The age of manipulation is not over

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The age of manipulation is not over

What do female smokers, built-in bookshelves and American breakfast have in common? They are ideas promoted by Edward Bernays (1891-1995), the father of spin and public relations. A nephew of Sigmund Freud, he worked for the U.S. Committee on Public Information during World War I.

Bernays is considered to have changed the lives of Americans with legendary PR strategies penetrating the public psychology. In the 1920s and ’30s, he is the one who urged American women to smoke to express their freedom, encouraged middle-class families to install built-in bookshelves to fulfill intellectual vanity and persuaded Americans that they should eat bacon for breakfast.

One of the most talked-about examples is “Torches of Freedom.” Not satisfied with the results of their campaign to encourage women to smoke and stay thin rather than having dessert, the American Tobacco Company asked Bernays to create a more aggressive campaign. At an Easter Sunday parade in 1929, he had 30 young and attractive women smoke and march. One of the participants, who was actually Bernays’ assistant, read a message calling out gender bias and called on women to raise the torches of freedom, encouraging them to smoke in public just like men. At the time, women considered smoking an expression of their liberation as Bernays had intended, without realizing that they had been exploited to help tobacco companies get rich.

Bernays also saved struggling publishers during the Great Depression. He persuaded construction companies to add built-in bookshelves in new homes, as people would fill the bookshelves with books: Homeowners wanted to show off their intellect.

Bernays opened the era of covert manipulation. In his books, he wrote that his ideas were intended as a propaganda campaign and that people were ruled by the precious few who understood crowd psychology. Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels read and used his books “Crystallizing Public Relations” (1923) and “Propaganda” (1928) to influence the masses.

The National Assembly did not approve Kim Yi-su as the head of the Constitutional Court, but the Blue House adhered to the choice.

The ruling Democratic Party is trying to get through the disapproval by manipulating postings on portal sites. That reminds me of the last paragraph of Bernays’ “Propaganda,” “Propaganda will never die out.” The age of manipulation is not over yet.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 18, Page 35

*The author is a lifestyle news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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