Culture: the customs, arts, social institutions and achievements of a particular nation or group. For 50 years now, we have been fighting to find out who owns it. Culture has become just an excuse for culture wars, with even anthropomorphized plastic potatoes serving as grounds or casus belli.
Cancel culture? We may be looking in the wrong direction.
Kevin Young says we have developed our 19th century love for farce into a “world of full-time hoaxes” of understatement, newspeak, plagiarism, misinformation, misinformation, delusions, mass hysteria and alternative facts (“Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, plagiarists, fakes, post-facts and fake news”, 2017).
Culture took a big hit in the jazz era when Edward Bernays helped invent the modern advertising and public relations industry. (Advertising sells products, public relations helps shape public opinion.) This nephew of Sigmund Freud saw the lucrative potential of his uncle’s in-depth knowledge of the human psyche. Bernays helped sell World War I to a war-hostile public and is known for his campaign to persuade women to start smoking, thus doubling the potential market. He appealed to women’s desires for independence and equality.
Advertisers have undermined psychology. Famous psychiatrist Alfred Adler emphasized human insecurities and coined the term inferiority complex. An era of Adlerian advertising focused on fears about bad breath and body odor, 90-pound weakness, dandruff, acne and the ring around the cervix.
Animal behavior research has described supernormal stimuli that cause animals to blindly follow their instincts – for example, a bird takes better care of the large egg deposited in its nest by a cuckoo clock than its own smaller offspring. The ad uses a parade of superlatives: bigger, better, faster, newer, more durable. A 1957 bestseller, “The Hidden Persuaders” by Vance Packard, exposed the manipulation of audiences by depth psychology and motivational research.
Today, advertising brings in around $ 242 billion a year. The neon wonderland of the Las Vegas Strip is visible from the space station. The creative minds of our planet, its spectacular landscapes and its most sublime music are called upon to sell cars and corn chips.
Meanwhile, we citizens are subjected to robocalls, spam emails, spam emails, pop-ups, sound trucks, bots, billboards, “magazines” made up almost entirely of advertising, skywriting. , infomercials and attack announcements.
In “The Space Merchants”, a 1952 science fiction satire, Frédéric Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth envision a future dominated by advertising. The story takes place in a crowded world where water is scarce, companies have replaced governments, and advertising fools the public into believing that products make their lives just great. The main character is a leading copywriter in charge of the advertising campaign to lure settlers to Venus, despite its inhospitable surface temperature.
A cousin of advertising, public relations operates the rumor mill, shaping our attitudes about industries or political policies or ideas by which we live. If you are in the public eye, you hire a public relations company to guide what people say about you. Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign manager Paul Manafort once ran a company depicting brutal dictators (something like the cartoon character Duke in “Doonesbury”). According to a May 16 article in Perspective by Kathy Kiely, Washington’s PR firms are still there, laundering the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines.
Propaganda is amoral. He supports a cause, any cause, using charged language to produce an emotional response. Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels greatly admired Bernays and his methods. Bernays wrote: “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the habits and organized opinions of the masses is an important part of democratic society… an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country” (“Propaganda”, 1928).
Yet in 1933 Bernays was horrified to learn that the Nazis were basing their destructive campaigns on his books.
Propaganda is so pervasive that we don’t even recognize it anymore. That’s what the other guy says, never our guys. We are now way beyond the political twist in lies that distort reality. PT Barnum (“Every Crowd Has A Silver Lining”) reincarnates in DJ Trump.
Frustrated by prejudices and omissions, manipulated by advertising, PR and propaganda, many Americans instead choose the full path: blatant lies and conspiracy theories. Constant repetition and the Big Lie still work.
So, is anyone teaching media literacy and critical thinking? We needed their help before social media, before the internet, before television – and boy, do we need them now!
A manufactured culture threatens the local genre. Its purposes are to make money or promote someone’s power or give us a reason to fight. But if something doesn’t advance the truth, or human well-being, or nature on which we depend entirely, then what good is it?
Instead, let’s focus on rebuilding a real culture (and a healthy planet to put it in place).
Coralie Koonce is a writer living in Fayetteville. His latest book is “Twelve Dispositions: A Field Guide to Humans”.