Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Public Relations Part III

The third section of the film shows the move away from repression of the self. Wilhelm Reich moved in opposition to Freud's view that humans are violent, uncontrolled, war-like, raging infernos of emotions. Reich believed that suppressing the original impulse inside a human is what causes the distortions that creates a violent, uncontrolled, war-like, raging inferno of emotions. He was ostracized and marginalized by the psychoanalytic community. He eventual was jailed and died and so the Freudians thought they had won.

However in the 1960s people began to learn how businesses were using focus groups as a way to lower their psychological defenses and felt they were being manipulated. This idea especially became prevalent around the era of the Vietnam war. The people were recoiling from the idea that as consumers they were being kept docile so the government could wage war in Vietnam. They now wanted to reject the idea that their feelings and identities were expressed through their product choices. So they fought the law and the law won. The biggest event was the actions at Kent State where four students were murdered by the National Guard. To remove the policeman from inside their head the people would need to internalize their actions and make changes on a personal level. Thus, they embraced Wilhelm Reich and the Freudians lost.

Fritz Perls and the Eselan Institute stepped in to teach people to engage in semi-public self revelations to take control of their inner demons. Through ownership of who a person truly was they could enact self control. This of course went too far when they held racism seminars and when they turned a nun convent into a lesbian convent. It did bring about a change in how consumers behaved and with the help of the pill, the sexual revolution.

"Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to do.
Nothin' ain't worth nothin' but it's free."
~Grateful Dead cover Me and Bobby McGee

Mass production needed social conformity to be executed. People instead were leaving behind the cookie cutter ideas of the Protestant work ethic and the save for a rainy day. Now consumers would live for the moment. At the core of the idea was a new form of self expressionism. Now Werner Erhard stepped in to take the torch from Eselan and began mass producing individuals. The seminars he held proposed that people could be anything that they wanted. When you peeled away the layers of societal conduct and mores and arrived at the core of a human being there was nothing. "It was empty and meaningless but it was empty and meaningless that it was empty and meaningless... all the rules and constrictions were gone and all that remained was nothing. This is very powerful idea because it is freedom." From this tabula rasa you could create and invent a life by yourself instead of using school and family and friends to shape you. You could now be what you want to be. The most important thing in anyone and everyone's lives was to be fulfilled and that was all that really mattered. Thus, the political movement died along with an idea of society because only the individual mattered.

Now with this void of how to express yourself capitalism steps in to help people become what they wanted to be. Instead of top down from Madison Avenue to you. Instead it would come from bottom up, from you to businesses, via the Stanford Research Institute. Using ideas from Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs, businesses could now track the desires of self-actualizers (the highest level in the hierarchy.) They would then segment these self-actualizers and make customized solutions for these individuals via lifestyle marketing. The rise of computers, logistics and supply chain management made it possible for businesses to do smaller runs with more customized options for consumers. Stanford found that if the product agreed with the values of the self-actualizers they would purchase the product no matter what they consciously stated their actions would be. Unfortunately, this also worked with politicians as well.

At the time when individualism was being stressed ever more by the population, along came Reagan and Thatcher to try to remove government influence and allow the people to make decisions. It was thought that socially conscience people would not vote conservatively. Inside the campaigns of Thatcher and Reagan their respective wonks disagreed with the directions the campaigns were taking. It did not matter. Stanford was correct and both Conservatives won elections.

This also marked a new era for the focus group. Instead of producing a product and then figuring out the way to make people buy it, restated as enticing people to buy a limited range of goods, now focus groups would create the ideas for goods. It would then be produced for them. Business took the creed of the self-actualized individual and agreed with it and then helped her achieve her goal. Non-conformity which was viewed as a threat now became a huge opportunity because the market had forever changed from needs-based to a market of unlimited and ever changing desires.

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