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Crystallizing Public Opinion Paperback – Aug 16 2011
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About the Author
Ewen is Professor and Chair of the Department of Film and Media Studies at Hunter College.
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Bernays thinking has two pillars. First, he recognizes that "the public, ...due to the spread of literacy and democratic forms of government (feels) that it is entitled to its voice in the conduct of these large aggregations, political, capitalist, or labor, or whatever they may be" (p.66). Therefore, any organization in society, no matter if it is a political entity, a company or a non-profit organization is looked at as some sort of public service. To succeed they will have to recognize this demand and communicate, accordingly.
Second, Bernays regards the "average citizen (as) the world's most efficient censor. His own mind is the greatest barrier between him and the facts. His own 'logical proof compartments', his own absolutism are the obstacles which prevent him from seeing in terms of experience and thought rather than in terms of group reaction" (p. 133).
This leads him to conclude that PR is of no use unless it has something to say which the public, consciously or unconsciously, expects to hear. PR is thus not primarily about authenticity or believability, as many current observers put it, PR is merely a communications effort which functions as a catalyst of change if it resonates with the public. As such PR may bring order to what is otherwise be conceived as chaos.
Bernays sorts through and distills the pertinent literature of his age. Amongst them Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War: By W. Trotter, Walter Lippmann's Public Opinion and the unmentioned Gustave Le Bon's The Crowd, especially, are as compelling today as they were to Edward Bernays in 1923.
This book is a key to PR, specifically, and, generally, the role of communications in modern society. As public opinion explodes in the age of the internet and currently causes change in the real world such as in Northern Africa and the Middle East, Bernays' book helps us to understand what is happening. Read it as an introduction or read it as a reference to everything you know about PR, either way it will be time well spent.
However, a flaw of Bernays' character is his arrogance, which will show in his subtle, but frequent self-elevation via his achievements up to that point. It is important to recognize that Bernays did not come from an average Joe type of background-and his view of you and I is perhaps not as flattering as we would like it to be. Despite this, "Crystallizing Public Opinion" is a book that you must read, if only to see how average Joes are really viewed by those in power. The answer may surprise you.
"Reality is what we tell the public it is." "The duty of the higher strata of society ... is to inject moral and spiritual motives into public opinion." "The only difference between 'propaganda' and 'education' is in the point of view [of the advocate]." "The established order of things is maintained by the inertia of the group ... factors make it possible for the public relations counsel to overcome even this inertia."
We are all driven by the herd instinct, and this book describes a new profession (in 1923) dedicated to guiding that herd. It can be used for launching new products, or for sustaining the Nazi regime. For example, the protestant church in Germany was enlisted in the efforts to purge mention of Jews from the Bible (though they had a problem with St. Paul).
This book is disturbing, original and should be obligatory for every citizen in a modern democracy. We're all being manipulated and there's no escape. The correct answer is humility and open mindedness in our relations with others. But that just makes me an idealist. The actual answer is to take the tools of this profession to promote our own agendas.
I looked for a copy of the original and found a photocopy version - because the quality of the type was degraded, I opted for this version and turned into a game, the replacement of mistyped words with words I assumed made better sense. Examples, "sand=and," "public relations counted=public relations counsel," and "word=world." It does spice things up a bit!
According to Bernays I have taken the liberty, which I believe to be my right to comment on a commercial enterprise. Shame on Ig Publishing.
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