87: Deconstructing Edward Bernays’ ‘Propaganda’ (Part 11)


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The Smells Like Human Spirit Podcast rolls on with Part 11 of our series breaking down Edward Bernays’ influential text ‘Propaganda’. This show focuses on Chapter 9 of the book, ‘Propaganda and Social Service’, which further exposes Bernays’ determination that the wealthy should direct the priorities of a particular society.

BONUS: This episode also features an interview with the former Boston Globe journalist Larry Tye, author of ‘The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays and the Birth of Public Relations’. Larry discusses meeting the man himself, what it was like to sift through his collection of things at the Library of Congress, and what he gleaned from talking to over 100 of his closest friends and relatives.

Click here to download this podcast.

Smells Like Human Spirit is a DAILY podcast that covers society, culture, and everything in between! Previous guests include Professor Noam Chomsky, Dan Carlin, Michael Ruppert and many others…

CHAPTER 9 TRANSCRIPT – “PROPAGANDA IN SOCIAL SERVICE”

Propaganda

THE public relations counsel is necessary to social work. And since social service, by its very nature, can continue only by means of the voluntary support of the wealthy, it is obliged to use propaganda continually. The leaders in social service were among the first consciously to utilize propaganda in its modern sense.
The great enemy of any attempt to change men’s habits is inertia. Civilization is limited by inertia.
Our attitude toward social relations, toward economics, toward national and international politics, continues past attitudes and strengthens them under the force of tradition. Comstock drops his mantle of proselytizing morality on the willing shoulders of a Sumner; Penrose drops his mantle on Butler; Carnegie his on Schwab, and so ad infinitum. Opposing this traditional acceptance of existing ideas is an active public opinion that has been directed consciously into movements against inertia. Public opinion was made or changed formerly by tribal chiefs, by kings, by religious leaders. To-day the privilege of attempting to sway public opinion is every one’s. It is one of the manifestations of democracy that any one may try to convince others and to assume leadership on behalf of his own thesis.
New ideas, new precedents, are continually striving for a place in the scheme of things.
The social settlement, the organized campaigns against tuberculosis and cancer, the various research activities aiming directly at the elimination of social diseases and maladjustments—a multitude of altruistic activities which could be catalogued only in a book of many pages—have need of knowledge of the public mind and mass psychology if they are to achieve their aims. The literature on social service publicity is so extensive, and the underlying principles so fundamental, that only one example is necessary here to illustrate the technique of social service propaganda.
A social service organization undertook to fight lynching, Jim Crowism and the civil discriminations against the Negro below the Mason and Dixon line.
The National Association for the Advancement of the Colored People had the fight in hand. As a matter of technique they decided to dramatize the year’s campaign in an annual convention which would concentrate attention on the problem.
Should it be held in the North, South, West or East? Since the purpose was to affect the entire country, the association was advised to hold it in the South. For, said the propagandist, a point of view on a southern question, emanating from a southern center, would have greater authority than the same point of view issuing from any other locality, particularly when that point of view was at odds with the traditional southern point of view. Atlanta was chosen.
The third step was to surround the conference with people who were stereotypes for ideas that carried weight all over the country. The support of leaders of diversified groups was sought. Telegrams and letters were dispatched to leaders of religious, political, social and educational groups, asking for their point of view on the purpose of the conference. But in addition to these group leaders of national standing it was particularly important from the technical standpoint to secure the opinions of group leaders of the South, even from Atlanta itself, to emphasize the purposes of the conference to the entire public. There was one group in Atlanta which could be approached. A group of ministers had been bold enough to come out for a greater interracial amity. This group was approached and agreed to cooperate in the conference.
The event ran off as scheduled. The program itself followed the general scheme. Negroes and white men from the South, on the same platform, expressed the same point of view.
A dramatic element was spot-lighted here and there. A national leader from Massachusetts agreed in principle and in practice with a Baptist preacher from the South.
If the radio had been in effect, the whole country might have heard and been moved by the speeches and the principles expressed.
But the public read the words and the ideas in the press of the country. For the event had been created of such important component parts as to awaken interest throughout the country and to gain support for its ideas even in the South.
The editorials in the southern press, reflecting the public opinion of their communities, showed that the subject had become one of interest to the editors because of the participation by southern leaders.
The event naturally gave the Association itself substantial weapons with which to appeal to an increasingly wider circle. Further publicity was attained by mailing reports, letters, and other propaganda to selected groups of the public.
As for the practical results, the immediate one was a change in the minds of many southern editors who realized that the question at issue was not only an emotional one, but also a discussable one; and this point of view was immediately reflected to their readers. Further results are hard to measure with a slide-rule. The conference had its definite effect in building up the racial consciousness and solidarity of the Negroes. The decline in lynching is very probably a result of this and other efforts of the Association.
Many churches have made paid advertising and organized propaganda part of their regular activities. They have developed church advertising committees, which make use of the newspaper and the billboard, as well as of the pamphlet. Many denominations maintain their own periodicals. The Methodist Board of Publication and Information systematically gives announcements and releases to the press and the magazines.
But in a broader sense the very activities of social service are propaganda activities. A campaign for the preservation of the teeth seeks to alter people’s habits in the direction of more frequent brushing of teeth. A campaign for better parks seeks to alter people’s opinion in regard to the desirability of taxing themselves for the purchase of park facilities. A campaign against tuberculosis is an attempt to convince everybody that tuberculosis can be cured, that persons with certain symptoms should immediately go to the doctor, and the like. A campaign to lower the infant mortality rate is an effort to alter the habits of mothers in regard to feeding, bathing and caring for their babies. Social service, in fact, is identical with propaganda in many cases.
Even those aspects of social service which are governmental and administrative, rather than charitable and spontaneous, depend on wise propaganda for their effectiveness. Professor Harry Elmer Barnes, in his book, “The Evolution of Modern Penology in Pennsylvania,” states that improvements in penological administration in that state are hampered by political influences. The legislature must be persuaded to permit the utilization of the best methods of scientific penology, and for this there is necessary the development of an enlightened public opinion. “Until such a situation has been brought about,” Mr. Barnes states, “progress in penology is doomed to be sporadic, local, and generally ineffective. The solution of prison problems, then, seems to be fundamentally a problem of conscientious and scientific publicity.”
Social progress is simply the progressive education and enlightenment of the public mind in regard to its immediate and distant social problems.

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