Everything is Oll Korrect!

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Tag: Edward Bernays

Propaganda (75 Books – XIX)

So, take a look at this passage:

Who are the men who, without our realizing it, give us our ideas, tell us whom to admire and whom to despise, what to believe about the ownership of public utilities, about the tariff, about the price of rubber, about the Dawes Plan, about immigration; who tell us how our houses should be designed, what furniture we should put in them, what menus we should serve at our table, what kind of shirts we must wear, what sports we should indulge in,what plays we should see, what charities we should support, what pictures we should admire, what slang we should affect, what jokes we should laugh at?

If we set out to make a list of the men and women who, because of their position in public life, might fairly be called the molders of public opinion, we could quickly arrive at an extended list of persons mentioned in “Who’s Who.” […]

Such a list would comprise several thousand persons. But it is well known that many of these leaders are themselves led, sometimes by persons whose names are known to few. Many a congressman, in framing his platform, follows the suggestions of a district boss whom few persons outside the political machines have ever heard of. Eloquent divines may have great influence in their communities, but often take their doctrines from a higher ecclesiastical authority. The presidents of chambers of commerce mold the thought of local business men concerning public issues, but the opinions which they promulgate are usually derived from some national authority. A presidential candidate may be “drafted” in response to “overwhelming popular demand,” but it is well known that his name may be decided upon by half a dozen men sitting around a table in a hotel room.

In its insistence that Americans’ opinions are largely controlled by only “several thousand persons,” it sounds like something from the patriot movement. It’s not quite conspiratorial, though, so perhaps it was written by some other part of the Right, or even certain parts of the Left? However, the tone is not at all polemical, or even critical of what it describes. Indeed, elsewhere the author considers this propaganda to be a positive thing.

The passage comes from Propaganda, written in 1928 by Edward Bernays, a public relations counsel who worked for a number of corporations, as well as for the U.S. Committee on Public Information during the First World War (he was also a nephew of Sigmund Freud; make of that what you will). Throughout the book, Bernays details what propaganda is, how it works, who uses it, and who creates it. Now, in 1928 the term “propaganda” had only relatively recently acquired its negative connotation, and Bernays uses it in a neutral sense throughout; at one point he explains “propaganda is simply the establishing of reciprocal understanding between an individual and a group.” At a glance, this definition seems reasonable, and this is certainly Bernays’s idea of what propaganda ought to be, but despite the author’s attempt to portray the practice in a neutral light, the actual content of the book clearly describes subtly manipulating public opinions, often in ways that appear rather insidious.…

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