Video: Public Relations and Edward T. Bernays

Public relations was born out of idealism, elitism and a desire to perfect democracy. The founder of the field, Edward T. Bernays, was the nephew of Sigmund Freud. He created the field and named it on a whim. This video, produced in the United Kingdom and called The Century of the Self, while quite critical of Bernays and public relations, is an excellent overview of the profession’s early history. The conspiratorial nature of some of the voice-over is forgivable…

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  1. Forgivable? Here’s the first two sentences of Bernays’ “Propaganda”:

    “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of scoiety constitute an invisible government which is the ruling power in our country.”

    The conspiratorial tone was set by Bernays himself from the get go. He sounds like another of those 20th century intellectuals who was at once fascinated and terrified by mass society and devoted himself to taming the horrible beast.

    While Adam Curtis doesn’t shy away from giving his viewers a bit of paranoid tension, he really isn’t pulling it out of thin air here.

  2. Now I’ll treat you to the last sentence of “Propaganda” which provides not only ideas, but words that Curtis spoke in the video IIRC (it’s been a while since I’ve seen the “Century of Self”, buy I remember him harping on this in a tinfoil-hatty sort of way):

    “Propaganda will never die out. Intelligent men must realize that propaganda is a modern instrument by which they can fight for productive ends and to help bring order out of chaos.”

    It’s that “…help bring order out of chaos” that provides Curtis with his over-arching theme in “The Century of Self” and one of his other films, “The Trap”.

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