Thursday, October 03, 2013

Public Suasion

"Thus the war improved the statuses of those working in the field of public suasion. Formerly, the lords of industry and commerce had often seen the advertising agent as a charlatan, associated with tawdry bunkum used to paddle patent medicine and cigarettes, and trying to sell a service that any boss with half a brain could surely manage on his own. The nascent field of public relations also had been disesteemed by those atop the social pyramid, who saw that sort of work as necessary on the vaudeville circuit and Broadway. The great Allied campaign to celebrate (or sell) Democracy, etc., was a venture so successful, and it seemed, so noble, that it suddenly legitimized such propagandists, who, once the war had ended, went right to work massaging or exciting various publics on behalf of entities like General Motors, Procter & Gamble, John D. Rockefeller, General Electric.

And so, from the signing of the Versailles Treaty to the Crash of 1929, there was a high excitement in the booming field of peace-time propaganda. That reborn generation of admen and publicists, no longer common hucksters but professionals, sold their talents to Big Business through a long barrage of books, essays, speeches and events extolling the miraculous effects of advertising and/or publicity—i.e. propaganda, as the proponents of the craft, and their corporate clients, often kept referring to it, quietly. According to propagandists' evangelical self-salesmanship (many of them were in fact the sons of ministers), their revolutionary "science" would do far more than make some people richer. Just as during the war, propaganda would at once exalt nation and advance the civilizing process, teaching immigrants and other folks of modest means how to transform themselves, through smart consumption, into happy and presentable Americans. Throughout the Twenties, as propaganda’s earnest advocates devoutly pushed that faux-progressive line, “propaganda” seemed—at least to those who peddled it—a wondrous new progressive force, capable of brightening every life and every home."
-Mark Crispin Miller, Introduction in Propaganda by Edward Bernays

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