If you understand the pun you’re in for a great treat, if not, you’re in for an even greater one.
I just finished Propaganda by Edward Bernays and I am left somewhat awestruck by the simple yet sickening ideas of the writing. Within just over 140 pages, Bernays outlines what propaganda truly is and how it has manifested itself in the current American public.
Bernays defines modern propaganda as “a consistent, enduring effort to create or shape events to influence the relations of public to an enterprise, idea, or group,” meaning that propaganda is resilient, evolving, and in many ways permanent.
The more terrifying idea for me in Bernays’s book is that the public is malleable, easily influenced and even more easily controlled by a silent yet incredibly powerful group of people called the “public relations counsel.” It is this counsel that interfaces with the public about specific ideas. Or in lamens terms, dictates how we think
Propaganda is a cloud, it covers up what exists at the essence and frames how we see our world. But more importantly, it is a man made, never changing cloud, meaning that we never actually see the sky.
Listening to the works of Mr. Sondheim, (especially Send in the Clowns) I think about how a composer is a propagandist for the world he/she creates in their art. Sondheim decides what we hear, how we hear it, and why we hear it. But we take it as true because it is all that we know about the world.
The same is true for our world, the world that refuses to believe that climate change is both a human caused and solvable problem.
In a new survey released this week by the National Center for Science Education, it was reported that on many levels, middle and high school teachers are not teaching global warming correctly. Mistakes range from not emphasizing that global warming is caused by human consumption of fossil fuels to full on denial that humans have anything to do with climate change altogether. Sounds cloudy.
On a more personal level, climate change is quickly becoming a major factor for who I plan to vote for in this election. After reading this guide, I have a better idea of what each candidate believes, but after reading Bernays’s book how can I trust anything that they say. It’s all a numerical, algorithmic game to win the prize.
I am on set for a short dance film that I am making with Jimmy. He is using clouds made out of paper lanterns, cotton balls, and LED lights as set pieces which he hangs from the ceiling of his Harlem apartment with fish line. “The film is about how a relationship deteriorates” he says restringing a cloud.
The video is storyboarded to work so that we begin with a room full of clouds and as the relationship crumbles we lose clouds and are left with only one. (I am guessing this final cloud symbolizes hope).
“I want this to be satisfying but painful for the viewer” says Jimmy.
“Sounds good” I say, “just as long as we are telling the truth about these people.”
And then it hits me, art may be a response to propaganda, but what are we doing besides creating another cloud? Are we actually delineating the truth? And if we are, do we actually know or want to know the truth?
Or are we just making another cloud?