display | more...

I already know you're reading this. I don't know who you are, but I know that you may or may not have an opinion on this issue, and now you're here: reading what I wrote. Maybe you've read something else about this topic, or maybe you only know what the obnoxious morning DJs told you about it between guffawing at their own jokes. But I knew you'd be reading this before I ever wrote it, and you bet your ass I listened to those DJs. I know what they told you, and I have already prepared a wonderful intellectual argument to counter their bathroom humor and casual banter. I've also thought of a great way to discredit them, even though I don't need to attack whatever passes for their "credibility".

What's more, I know how to convince you to see things my way. Actually, it's not going to be hard, not at all. Did I say convince? It's not even really "convincing" you, since we see eye to eye on this: your point of view is actually the same as mine, in a way! You and me, we're a lot alike, in the things we value. I mean, we all want the same things, don't we? And it's for the good of the children, for the Constitution, for our way of life... it's only natural, isn't it?

An intelligent reader like yourself probably sees right through that flattery to the core of my argument--ah, yes, you got me old chap! It was an argument all along!--and maybe now you're on your guard. Maybe you're reading a little more closely now, thinking that those softlinks aren't as innocuous as they seemed? Have you considered going back to the top, reading this one more time, just to make sure that I didn't slip something past you?

What if that's exactly what I intended you to do?

Edward L. Bernays' Propaganda (1928) is surely one of the most influential books written this past century, even if rarely cited or closely read nowadays. If his name seems unfamiliar, and the actual practice remote, worry not. We're all soaking in the science.

Consider the track record on offer. Of the myriad utopian 'isms' proposed to ensure the contentment of the masses in the hundred years since - like communism and fascism, or liberalism and corporate nationalism - none have survived or thrived to the extent that Bernays' prescription for happiness has, namely, consumerism. Not consumption in the narrow sense of shopping and purchasing (though materialism there is aplenty). Rather, he espouses the civic potion of 'buying into' ideas, systems, and the underlying logic (as citizens) of what's been packaged and pitched to us, be it by companies or government. So came the election as entertainment; so went the party as participation. Or as Bernays put it,

the propagandist who specializes in interpreting enterprises and ideas to the public, and interpreting the public to promulgators of new enterprises and ideas, has come to be known by the name of public relations ... governments, whether they are monarchical, constitutional, democratic or communist, depend upon acquiescent public opinion ... government is government only by virtue of public acquiescence. (p. 64)

As a recent reissue of the classic text noted, comprehensive use of propaganda as a tool of the State is only about a hundred years old. 'Not until 1915 did governments systematically employ the entire range of modern media to rouse their populations to fanatical assent.' (M.C. Miller, intro, p. 12). Significantly, this tactical success comes at a steep price for the practitioner.

First and foremost, impact requires secrecy. 'At the very moment of the propagandists' triumph as professionals...to be referred to as a propagandist was an insult." (p. 14). In other words, as the technologies to shape our attitudes and beliefs became more invasively effective, simultaneously they became covert. Or, to circle back to the node title:

The media by which special pleaders transmit their messages to the public through propaganda include all the means by which people today transmit their ideas to one another. There is no means of human communication which may not also be a means of deliberate propaganda. (p. 123)
Which is to say every message carries bias, every story an agenda, every transmitted image an ideology. Reading is an activity immersed in influence, no matter how passive it may seem, and digital media have just served to make political nudging and truth-tweaking all the more invisible. In summary, that the vectors of persuasion emit largely from state-directed, profit-driven firms as opposed to bona fide government offices ought to worry us more, not less.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.