I agree that news channels, newspapers and their websites have a responsibility to tell the world what is happening. So if Yahoo! is cutting jobs by 10%, or WPP orders a hiring freeze, as well as the fact that a number of banks have either gone bust or been bailed out by the government, we will come to know whether we like it or not – or at least if we have an interest in current affairs. But whose responsibility is it to tell the public that they do not need to panic? That tomorrow will be a better day? I’m not making light of the situation – everything is not hunky-dory and we know it. But if that’s all we believe and continue to believe, will the situation ever change? If people believe that this economic depression will not let anything thrive till 2010, which is when the prediction is for markets to revive, how will new investors be motivated to invest, and new ideas have the strength to bloom and survive?
It’s not the same world today as it was back then, I know (disclaimer), but I was thinking about the situation in 1929. That was also a global crisis, exacerbated in the US but with an effect all around the world.
I was watching a documentary by Adam Curtis a couple of weeks ago recommended by Mark, called The Century of the Self, where this exact incident is discussed. It is essentially about the dichotomy between democracy and industry based primarily on the work of Sigmund Freud, much of which can be read in his book Civilization and its Discontents, and his nephew Edward Bernays, who is one of the people credited with inventing the discipline of public relations.
Hitler, for example, said that democracy was inefficient because it allowed human desire to run unchecked and creates chaos. When the markets crashed in 1929, Roosevelt said, with a slight echo (which is scary, but read the whole point) that laissez-faire markets could not be run by industries and needed government help, but he also said that industries are rational and that they can take part in government.
Businesses knew that the economic situation had to change, and PR formed the basis for their campaign to revive the economy – it was called the ‘engineering of consent’, based on Bernays’ eponymous book, and however ethically wrong some people may claim it to be, the fact is that the underlying consumer desire in all of us can’t lie dormant forever.
Right now, given the condition of the economy, there is no real awareness of the importance of advertising and PR, but the truth is that people will still want things, and that act of consumption is one of the key things that will keep this economy running. I am not talking about the deeper stock markets mess, that is not within the remit of this post and indeed not within my expertise, but yesterday as I watched the chairman on Topshop on the TV say the exact same thing about consumerism, I realised that it is a very salient point – one that deserves some recognition. Not many people are going to come out with it because of the aforementioned ethics issue, but either we all refrain from consumption till 2010, or we make small moves towards changing the world we live in. NOW. There. I said it.