Sunday 11 November 2012

tate & stevens or puppet master

Neatorama reprinted a classic article from Mental Floss about the founding father of spin and public relations, an Austrian-American marketing executive and nephew twice-over of Sigmund Freud by the name of Edward Bernays, who used his uncle’s techniques to influence public sentiment in his clients’ favour. Bernays was active from the 1920s but spent much of his later years in the 1970s recanting and trying to undo some of the more unwholesome beliefs he’d peddled. Planting suggestions with third party authorities, like politicians and the medical establishment, Bernays was able to bewitch the public with guiling arguments touching health, sanitation and patriotism that are still mostly intact and sacrosanct today.
Initially, Bernays was under contract of government and social organizations and helped promote better race relations with the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) and helped make venereal disease a less taboo subject and got people to practice precaution and seek treatment. This same manipulation, however, stoked public fears over the Red Scare and communists witch-hunts, arguing that Machiavellian controls and enlightened despotism were necessary for managing a democracy, and successfully propagandized the creation of so-called “banana republics,” contributing to the over-throw of governments in Hawaii and throughout Central and South America to create a business environment more friendly towards US fruit exporters. What was done specifically for business interests, though, has become an unbuckable legacy and tugs on the marionette strings of the individual as a consumer and civic animal. At the behest of certain cigarette manufacturers, Bernays tied-in marketing with the underswell of women’s liberation, convincing suffrages that smoking in public were “little torches of freedom” and would only help their fight for equality. Enlisting doctors and dentists, he managed to persuade Americans that a hearty breakfast was essential (for a flagging other white meat industry, maybe giving a foothold some fastfood chains to come as well) and that tap water should be fluoridated for healthy teeth (for mining concerns that were at a loss what to do with the fluoride by-product of making aluminum and steel). General notions about whiter-than-white hygiene and overly aggressive sanitation probably proved good for the chemical and pharmaceutical companies too.

Witnessing the rise of fascism in Europe, however, Bernays realized that propaganda could be just as easily turned from promoting harmony to subvert order and later that shilling for the tobacco companies had negative consequences for a lot of people and worked to rectify (with a known patron base of over four hundred political figures and industrialists, it seems selectively) some of those wrongs. Many of these grounding beliefs refuse to be disenchanted and I wonder what clientele may not have been disclosed and by holding onto misconceptions, who else might be using the same effective manipulation tactics presently.