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Mob Appeal

by Hans Bluedorn

Mob Appeal

A mob appeal is a theatrical performance designed to stir up emotions in a crowd. Whether the mob appeal is in a political speech, television show, or advertisement, it is difficult to resist.

If done well, mob appeals can work with mind boggling efficiency, prompting every listener to form staunch opinions on formerly mundane, or even unknown topics. But not everybody can use a mob appeal. Unlike other logical fallacies which rely on common slips in reasoning - slips which the arguer may not be aware of - the mob appeal requires a measure of talent to be pulled off successfully.

Professor Harold Hill - supposed music instructor in the musical "The Music Man" - perfected this art, invoking fear into the hearts of River City residents after a pool table was installed in their town.

"Mothers of river city, heed that warning before it's too late. Watch for the telltale signs of corruption [from the pool table]: the minute your son leaves the house, does he re-buckle his knickerbockers below the knee? Is there a nicotine stain on his index finger? A dime novel hidden in the corn crib? Is he startin' to memorize jokes from Capn' Billie's Whizbang? Are certain words creeping into his conversation? Words like: "swell" and "so's your ole' man." Well, if so my friends, you got trouble."

Oh, River City sure has trouble - they have trouble resisting Harold Hill.

Prof. Hill's mob appeal is doing well in striking the chord of fear - fear is a good motivator. When people have become upset by evil predictions, they tend to abandon their minds and begin to think out of cringe-reflex - out of herd instinct. Nobody in River City pauses long enough to ask, "how could a game of pool cause all this?" No, this is an emergency and must be dealt with accordingly. Thus, through Prof. Hill's dynamic personality, a connection is drawn between teenage smoking, slangy language, generally loose living, and its breeding ground - pool tables.

Later on, in a different musical number, Prof. Hill chants:

"Oh, a band'll do it, my friends, oh, yes! I mean a Boys Band. Do you hear me? I say river City's gotta have a Boys Band, and I mean she needs it today. Well, Professor Harold Hill's on hand, river city's gonna have her boys band! And just as the lord made little green apples, and that band's gonna be in uniform! Johnny, Willy Teddy, Fred! And you'll see the glitter of crashing cymbals. And you'll hear the thunder of rolling drums; and the shimmer of trumpets. Tah-ta-ra and you'll feel something akin to the electric thrill I once enjoyed when Gilmore, Liberatti, Pat Conway, The Great Creatore, W.C. Handy, and John Philip Sousa all came to town on the very same historic day!"

Here, many visions of glorious bands are flashed before the eyes of River City - planting in their minds that, if they will only follow Professor Hill, he will lead them to a similar glory. While such arguments may be immaterial, they are carefully thought out, meticulous ploys designed to play on the feelings of urgency ("I say River City's gotta have a Boys Band, and I mean she needs it today."), glory (And you'll see the glitter of crashing cymbals.), hominess (And just as the lord made little green apples), thrill (and you'll feel something akin to the electric thrill I once enjoyed) and pride ( the whole thing together), all felt in the hearts of all River City. Notice, nothing is given but vague hints as to HOW a boys band exactly will save the children of the town from the corruption of pool tables or HOW a boys band will make their children better educated.

There are many different emotions which a mob appeal uses to sway the crowd. Some of them have been covered in past loops: appeal to pity, snob appeal, appeal to anger and injustice and appeal to fear (argumentum ad baculum - appeal to the stick). But the distinguishing feature of a mob appeal is its bold dramatic appearance coupled with loud repetitious speaking. This appearance is not meant to sway one person, but a whole crowd.

The arena of animal rights displays examples of mob appeals, this time with pity.

From the website of PETA (People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals):

"Most of the millions of cows, pigs, sheep, and goats slaughtered for their skin endure the horrors of factory farming - overcrowding, deprivation, unanesthetized castration, branding, tail_docking, and de_horning. At the end of their short, miserable lives, they are stunned, skinned, hung upside down, and bled to death..."

And mob appeals with guilt:

"Every time you choose to buy a leather jacket or leather shoes, you sentence an animal to a lifetime of suffering. Join the millions of consumers who are realizing that "hairless fur" is something we can do without... Fashion should be fun, not grisly!" - from the PETA website.

When advertisements and articles encourage you to "join the millions of" as this one does, it encourages you to be swept along and not to be left alone in an empty street.

When I read things like: "horrors of factory farming," "short, miserable lives, " "you sentence an animal," my mind conjures up images of NAZI concentration camps with those ever present jack booted officers inflicting atrocities on the inhabitants. "Ve haf vays uff taking care uff you....permanently."

Of course the reality is, using skins for clothing has been around since almost the beginning of time and, in fact, was first practiced by God: Genesis 3:21. "Also for Adam and his wife the Lord God made tunics of skin, and clothed them."

Good arguments usually involve emotion, and they probably should, but that isn't their main purpose. If emotion is used, it should be to convey some of the intensity of the author's zeal for his subject - not to manipulate the audience. In arguments, emotion should be the slave and logical reasoning should be the master.

How do we deal with emotional appeals? Unfortunately, logical arguments do not work very well when everybody is caught up in the drama of an event. It is difficult to bring people back without resorting to similar charismatic tactics. Dash them over the head with a cold bucket of reason. Point out the loose connections, assumptions and exaggerated rhetoric. Explain the long term consequences of their actions. Sober them up.




On Mon, 26 Mar 2001 13:54:16 -0600 Christian Logic Loop writes:


This advertisement might already be familiar to you. It was sent to me by Amber from Decatur, Illinois.

Quote: ""Show me Success! ""We admit it: P*******l Homeschooling magazine isn''t for everyone. It is for you if:

You would like your children to someday be in the running for full-tuition scholarships to top colleges instead of saddled with huge loans for second-rate degrees.

You care even more about their spiritual state, and want them to be ready to change the world, not to be changed by the world.""

End quote.

What fallacy is this? Below I have included some descriptions of fallacies; they should help you get started.

Send your answers–and reasons for your answers–to me and I''ll print my selections next time. Hans Bluedorn

I am new to all of this, learning along with my 13 year old son, but I will give it a shot. The most obvious fallacy to me is Snob Appeal. The quote implies that if you read this magazine your children will be "in the running for full-tuition scholarships to top colleges" and will "change the world" (hopefully for the better?). What parent wouldn't want those things for their child?

It is also implied that if you care about your child's "spiritual state" you will, of course, want this magazine. More realistically, it shows that the publishers are targeting people who care more about the spiritual state of their children than their academic state.

These statements are effective in that they tell me about the standards of those publishing the magazine, and are designed to attract people of "like mind" to join them.

Could it also be Hasty Generalization in that a few of their subscribers may be "in the running" for scholarships?

Thank you for challenging me as I learn. After several months of receiving these and working through your recommended curriculum with my son, I am finally beginning to understand SOME of what you are sending me. grin

Rita Holets


From: "Ted Holt"

Dear Hans,

Thank you for such a good treatise of logic. I always enjoy hearing from the logic loop. I want to comment on something you received from a reader:

Dear Hans,

I'm very new to the study of Logic, so I would appreciate your evaluation of the quote that follows. I've seen it many times, most recently on the Trivium Loop, and it bothers me every time I see it.

"Live simply, so others may simply live."

Practically speaking, in a free society this "simply" is not true. If I consume much it necessarily follows that others would have to work to provide me the goods I consume. Of course, in a free society, if others work for me, they will require me to compensate them. That compensation raises the standard of living for those people who are at work to supply my consumption habits. In a controlled society, as in China, if I were not of the elite, I have no choice to live extravagantly. I would be glad to simply live, and my simple living would in no way benefit my comrades.


Janet Sedy

Janet Sedy is exactly right! I want to point out two other things wrong with this quotation.

(1) The word "simply" has two different meanings in that sentence. It sounds pleasant to repeat the same word, but there is no logical connection between the two "simply's".

(2) Whoever said that quote assumes that the economy is like a pie, that one person can get a larger slice only if someone else gets a smaller one. I hear this in the news all the time.

But that's not true. For instance, I have chickens. I can buy a bunch of incubators and fill them with eggs and have more chickens than I know what to do with. It takes 3 weeks for an egg to hatch. If I keep a 48-egg incubator running constantly, producing 24 new chickens (assume

half the eggs don't hatch) every 3 weeks, I can produce about 17 x 24 chickens in a year, which is some 400 chickens a year.

Or I can produce none.

So my chicken pot pie is not of a fixed size. I can expand it or contract it at will.

The same is true of any type of food – fruit, vegetable, animal. And it is true of the economy in general.

When labor is applied to natural resources in a productive fashion (that is, not wasting the resources), wealth is created. That means we can all have bigger pieces of the pie because we can make the pie bigger. But tell that to the Hillary Clintons of the world.


Ted Holt

Corinth, Mississippi


From: Daniel Kirk 

I enjoyed the astute comments from your readers:

From: "Michels, Matt"


I have enjoyed this list quite a bit. Here is a bumper sticker which I have always thought had an interesting logical fallacy.

"If you can't trust me with a choice,

How can you trust me with a child?"

I've forgotten the name of the fallacy, but it's been mentioned here before. "This newspaper deserves the support of every German... " there was a hint of serious consequences for letting your subscription lapse.

Put more bluntly, this bumper sticker would say, "If you won't let me have an abortion, I may resort to infanticide."

Daniel Kirk


Daniel Kirk,

The fallacy you are looking for is argumentum ad baculum. Where an appeal is made to force - "do what I say or else."

Hans Bluedorn


From: "Cheryl Wheeler"

Thank you so much for your wonderful newsletter.

I was in college about ten years ago, but I still remember an editorial from the campus paper.

The editorial began with a long description of the author's brand new nephew. After several paragraphs describing the happy mother, father, and child, the author stated that because of all this happiness, abortions should be outlawed across the land. He finished his editorial by adding that it really was a good thing that Eisenhower's mother didn't have an abortion, because then many more American lives would have been lost, and we would all be speaking German today.

I replied with a letter (which was not published) asking, " What if Hitler's mother had had an abortion?" I would appreciate comments on the editorial, as well as my response. I think that my response alone is not a logical defense of abortion, but it is a logical rebuttal of that illogical editorial.

Cheryl Wheeler


Cheryl Wheeler,

The fallacy that is being committed here is akin to the post hoc ergo proper hoc fallacy which says that if one thing happened after another, the first thing must have caused the second. If seven years of bad things happened after I broke a mirror, the mirror caused all the bad things.

This reasoning with Eisenhower, however, is slightly different. He supposes that if Eisenhower had NOT been born all the events that his life touched for the good would have gone ill. This reasoning is ridiculous. While Eisenhower was contributing factor, I do not believe the result of World War Two rests on so thin a thread as him. There were many other reasons why World War Two didn't end up with Germany on top.

Copyright May 20, 2001, all rights reserved. 16858 views

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