Here is a fascinating video by the BBC called The Century of the Self. It is about public relations master and nephew of Sigmund Freud, Edward Bernays. Bernays was instrumental in creating our consumerism culture, invented PR, advised governments and was a key influence on the propaganda of Nazi Germany.
Edward Bernays took Freud’s ideas about the primitive aggressive and sexual forces driving people and used them to manipulate the masses.
He showed American corporations, for the first time, how they could make people want things they didn’t need, by linking mass-produced goods to their unconscious desires. Out of this would come a new political idea of how to control the masses. By satisfying people’s inner selfish desires, one made them happy and thus docile. It was the start of the all-consuming self which has come to dominate our world today.
Here are some high-lights of the video.
- Sold World War I to Americans.
- ‘Propaganda’ was the word used by Nazis so Bernay re-named it as Public Relations.
- He persuaded women to smoke by branding them as ‘torches of freedom’ and linking smoking to the suffrage movement.
- Helped link products and services to emotions and feelings and how people wanted to be seen by others. It was a shift from purchases based on needs to desires.
- Created the idea of cars as symbols of male sexuality.
- Started the shift from the notion of active citizens to passive consumers.
- Helped popularize President Coolidge by linking him to movie stars.
- Popularized Freud’s ideas in the US.
- Key influence to Joseph Goebbel, the Nazi propagandist.
- Created the vision that democracy was only possible in a free-market capitalist society in the 1939 New York World Fair.
Here is a link to a free PDF version of Edward Bernay’s 1928 book, Propaganda. (You may have to right click and save as to download to a PC.)