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Voorkant Packard 'The hidden persuaders' Vance PACKARD
The hidden persuaders - With an introduction by Mark Crispin Miller
New York: IG Publishing, 1957, 1980, 2007; ISBN-13: 978 09 7884 3106; 240 blzn.

[Packards boek is oorspronkelijk gepubliceerd in de periode waarin de tv-serie Mad Men zich afspeelt, in 1957. Wanneer je belangstelling hebt voor achtergrondinformatie bij die serie en de wereld van Madison Avenue beter wilt leren kennen, dan kun je dit boek lezen. Zeer verhelderend. Het is een toegankelijk geschreven boek vol anecdotes over de reclamewereld / de wereld van de marketing die zo veel mogelijk mensen zo ver proberen te krijgen dat ze de producten kopen die bedrijven maken, of stemmen op een bepaalde politicus, of wat ook. De context beperkt zich tot de Verenigde Staten, dat wel. ]

[Het boek is bepaald niet analytisch of kritisch. Ik ben het helemaal eens met de kritiek die in de inleiding van Mark Crispin Miller op een rij wordt gezet. Het is eerder een tijdsdocument dat een concreet beeld geeft van wat er gebeurde dan een diepgravend boek dat aan de kaak stelt. Packards boek is vanwege de eindeloze reeks van anecdotes ook niet echt samen te vatten. Maar de inleiding van Miller is erg goed en daarom kan ik volstaan met een reeks citaten uit die inleiding.]

Een boek met invloed

"In short, the modern history of America is, in large part, the history of an ever-rising flood of corporate propaganda — and also of our various responses to it, as We the People have obscurely struggled to reverse it, or resist it, or to live our lives in spite of it, or have simply let it carry us away.
For over a century, there have been many works diversely critical of that commercial tide — books and articles and films assailing its unsightliness, intrusiveness, false claims, deceptive offers, moral crudeness, idiotic language, poisonous effects on public health, sly approaches to small children, non-stop sexist fantasy, casual racism, creed of selfishness and catastrophic impact on the world's ecology, etc. It is a highly edifying literature; and yet very few of those quixotic works have moved the public."(9)

Maar een boek dat wel aansloeg en meteen erg populair was, was Packards The Hidden Persuaders.

"Although it had no obvious political effects (nor did its author call for any), this anomalous exposé encouraged a new mass attentiveness to all of modern marketing, the ads included — a critical alertness, or heightened wariness, that is still perceptible (albeit less prevalent) today."(10)

"Thus, before the coming of Vance Packard's exposé, the public, insofar as they thought much about it, tended to see advertising as an endless con, all half-truths and hyperbole and outright lies.(...)
Many in the advertising industry also regarded their profession as a giant rip-off.(...)
The Hidden Persuaders shook up that complacent view, by baring the dark side of advertising; or, to put it more precisely, by demonstrating that the advertising industry had lately started up, and now was seeking to perfect, a whole new science of allurement — one based not on crowd psychology, with its crude model of collective stimulus/response, but on much subtler notions of the mind, derived primarily from psychoanalysis, with insights also gleaned from sociology and cultural anthropology. Although Packard did not make the point explicitly, that giant step beyond behaviorism — or, as it were, from Pavlov to Freud & Co. — mooted the blithe theory that one might withstand the siren song of advertising just by hunkering down into a constant posture of defensive skepticism. While that stance might have helped defeat the coarsest tactics of the past, it could not shield the skeptic from the more exquisite and oblique devices used increasingly throughout the last half-century."(13)

"Packard's expose was a "frightening report on how manufacturers, fund-raisers, and politicians are attempting to turn the American mind into a kind of catatonic dough that will buy, give, or vote at their command," as The New Yorker put it."(15)

"Packard claimed, implicitly, that We the People were routinely and successfully manipulated not by agents of the Kremlin but by 'manufacturers, fund-raisers and politicians' right here in the USA."(17)

"On the one hand, the book is an invaluable historical resource: a veritable gold mine of information as to how and why all sorts of products — cigarettes, instant coffee, margarine, milk (and dried milk), beer (and light beer), cars (and tires), Ry-Krisp, soup, Father's Day, and even politicians, churches and communities — were represented as they were back in the late mid-morning of American consumer culture. More importantly, however, Packard's book is a frank, if courteous, indictment of a massive corporate drive against ourselves as thinking citizens, on behalf of a commercial project radically opposed to our true interests, and (as Packard's later work makes clear) ecologically impossible."(18)

Kritiek op het boek

Maar vanaf het begin is er ook veel kritiek geweest op Packards boek, zo legt Miller uit.

"Writing as a journalist, and desperate to support his family by doing so, Packard opted for a lively, wide-eyed style that was, perhaps, more appropriate to his commercial needs than to his critical responsibilities. The book is largely anecdotal: a long barrage of striking or disquieting examples, with Packard not distinguishing among them, and sometimes lumping disparate methods or techniques together, under the distended rubric of 'M.R.' [Motivation Research - GdG] Some of those examples, furthermore, may well have been exaggerated, if not bogus. Packard based his claims primarily on what M.R.'s own top practitioners had told him; and since those businessmen had every reason to appear infallible, one must take their testimony with a grain of salt. (...) The academic reader may well wish that Packard had been cooler and more skeptical. (This one also wishes that the book included endnotes.)
More substantively, Packard's critics also faulted him for the softness of his analysis. First, his conception of the mass response to advertising is deterministic, as if people would desire and buy exactly as M.R.'s mad scientists intended. There are certain natural and/or circumstantial limits to just how successful any propaganda drive might be, however expertly it may be crafted — a fact that Packard overlooks or understates, whether out of mere naïveté or his own commercial urge to simplify his story.
Moreover, Packard's view of advertising is completely ahistorical and apolitical. Although he had been something of a leftist in his youth (like most everybody else back in the Thirties), Packard was no radical. His critique has no systemic basis. Packard sees the problem of covert 'persuasion' as a mere unsettling fad within the marketing establishment, and not as an inevitable outgrowth of the economic system.(...) Packard's critics also noted his ambivalence toward M.R., by which he seemed to be as fascinated as he was appalled; and, as well, they scored him for the social narrowness of his analysis, which focused only on those citizens who could afford to be of any interest to the marketing establishment. In Packard's view, there seemed to be no poor people (a charge leveled at a number of his books).(...)
Packard certainly did not, or would not, perceive that M.R., even at its most fanciful, was neither an anomalous nor sudden trend but an organic outgrowth of U.S. corporate capitalism after World War II."(18-19)

"Although naive by current academic standards, The Hidden Persuaders packed a startling punch not just in 1957 but for many years — as we can see from the intense reaction of the advertising industry, whose champions trashed the book obsessively for decades. Even after advertising had drawn many other public critics, this book was still the ad men's primary target, as if it were itself the source of every subsequent critique."(21-22)

"There is much painful truth throughout The Hidden Persuaders, which, for all its faults, remains essential fare for those who want to grasp the evolution, and follow the trajectory, of this culture. The book is frightening in its prescience. Studying the national bazaar, and some of its chief planners, half a century ago, Packard saw the start of trends and practices that have by now wrought terrible destruction on our lives, our minds, our politics, our culture and our planet."(24)

"For our toxic air and water, our tasteless crops and doubtful meats, our ever-rising cancer rates, the 'obesity epidemic' striking down our children, the poisoned imports sent to us from China and, of course, for global warming, we can now belatedly thank Earnest Elmo Calkins, Rosser Reeves, David Ogilvy and all the other geniuses of advertising, and, especially, the corporations that retained them."(25)

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