Black and white photograph of tilted protest in central London. The banners say "Stop the war. Not in my name. Don't attack Irak"

Consumerism as a diversion from politics

A BBC documentary by Adam Curtis called The Century of the self was the starting point for my fascination for the political propaganda that we suffer in democratic societies through the mass media.

In the documentary, Curtis shows how Edward Bernays, initiator of marketing and the consumer society and Freud’s nephew, used his uncle’s theories on the subconscious and irrational desires to move people away from politics and towards consumerism.

In his opinion, if people became interested in politics, things such as fascism happened. Bernays wrote a very successful book called Propaganda (at that time synonym of advertising, without the negative connotation the war later gave the word). The book was so successful that several US governments, big companies and the CIA hired him to help them manipulate the American public opinion.

Bernays had time to influence a lot, as he lived 103 years. Amongst other things, he managed to change the image of the smoking woman from negative to desirable, doubling the profit of the tobacco companies. He also helped convince the American public of the need to attack other countries in self-defence or in the interest of humanity (if the governments or the people of those countries were in any way uncomfortable for America) or, if the lie was difficult to swallow, how to divert attention towards national issues that were highly emotionally charged and had great befogging power. His techniques are still used and we still suffer the consequences.

The political vacuum in politics nowadays can also be blamed in part on Bernays. Based on his theories, strategies have been developed that turn the voter into a consumer of political parties. And the parties have become sort of brands that produce programmes adapted to the taste of their voters and the demands of the market.

London, 2006