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General News    H4'ed 6/1/15

American Propaganda and the Mass Media

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[blockquote] Prior to that time there was no American consumer, there was the American worker. And there was the American owner. And they manufactured and they saved and they ate what they had to and the people shopped for what they needed. And while the very rich may have bought things they didn't need, most people did not. And Mazen envisioned a break with that where you would have things that you didn't actually need, but you wanted as opposed to needed. [/blockquote]

As the New York banks financed the spread of chain department stores across the country to serve as oases of consumerism, Bernays came up with many methods of product promotion that would become pervasive later on, such as linking products with movie stars who were also his clients, adorning those same movie stars in clothes and accessories made by other corporate clients during public events, and prominently placing products in films.

He also paid psychologists to issue reports claiming that certain products and services were good for people's well-being and celebrities to push the idea that clothes were not merely necessities but a means of self-expression. This became known as the "third party technique" of conferring legitimacy by what appears to be a disinterested party or an authoritative source.

The dramatic growth in consumerism that Bernays actively facilitated contributed to the stock market boom. After it crashed in 1929, however, challenges were presented to the idea that Americans were consumers rather than citizens as the consumer boom could no longer be sustained and Franklin Roosevelt's administration actively lobbied against it as part of the New Deal program. Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter in a letter to Roosevelt described Bernays and his PR colleagues as "professional poisoners of the public mind, exploiters of foolishness, fanaticism, and self-interest." Unlike Bernays, Roosevelt and his colleagues believed that people could be trusted to make rational decisions if their fears, desires and insecurities were not manipulated in other directions as reflected in Roosevelt's famous admonition, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

Bernays eventually saw his ideas transferred into the realm of political philosophy as renowned political writer and repentant former socialist Walter Lippmann, who had served with Bernays on the Creel Commission, began to apply Freud's ideas to a need to control the masses politically, viewing the Russian Revolution as an example of the dark forces of the rabble being unleashed. Bernays was intrigued by Lippmann's interpretation of his uncle's ideas -- contained in Freud's books which Bernays professionally promoted in the U.S. Lippmann had begun to openly question the feasibility of democracy:

[blockquote] The lesson is, I think, a fairly clear one. In the absence of institutions and education by which the environment is so successfully reported that the realities of public life stand out sharply against self-centered opinion, the common interests very largely elude public opinion entirely, and can be managed only by a specialized class whose personal interests reach beyond the locality. [/blockquote]

In his 1922 book, The Phantom Public, Lippmann stated plainly: "The public must be put in its place [so that we may] live free of the trampling and the roar of a bewildered herd."

In 1930's Germany, the Nazis were also asserting that democracy was not feasible and Joseph Goebbels, who emerged as the Nazis' pre-eminent propagandist, had taken note of Bernays methods of public manipulation based on Freudian theory as a way to channel the desires of the population in a particular direction favored by the leaders. Goebbels reportedly admitted putting Bernays' book Crystallizing Public Opinion to use in the regime's genocidal campaign against the Jews in terms of creating a public environment of hatred and scapegoating.

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Natylie Baldwin is co-author of Ukraine: Zbig's Grand Chessboard & How the West Was Checkmated, available from Tayen Lane Publishing. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in various publications including Sun Monthly, Dissident Voice, (more...)
 

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