Edward Bernays: The Ultimate Propagandist

I was watching The Century of the Self recently. It`s an excellent four part documentary from the BBC that aired back in 2002 about how the powerful control the rest of us. Even now six years later it holds up very well. Scary stuff. The time period ranges from around World War I through the late 1990s. Sigmund Freud, his daughter Anna, and his nephew Edward Bernays, seem to be main characters throughout, along with lots of politicians, business leaders, and psychologists. But Bernays was everywhere. And he was probably one of the most manipulative dudes of his era, selling everything from cigarettes to presidents to wars. His methods of implementing propaganda, all based on his uncle`s theories, were largely responsible for the creation of the consumer society in the United States. In fact, the United States leads the world in consumption, yet very few people know that Bernays was the guy behind the curtain. Actually, very few know Bernays at all. I`ve read a bunch of his stuff and I used to be in his business, so I still see him everywhere.

There are a few things striking about the film -- especially in this ultimate season of campaign propaganda in the United States. First, there is a lot of politics in the documentary, obviously, but I couldn`t pick out any clear partisanship. Propaganda clearly transcends party lines. Second, most attempts to directly confront and fight back against the powerful ultimately ended in failure. The elites just used propaganda to leverage the counter punches to their advantage. And third, it doesn`t seem to matter if you know propaganda is being used on you. It works anyway. It`s remarkable. Now, it`s not all that bleak. Change does occur. But it occurs indirectly and over long periods of time. So, confront power carefully, I guess. Oh, and the term propaganda, which was common before World War II, was eventually dumped by the propagandists for the more positive sounding public relations. Today, PR is pervasive. So, if you are interested in communications or politics, give this BBC program a watch. It`s humbling at the very least. Don`t forget to vote tomorrow, too.

Thank for the link, a very interesting if somewhat frightening series. If you want to teach you daughter about this sort of thing, the following book is very good,

"The Short and Incredibly Happy Life of Riley"
by Colin Thompson (Author), Amy Lissiat (Illustrator)

ISBN-10: 1933605502
ISBN-13: 978-1933605500


Posted by Edward Middleton on November 04, 2008 at 02:55 PM JST #

Thanks for posting this. I've studied this in the past, but this is the most informative and compact body of information I've yet seen.

The word these sorts of things produce is "terrifying". Terrifying because is so horribly true. When you start the documentary or look back 100 years you see stark contrast and feel somewhat enlightened in yourself... but as you see how it grew, changed, and evolved, you see the path that produced the feelings that you have.

In particular, I am a baby-boomers child, an indirect product of the revolutions of the 60's that influenced how I was raised. When combined with the cultural mass media messages of the 80's, I was infused with the message of self expression through consumerism. But the great irony is that when you've convinced someone that they are an individual, its hard to accept that you were coaxed to be that way... that there is some other way.

I think the movement of today is now a backward swing, as individuals now try to re-combine and reshape society. I would say that one of the movements driving that is the Gay and Lesbian movement, which embraced individuality and societal separation through the early 90's and then combined, ever more quickly, to redefine society. How else do we get to national discussions about "What is marriage?" I think we've come out of an "I am self" culture into a "We are self" culture, and the faster differing groups can combine and organize the better position they have to re-factor American and Western society as a whole.

Scary scary stuff. Its much easier to see this as all just random disconnected events.

Posted by benr on November 04, 2008 at 08:34 PM JST #

Great video! Thanks!
If someone want to read the book Edward Bernays book 'Propaganda' online take a look here: http://whale.to/b/bernays.pdf

Posted by Postanes on November 13, 2008 at 11:11 PM JST #

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