Monday, October 19, 2009

Public Relations Part II

The second installment of this series was not nearly as impressive as the first. Then again, only The Godfather Part II and The Empire Strikes Back really ever made something of batting second in the line up, so it was not unexpected.

Basically this episode tracks the rise and fall of psychoanalysis. It shows how Anna Freud built upon her father Sigmund's ideas and decided that instead of just presenting why people behaved in the manner in which they did, she would be able to better these people through analysis and understanding. These inner drives would be controlled by conforming to the rules of society, these affirmations would then strengthen the ego to control its irrational counterpart, the id.

This of course turns out to be a bad idea. Anna's original patients suffered mental breakdowns, alcoholism and one committed suicide in Anna's house. These ideas also lead the CIA to brain wash people and also for Marilyn Monroe to commit suicide after living with her psychoanalyst's family. This created a crisis for psychoanalysts, in that society began to question why psychoanalysis had become so prevalent and powerful.

Underlying these set backs was still the notion of control of the masses and shaping good democratic citizens. After WWII and the fear in the elite of the irrational man, psychoanalysis centers were created all over the country. Some were marriage guidance counselors and other were social workers who would advise families and individuals about what normal behavior was and how to control the latent danger that was inside them. The analysts themselves never questioned that their techniques could do anything but good, not understanding that there would be trade offs between the latent feelings inside their patients and the new model citizen ideas they were trying to instill.

Two of the biggest developments in the post-war environment were the focus group and banana republics.

Focus Groups

Ernest Dichter created the Institute for Motivation Research where he proposed and enacted psychoanalysis of products. His idea was to use the self image of the customer and her underlying motivations could be talked about freely just like in a psychoanalysis session. He would then analyze and understand the true non-verbalized motivations of the consumer, be it sexual, psychological or sociological issues of status and power. Thus, the birth of the focus group.

The first big break through was with Betty Crocker and their line of instant consumer foods. When consumers were surveyed they affirmed that the would appreciate the convenience of the food but at the point of sale they would not actually buy the instant mixes.

During the psychoanalysis of the focus group Dichter understood that the women actually felt guilt about the ease and convenience of the product, that is they wanted to make the process easier on themselves but they would feel guilty about it. So Dichter added a participation element with a symbol. Even though the product would taste just as well with a freeze dried egg already mixed into the mix, he proposed Betty Crocker remove the egg and let the house wife add it herself. By mixing in the egg, this added participation for the wife and let her believe she was offering a gift to her spouse. Sales subsequently soared.

Psychoanalysis started working with businesses to make connections, like Betty Crocker, with their customer. The analysts believed that the products would sate inner desires and add elements of commonality amongst members of the community. Further, as the consumers identified with products and built a self-identity around them this would improve self-image and make the consumer feel more secure in their choices. Thus, all of society would be improved as consumers were self-actualized by products. However, again no one asked if it was wrong to give people what they wanted by breaking down their psychological self-defenses.

Bernays and the Banana Republics

The Cold War. America already had a fear of Communists dating back to the Bolshevik Revolution but now they had the bomb and America's politicians needed public relations to control America's psyche. At first the politicians wished to minimize the threat, but after Bernays was brought in this idea was reversed. He decided to use the threat as a control device. By instilling fear in the populace politicians could offer guidance from above. Bernays masterstroke this time was with United Fruit and Guatemala.

United Fruit's interests in Guatemala were being threatened by a popularly elected social democratic government. Bernays framed this government as a threat to American values and further that this threat was at America's doorstep in the Western hemisphere. Bernays had journalists flow to Guatemala to meet the recently ousted, not from a coup but from elections, former political leaders. These politicians called the new government Communists and a United Fruit conspired riot broke out, calling for freedom. Finally, a group started by Bernays back stateside insinuated that the Soviets were using Guatemala as a Soviet outpost and launching point into the Americas.

The CIA acted swiftly in creating a coup d'etat. This involved a terror campaign and the dropping of bombs on Guatemalan citizens. United Fruit organized Soviet literature that was found in the capitol building as the elected government officials fled the country. All of this was done under the guise that the interests of business and democracy were in the interest of the masses. Bernays again talked of engineering of consent because people could not handle the truth and so he forced people to choose what he wanted them to choose.

Wrap Up
There was a backlash that people were maladjusted. New voices cried that the sickness of society, if there was such a thing, was at the societal level and not internally. The brands, gadgets, products created to sate desires ultimately lead to empty prosperity. The social norms that were prescribed to the maladjusted citizens include terrible ideas. How can the thoughts of societal norms include intolerance, economic inequality and civil rights for the few. I leave you with these same ideas ML King decried in a speech given at Western Michigan in 1963 about Social Justice.

There are certain technical words within every academic discipline that soon become stereotypes and cliches. Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word in modern psychology. It is the word "maladjusted." This word is the ringing cry to modern child psychology. Certainly, we all want to avoid the maladjusted life. In order to have real adjustment within our personalities, we all want the well-adjusted life in order to avoid neurosis, schizophrenic personalities.

But I say to you, my friends, as I move to my conclusion, there are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of good-will will be maladjusted until the good societies realize. I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few.

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