In our current culture, most people form their way of thinking or paradigm through the pervasive influence of mass media. It takes real work to be an independent thinker. Do you know where and when your dominant cultural paradigm originated? A paradigm does not have to be built on truth, reality, or scientific facts; it just has to operate as the underlying structure for your general mental processes.
Modern US consumers are the most conditioned, programmed people in history. Very effective agents of mass opinion continually mold our thoughts and attitudes. In modern consumer culture, "conventional wisdom" is strategically implanted in the public consciousness by thousands of media inputs per day.
In order to wake up from this pervasive mass consumer trance, background on the handling of information and public image in this nation is necessary. We need to know how the basic methods of media mind control arose historically. Hopefully, we can then question our cultural paradigm and the constant cultural influence of daily mass media.
The paradox is that if most people hold a common belief, it's probably not factual. We call this common information "conventional wisdom". In the US, conventional wisdom that has mass acceptance is usually contrived: The fact is mass public perception is paid for with very extensive and very expensive public relations campaigns. Examples of conventional wisdom that have no scientific or factual basis are:
War makes our nation safer
Vaccination brings about immunity from disease
The cure for cancer is imminent, we just need more research funds
When a child is sick, they need an immediate dose of antibiotics
When a child has a fever he needs a consumer product such as Tylenol
Hospitals are safe and are the best place to treat health problems
Pharmaceuticals restore health
This list of mass cultural illusions costs billions of corporate public relations dollars to conjure, prop up and maintain. The President speaks from a script prepared by consummate PR pros. Facts and realities of our domestic and international situation are secondary to polls and political agendas. The predetermined agenda drives the storyline. Powerful special interest groups shape the news.
In the book, Trust Us We're Experts, authors Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber present compelling data that describe the science of creating public opinion in America. They trace modern public influence back to the early part of the last century. They highlight the ingenious work of PR industry pioneers like Edward L. Bernays’, The Father of Spin.
From his own seminal PR book, Propaganda, we learn how Edward L. Bernays took the ideas of his famous uncle, Sigmund Freud, and then applied these same ideas to the emerging science of mass public persuasion. The only difference was that instead of using these principles to uncover hidden themes in the human unconscious, the way Freudian psychology does, Bernays used these same principles in the external world to mask agendas and to create illusions that deceive and misrepresent, for market manipulation and for effective political persuasion of unthinking masses. The "Brave New World" of the PR game is alive and well.
Bernays was the "Father of Spin," dominating the PR industry until the 1940s, and was a significant force for another 40 years. During all that time, Bernays took on hundreds of diverse assignments to create a public perception about public policy or to market products. Several examples include:
- As a neophyte with the Committee on Public Information, one of Bernays' first assignments was to help sell the First World War to the American public with the idea to "Make the World Safe for Democracy."
- A few years later, he facilitated a PR stunt to popularize the notion of women smoking cigarettes.
- In organizing the 1929 Easter Parade in New York City, Bernays showed himself as a force to be reckoned with when he organized the Torches of Liberty Brigade in which suffragettes marched in the parade smoking cigarettes as a mark of women's liberation. Such publicity followed from that one event that from then on women have felt secure about destroying their own lungs in public, the same way that men have always done.
- Not one to turn down a PR challenge, he set up the advertising format along with the American Medical Association that lasted for nearly 50 years asserting that cigarettes are beneficial to human health. You can see this for yourself if you go to a library and look at the ads published by the tobacco industry in issues of Life or Time from the 40s and 50s.
Bernays never deviated from his fundamental axiom to "control the masses without their knowing it." The best PR is implemented with people remaining unaware that they are being manipulated, led and controlled. Stauber describes Bernays' rationale like this:
"The scientific manipulation of public opinion was necessary to overcome chaos and conflict in a democratic society."
These early mass persuaders postured themselves as performing a great moral service for humanity in general. In their elitist worldview, democracy was too challenging for common people; they needed to be told what to think, because they were incapable of rational thought by themselves. In Bernays' seminal book; Propaganda, he writes:
"Those who manipulate the unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested largely by men we have never heard of.
“This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. In almost every activity of our lives whether in the sphere of politics, business, social conduct or ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires that control the public mind."
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