I watched a documentary yesterday about how corrupt our country is. It was awesome. And by awesome, I mean depressing. And the documentary started out with a disclaimer about conspiracy theories, so obviously I went in assuming everything they said was going to be pure fact. Kidding aside though, the documentary did touch on one subject that I found particularly interesting: public relations and advertising.
The segment focused on Edward Bernays, who happens to be Sigmund Freud’s nephew. Bernays is often credited as the father of public relations. During World War I, he was the man who realized the government could garner more public support for war if America’s involvement was positioned as an effort to bring democracy to Europe, rather than an effort to gain power for America. After the war, he wondered whether he could employ the same tactics during peacetime. He pulled together his uncle’s work on psychoanalysis and other great thinkers’ work on crowd psychology to develop a means to control what people think. He called it “public relations.”
Bernays was not an advertiser, but he paved a path for the advertising industry. He believed in the mass production of ideas, that if he convinced those in power to feel a certain way, they would pass that idea onto their followers, and thus he could control what people thought. He realized he could create economic benefit for the corporate elite using this tactic to tell people they needed to buy things. Advertisers may persuade people to buy into a certain product or idea, but Bernays had a method to create ideas and desires in a large population. Advertisers then need only to convince you why you should buy their product.
It was a grim look into the world of advertising. I suppose I’ve always known that companies are selling you products that you’ve been tricked into thinking you need (hell, my job is to convince people to buy my company’s products!), but when you see it all laid out as one man’s devious plan to control our minds and create groupthink, it just seems so much more evil.
So what can we do about it? The main message of the documentary was that consumers hold the ultimate power because we can decide which businesses succeed and fail based on where we spend our money. When you go shopping, ask yourself why you think you need all the items in your cart. Are they a necessity, or have you just been conditioned to think you need them? Do you need to actually buy the item to get the desired result, or could you make it yourself or use something you already own? Every time you buy something you don’t truly need, you’re reinforcing some big corporation’s control over your life.
This is all beginning to sound very hippie of me, but if enough people stop buying crap that they don’t really need, corporations will stop making it because their number one goal is to make money off of you. If they aren’t making a profit from a product, they will change. So don’t feed the corporate machine. Only buy something if you’re comfortable knowing that you’re supporting the company that makes it.