Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Aimless Reading: The P's, Part 1 (Vance Packard)

The Hidden Persuaders by Michael_Kelleher
The Hidden Persuaders, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.
Packard, Vance
The Hidden Persuaders

Purchased at Rust Belt Books. Not sure why I bought this, exactly, but here it is. I've flipped through it, but never read it.

Its argument about the use of principles of psychology and psychiatry in advertising and public relations is by now a familiar one. We take for granted, almost, the fact that we are being manipulated every which way we turn by advertisers, politicians, propagandists and so on.

I saw a great documentary a few years ago that traced the birth of public relations after the first world war to Edward Bernays, a nephew of Freud and the founder of modern PR. It follows the development of some of Freud's ideas of the subconscious and their use as "hidden persuaders" from WWI through the late nineties, ending with the political campaigns of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.

Both were essentially market-driven PR efforts whose substance derived not from great ideas or even from ideology. Rather, they used massive call centers to poll voters' desires and then repeat them back as policy. It was a fascinating documentary, though its name slips my mind. I'll google it. Hold on a sec...

...The Century of the Self. Not sure if it is available on Netflix yet, but the last time I checked you could watch all four parts on the internet for free. Highly worth your time.

Reminds me also of a great cartoon I posted to my Facebook page yesterday. It shows Kermit the frog sitting opposite a doctor at a desk. The doctor is holding an x-ray of Kermit. He tells the frog, "What I am about to tell you is gonna change your life forever. Are you sure you want to know it?" The x-ray shows the skeletal hand of the puppeteer filling the inside of Kermit's body. I think the message of the Hidden Persuaders is the same. And no, I don't think we want to hear, thank you.

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