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PR! - A Social History of Spin by Stuart…
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PR! - A Social History of Spin (edition 1996)

by Stuart Ewen (Author)

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The early years of the twentieth century were a difficult period for Big Business. Corporate monopolies, the brutal exploitation of labor, and unscrupulous business practices were the target of blistering attacks from a muckraking press and an increasingly resentful public. Corporate giants were no longer able to operate free from the scrutiny of the masses."The crowd is now in the saddle," warned Ivy Lee, one of America's first corporate public relations men. "The people now rule. We have substituted for the divine right of kings, the divine right of the multitude." Unless corporations developed means for counteracting public disapproval, he cautioned, their future would be in peril. Lee's words heralded the dawn of an era in which corporate image management was to become a paramount feature of American society. Some corporations, such as AT&T, responded inventively to the emergency. Others, like Standard Oil of New Jersey (known today as Exxon), continued to fumble the PR ball for decades. The Age of Public Relations had begun.In this long-awaited, pathbreaking book, Stuart Ewen tells the story of the Age unfolding: the social conditions that brought it about; the ideas that inspired the strategies of public relations specialists; the growing use of images as tools of persuasion; and, finally, the ways that the rise of public relations interacted with the changing dynamics of public life itself. He takes us on a vivid journey into the thinking of PR practitioners--from Edward Bernays to George Gallup--exploring some of the most significant campaigns to mold the public mind, and revealing disturbing trends that have persisted to the present day. Using previously confidential sources, and with the aid of dozens of illustrations from the past hundred years, Ewen sheds unsparing light on the contours and contradictions of American democracy on the threshold of a new millennium.… (more)
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Title:PR! - A Social History of Spin
Authors:Stuart Ewen (Author)
Info:Basic Books (1998), Edition: 10/16/96, 480 pages
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PR! - A Social History of Spin by Stuart Ewen

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I've read a couple of books on early to mid twentieth century American history, and seen the fabulous 'Century of the Self.' So it's not like I'm all knowing on the subject of this book; despite that, I learned almost nothing from it. Ewen does a whole lot of summarising other people's work, and a bit of archive digging, but compared to Lears' 'Fables of Abundance,' or CoftheS, this is pretty rudimentary stuff.

It's not helped by Ewen's own massively incoherent nineties political doctrine, viz., that the solution to all problems is more democracy, where democracy means letting every individual have as much say as is humanly possible. Now, I agree with him that PR is generally used to push lies, damn lies and product, rather than to inform people. But... well, consider Walden II.

In Walden II, one man sets up a society in which everyone is conditioned to do the right thing. A visitor criticizes this for being 'unfree'; the master behaviorist asks what that could possibly mean, when everyone's getting what they want? He retorts that in this society people, who are inherently free and able to make up their own minds, are being forced to do these things, even if they want them. The behaviorist's answer is: look, you can't have it both ways. Either you think these people are capable of making up their own minds, in which case you can't get worried that I'm forcing them to do things they don't want to do; or you think these people aren't capable of making up their own minds, and then *you* have to take on a position of authority similar to mine, to lead them in a different direction.

Ewen is like the critical visitor to PR land: he thinks people are able to always make up their own minds (so, although he never says this, PR is useless). But he also thinks PR manipulates these entirely sovereign, hyper-rational people, which is bad. Well, it has to be one or the other. Either they're suggestible, and what you want isn't an end to PR, but a different kind of PR; or they're not suggestible, and PR is just a bit industry rip-off.

The sad fact is, our opinions are made up of other people's opinions. The only way to restrict the number of opinions we live in is to enact highly undemocratic laws against, say, billboards that blame the government for drought.

Less high-falutin'ly, the book effectively ends in the 1950s, for no explicit reason. The reason it ends then might be, I suspect, that in the late '50s and '60s, the PR people themselves accepted Ewen's implicit political theory: absolute individualism. Hard to criticize them then, I guess. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
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The early years of the twentieth century were a difficult period for Big Business. Corporate monopolies, the brutal exploitation of labor, and unscrupulous business practices were the target of blistering attacks from a muckraking press and an increasingly resentful public. Corporate giants were no longer able to operate free from the scrutiny of the masses."The crowd is now in the saddle," warned Ivy Lee, one of America's first corporate public relations men. "The people now rule. We have substituted for the divine right of kings, the divine right of the multitude." Unless corporations developed means for counteracting public disapproval, he cautioned, their future would be in peril. Lee's words heralded the dawn of an era in which corporate image management was to become a paramount feature of American society. Some corporations, such as AT&T, responded inventively to the emergency. Others, like Standard Oil of New Jersey (known today as Exxon), continued to fumble the PR ball for decades. The Age of Public Relations had begun.In this long-awaited, pathbreaking book, Stuart Ewen tells the story of the Age unfolding: the social conditions that brought it about; the ideas that inspired the strategies of public relations specialists; the growing use of images as tools of persuasion; and, finally, the ways that the rise of public relations interacted with the changing dynamics of public life itself. He takes us on a vivid journey into the thinking of PR practitioners--from Edward Bernays to George Gallup--exploring some of the most significant campaigns to mold the public mind, and revealing disturbing trends that have persisted to the present day. Using previously confidential sources, and with the aid of dozens of illustrations from the past hundred years, Ewen sheds unsparing light on the contours and contradictions of American democracy on the threshold of a new millennium.

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