Has powerful public relations machines turned U$ into a nation of consumer slaves?
How has television given corporate America a showroom in every home ?
An interview with Stuart Ewen author of -PR- https://www.committment.com
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the extremely powerful role
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It's hard to be awake
and not know that.
as a kind of
This is evident in the popular folklore
that surrounds so-called "subliminal advertising."
Whether or not
is actually hidden in the ice cubes in liquor ads,
the fact that
people believe it's there
testifies to the sense we have
that there are folks out there
whose goal is
shape our behavior.
Alongside this anxious sensibility,
few people are aware
of the actual
practices of public relations
of the history
that led to the development
of these practices.
What is public relations?
Public relations professionals are hired
by a client
a psychological environment
that will engineer
in order to benefit
Most PR people
behind the scenes,
applied social scientists
(like the pollsters who perpetually monitor public feeling
for the purpose of influencing it),
others are experts
at staging media and
that are intended
the mental scenery
from which the public mind
sense of reality
In today's world,
every aspect of the political,
economic and cultural world
is massaged by these
How did Edward L. Bernays impact public relations in America?
Do you think he was a dangerous man?
Bernays's impact on PR in America,
public relations men were at work
journalists who pumped out press releases
on behalf of their clients.
Bernays entered the scene during the
First World War,
he did so
a fateful marriage
theories of mass psychology and
schemes of corporate and
factual argument was replaced by
the chronic appeals to irrational life
that mark our culture.
Yes and no.
His,Bernays, influence on Nazi propaganda minister,
can not be ignored.
On the other hand,
a simply man of his time.
Leaders were looking at ways
to employ social psychology
for manipulating the mass mind,
and they were moving in that direction
even before Bernays's appearance
on the historical stage.
Was public relations basically a way for the elite to keep the masses in check
—as they saw that in a democratic society the masses were getting too much power?
In large part, yes.
In a democratic society,
the interests of power
the interests of the public
are often at odds.
The rise of public relations is testimony
to the ways
that institutions of vested power,
over the course of the twentieth century,
have been compelled to justify and
package their interests
in order to make them appear compatible
with the common good.
Why is there so little opposition to public relations?
I think that there's a great deal of opposition to public relations.
People rightfully feel used.
The problem is that
most of us don't have the tools
to counteract public relations.
don't provide us
with an in-depth picture
of the PR apparatus and
how it works,
to use the tools
that are necessary
for engaging in public
discussion and debate
in today's world.
to petition our affections
at every turn
—often visually + without a word—
development of techniques
The development of curricula in media and
would not only sharpen young people's ability
to make sense of the world around them,
contribute to a more inclusive public sphere.
Literacy is never just about reading,
it's is also about writing.
early campaigns for universal print literacy
were concerned with democratizing the tools of public expression
—the written and spoken word—
for a more meaningful democracy
strive to empower people with
implements of public discourse:
computer assisted journalism and layout,
More customary mainstays of public expression
—expository writing and public speaking—
must be resuscitated and
nourished as well.
Is public relations in our country so calculated that
we have no idea that it is even happening?
A lot of hype can be sniffed out in a minute.
is fairly invisible.
as current events.
How did muckrakers,
or progressive journalists,
help the common man
in the United States
How did this care
the corporate and political elite?
brilliantly used publicity techniques
to shine a spotlight
on many of the political corruptions and
that oppressed ordinary Americans
at the turn of the century.
As a result of their efforts,
the demand for reform
reverberated throughout the land,
freaking out the powers
It was the muckrakers use of publicity,
in large measure,
that convinced corporate leaders
to start using PR techniques
to try to cajole the public
into siding with business.
How did the French psychologist,
Gustave Le Bon,
who wrote a book entitled,
A Study of the Popular Mind,"
dramatically impact the development of PR?
who followed his lead,
were the fathers of a decidedly modern science:
which studies group attitudes and behaviors
with an eye toward the unconscious motivations
that prompt public feeling.
From the period of the
First World War onward,
became the underpinning for
modern strategies of persuasion,
and had a profound effect
on the thinking of
American public relations pioneers like
Edward L. Bernays,
Ivy Lee +
America's foremost student of "public opinion,"
Are we really a democratic society
—with justice for all—
when PR dictates our agenda?
You've answered your own question.
Democracy and dictatorship cannot coexist.
How did PR turn America into a country of hungry consumers—
where people associate
their deepest democratic values
with corporate America?
Very difficult question to respond to briefly.
I could write a book about that.
In fact, I did.
I'd suggest that those among your readers
who are interested in pursuing this important question
make the time to read it.
How is demographics a powerful tool of "divide and Rule?"
Could PR account for the continued racial problems
in our country
and the slow demise of civil rights?
Why would corporate America want to create a poorer class of people?
Why would public relations want to exacerbate hostilities between groups
and heighten prejudices
in certain sectors
of the population?
Demographics is the applied use of social psychology,
to break the society down
into those categories
which will best allow
marketers and others
how each in a category
will think or
The use of demographics,
allows a PR expert
to tailor a message
to a particular ethnic group,
to those with a particular sexual orientation.
The problem here is that
rather than encouraging people
to identify with one another,
regardless of their demographic category,
the technique reinforces and dramatizes
the notion of
—as seen in the infamous Willie Horton ads—
appealing to one group of Americans
is often achieved
at the expense of another.
In terms of your second question,
racial problems in America
go back much further than public relations does.
One could say that
it was imported to these shores,
along with human chattels,
on slave ships.
There is no question, however,
that the demographic splintering
in this country
to short-circuit a civil rights movement
that was built on the premise
that all people, regardless of category,
could participate in the American Dream.
why corporate leaders would want
to create a poorer class of people,
it's not so much that poverty is their goal.
Rather it is an effect
of the merciless desire
to amass the lion's share of society's wealth
By upholding corporate values as American values,
the continuation of widespread social misery
In terms of your last question,
regarding the the uses of PR
to promote hostilities
a way of ensuring
that social anger
will not be
If a population
fights over crumbs,
they are less likely
are gorging on cake.
How has the National Association of Manufacturers
greatly impacted our country?
The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM)
has been around for
about a hundred years,
and for much of that time
it has been the most powerful organization
representing the interests of giant business enterprise
Though few Americans are aware of it,
and it operates mostly behind-the-scenes,
to profoundly affect
public agendas in the United States
One of the most colorful pieces of NAM history,
one that I discuss at length in my book,
during the Great Depression of the 1930s,
when many business leaders felt that
and his New Deal programs
were turning American minds away
from a pro-business point of view.
(in league with the
U. S. Chamber of Commerce)
launched a massive and multi-leveled PR effort
"The American Way" campaign.
The point of the campaign was
to create a mental association
between the idea of "The American Way," and
the idea of a totally unregulated business system.
Though billboards and other media
broadcast this message throughout the nation
it had little effect in a society
where there was massive unemployment,
even among the formerly middle class.
After World War II,
in a period of economic boom,
The American Way campaign gained legs.
With the help of McCarthyism,
New Deal ideas,
such as guaranteed national health insurance,
fell victim to the propaganda.
was a participant in NAM publicity efforts.
The rest is history.
How did television give corporate America a showroom in every home?
We take TV for granted,
in the forties
—when it was being developed as a consumer product—
publicists and marketers
saw TV as
a kind of
like electricity or gas.
TV was a amazing image-faucet,
one that could pump
lifelike renditions of reality
into people's homes
as never before.
From the late forties onward,
the field of PR became
to this development.
How can we not be so ruled and influenced by public relations?
How can we protect ourselves from it?
Two things need to take place.
who has a say?
who will be heard?
need to be corrected.
The avenues of public communication
need to be rescued
from the corporate monopoly
that currently controls them.
If only wealthy commercial interests
have access to the airwaves,
and other precious public properties,
than only wealthy commercial interests
will be heard from.
to make such a change happen
is within sight.
the enormous authority
of a business-centered worldview
is derived from the fact
that large corporations
have been permitted
to occupy and
upon public properties—
such as the broadcast spectrum—
any significant rent to the public
that "owns" them.
For a minimal license fee,
an unimaginable windfall
of public influence.
If this practice was to change—
if a fund to support public communication,
regularly received a fair rent
who were permitted to exploit
—funding for noncommercial venues of expression,
and for noncommercial arenas of public education
would be plentiful.
If 15 to 25 percent of all
in the United States
were applied this way,
the current crisis
in funding for public arts and
New visions would flourish.
Locally based communications centers
—equipped with up-to-date technologies and
opening new avenues for distribution—
would magnify the variety of voices heard.
Schools could more adequately
prepare our children
for the responsibilities
of democratic citizenship.
This last point,
leads to the second thing
that needs to take place,
something that I mentioned earlier on
and won't go into again here.
our educational system
needs to take
the idea of democratic communication
and develop curricula
that aim at
empowering students to think critically and
express themselves eloquently.
how to use
in the future,
are and will be
the meaningful arenas
of public expression.
democratic survival skills
citizens of the new millennium*)
Stuart Ewen *)author of „PR“