Thursday, February 23, 2006

A Short Hop from Subways to Propaganda

Ain't the Web great? I bounced around tonight from overheard subway conversations, to Philip Johnson's Bobst Library, to how Spiro Agnew got the VP nomination and generic drugs got the shaft, to the conjunction of PR, propaganda and corporate America.

I got waylaid by these quotes from Propaganda by Edward Bernays, the guy whose real last name seems to be "the father of American public relations."

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.
It was, of course, the astounding success of propaganda during the war that opened the eyes of the intelligent few in all departments of life to the possibilities of regimenting the public mind. The American government and numerous patriotic agencies developed a technique which, to most persons accustomed to bidding for public acceptance, was new. They not only appealed to the individual by means of every approach—visual, graphic, and auditory—to support the national endeavor, but they also secured the cooperation of the key men in every group—persons whose mere word carried authority to hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousand of followers. They thus automatically gained the support of fraternal, religious, commercial, patriotic, social and local groups whose members took their opinions from the accustomed leaders and spokesmen, or from the periodical publications which they were accustomed to read and believe.

At the same time, the manipulators of patriotic opinion made use of the mental clichés and the emotional habits of the public to produce mass reactions against the alleged atrocities, the terror, and the tyranny of the enemy. It was only natural, after the war ended, that intelligent persons should ask themselves whether it was possible to apply a similar technique to the problems of peace… The important thing is that it is universal and continuous; and in its sum total it is regimenting the public mind every bit as much as any army regiments the bodies of its soldiers.
— Via American Idealism.

There's much more about Bernays, smoking and the American Cancer Society here:

Bernays had a gift for cooking up extravagant public relations campaigns and one of his most famous ones was when he was hired by the American Tobacco Company. The head of the company, George Washington Hill, want to make Lucky Strikes the most smoked cigarette in America by opening up a whole new market of prospective smokers — women. At the time, people thought women who smoked were of low character and those in the better classes who did smoke, did so in secret.

The first part of the campaign was to launch the slogan “Reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet.” Arthur Murray, the famous dancing school founder was then engaged to claim that his dance instructors smoked to keep their slim figures instead of overeating the food and punch offered at public gatherings.

This propaganda pitch was quickly followed by finding a doctor to endorse the idea that smoking after a meal had several health benefits including being able “to disinfect the mouth and sooth the nerves.” Hotels were then urged to add cigarettes to their dessert menus! Menus prepared by House and Garden were circulated that recommended smoking instead of eating dessert as part of a healthful diet.

No venue was missed by Bernays. Homemakers were told to be sure to stock up on cigarettes as they were now household kitchen staples like salt, sugar and the like.

And now it's past even my bedtime.


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