tourist shop in some former whaling port. Which didn’t mean it wasn’t quality craftsmanship. My parents dutifully displayed it in our home; right up until the plane taking me to college was off the ground.

I also remember music, especially the annual Vespers performance, when Mr. Griffith decided that Skip Herman and I, rather than singing on stage, could make a more significant contribution directing cars in the parking lot.

But most of all I remember Mr. Idol’s “Propaganda” class. Through the years, I have told many people it was the most informative, most rewarding class I have ever taken. And that includes my three subsequent years in high school, college, and graduate school. Why

First of all, Mr. Idol was cool. He was young. He had a goatee. He didn’t wear a tie. In class, he made me feel like he was letting us in on information to which others were not privy. I remember thinking, probably for the first time in my life; “This is knowledge that can help me outside the classroom; knowledge I can really use.” I was right.

The class consisted of a long list of propaganda techniques that Mr. Idol explained via pertinent, real-world examples which we then discussed. I still remember many of them: “Victory by definition;” “ad hominem;” “concurrency;” “straw man;” and many more.

One need only check out the latest debates in Washington to realize these techniques continue to flourish (I won’t say which party resorts to them more because it’s too obvious). Understanding when and how these techniques are used made me a more perceptive observer. Hey, maybe that “I notice more” quote wasn’t as lame as I initially thought.

Mr. Idol also showed us how these techniques find their way into mass media and popular culture. Having made a career in mass media – I am a television writer and producer – I have also utilized propaganda techniques in countless scripts. As the old adage goes, “drama is conflict.” That’s true. And much of that conflict, particularly in the world of television drama, is a result of characters obfuscating the truth and/or deceiving one another. All those propaganda techniques are like a handy toolbox I can access to find the perfect form of disingenuity for every type of character.

Which reminds me, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the Parker community as a whole for supplying me with many of the character names I have used through the years. Special thanks go to Julian Kerbis, Sandy Sandquist, and multiple members of the Rago and Druzinsky clans; they’ve become my default options.

I’m sorry I couldn’t be with you in person, but am pleased I have been given the opportunity to pay small tribute to Mr. Idol and the media curriculum – the best class I’ve ever taken.

— Gardy Stern

Download the mimeographed class handouts from “Propaganda”

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