By Constance Renton
By Constance Renton
Toronto – In the early 1900’s, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, Edward Bernays, started a public relations company that would become a titan in the industry and earn Bernays the title of “Father of Public Relations.”
Edward Bernays used the lessons he learned from Sigmund Freud’s pioneering work in psychoanalysis to make his mark in the field of public relations, or the art of public manipulation.
In an interview on CTV’s Your Morning show, Mark Leith, psychology professor at the University of Toronto, explained that Freud’s theories were based on the theory that human beings are largely organized into groups who look upon one another with fear and suspicion. Bernays looked at the theory and saw a way to financial success by manipulating large groups of people into desiring things they didn’t yet know they wanted.
Bacon for breakfast is a prime example of Edward Bernays’ ability to manipulate markets. The first to think of incorporating expert and celebrity endorsements into advertising, he literally created the idea of bacon as a must-have breakfast component in the West.
Next, Bernays took on the social taboo of women on behalf of the Lucky Strike corporation, in his “Torches of Freedom” campaign. When he was through, cigarette smoking for women had not only become a social norm, it had obtained a form of allure that sold millions of cigarettes for his client.
From Bacon and Equal Opportunity Smoking to the Great Political Circus
According to professor Mark Leith, Edward Bernays soon looked beyond bacon-loving, smoking addicted masses and saw a looming niche within the field of political control, through manipulation. In 1928, he outlined his own theories in a book called “Propaganda.” It was his belief that a relatively small group of men controlled the social conduct and ethics of the masses because they “understood the mental processes and social patterns of those masses.”
The book continued, stating “We are governed, our minds molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.” It was these men, Bernays insisted, who “pull the wires which control the public mind,” thereby controlling an individual’s instincts and emotion, thereby controlling large swathes of the population.
Little did Bernays know that, not long after his book’s publication, his theories would become the basis by which Adolf Hitler would build his empire under the fanatical guidance of one of Bernays’ biggest fans, Nazi Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels.
Then Came The Donald
Asked on CTV’s Your Morning to draw modern day comparisons, professor Leith went on to explain that Xenophobia is, quite literally, “fear of the other, which gets exploited by Adolf Hitler, gets exploited by a lot of leaders, and now of course Donald Trump, is based on the idea that we are instinctually parts of groups and we fear the others. It’s based on instinct, not emotion.”
Acknowledging the potential of his theories to be wielded by a potential autocrat, Bernays’ “Propaganda” also counseled “It is important that any effort to influence or effect the American public that is not in the public interest be killed by the light of pitiless publicity and analysis.”