Wednesday, May 30, 2012

PR, Propaganda, and Online Dating

Public relations and online dating have a lot in common. 

To understand the connection, we have to go back to Edward Bernays --who first coined the word “public relations”.  For  Bernays, PR was really just propaganda -- which is what he used to do for the US government during World War One – and  continued to do for companies afterwards. His invention of the term "public relations" was, if anything,  quintessential propaganda, not exactly Orwellian Newspeak, but a subtle attempt to mislead.

PR is  about  relationships with the public -- but specifically those that allow control.

 Online dating is also about relationships  -- in this case, generated through digital courtship  -- on a an individual basis.     

  In the case of PR / Propaganda we do not think of individual relationships  -- we assume ,   organizations or institutions or governments  trying to influence  a group -- or groups  --of people. Traditionally,  PR/ propaganda needed power and money --to pay for media that could be used to influence a target audience  --  -say a certain demographic, like young males  between 18 and 25 – or  just everybody .  Uncle Sam Wants You!  The Finger points at millions.   

While digital communications has democratized communications and information access, online dating still seems so personal

That said, corporate PR also attempts to be "personal"  --ever so "human", every so friendly.  As if all those huge, soulless multinationals were just plain folks.  

 Propaganda?  The word  somehow implies something just plain nasty -- the Nazis did it;  the Soviets, too.  We Americans don't do it.  Ummm. Do we?  Authoritarianism?  Not us

We believe what we say.  Oh, they did, too?   No matter, they (the Nazis, the Commies, the Terrorists, Tree Huggers) were bad – we are good.
  Bernays’ believed in a Pyramid of Power, with a few Patricians at the top telling the mass of people – the Plebians – that means, you and I, sorry to say – to jump  out of trenches and get killed by the Hun. 

 Like Andrew Carnegie around the same time, Bernays believed that people in power were there because they were better.  He also said that he thought (at the time) that sticking burning things in your mouth was good for you. And that a girl could not be a real woman without a pack of Luckies.

 In any case, we tend to think of PR/ Propaganda as the manipulation of truth in the service of power, as in Herman and Chomsky's famous book Manufacturing Consent .  Today's Ancient Mariner has an IPod around his neck --"Propaganda, propaganda everywhere, nor anything to believe."  Truth?  What's that?   Michel Foucault  argued that even history is propaganda, with the Winners imposing their version of events, if not their worldview on the Losers. 

   So, you can't even trust what you learned in grade school.

 SherylTuttle Ross emphasizes that the people who use propaganda  tend to believe what they are saying, or believe that the contradictions will be magically resolved later.  I suppose it is similar to the way fundamentalist Christians use the Bible, which they believe to be the Word of God, which, if taken literally, would make Jehovah, a very confused divinity.
  Keep this in mind:  PR, propaganda -- and online dating have nothing to do with truth.  It's more complicated than that. 

   In essence,  human beings are hardwire for spin.   If you thought PR and propaganda was just about governments and corporations brainwashing the People -- forget it -- it is really just about you (and me).  PR/propaganda?  The Neanderthals did it -- take a look at their cave art.  PR  is basic human behavior writ large. 

 To avoid going totally crazy, we need a sense of self -- that is, ego, personal identity.    This is nice container for a lot of crap  -- but must at least  appear consistent  to ourselves and be validated by others.  Spin supplies the consistency.    We manufacture "self" using truths, half-truths, and imagination -- so we can do certain things, like (say)  get a job,  find a boyfriend  -- or just get laid.

 As I said, you can think of the self as container.  Better still is to consider it as a point of focus in a larger Field of Being (thank you Martin Heidegger), which is by its nature heterogeneous, complex and confusing, dynamic, constantly changing.  Spin helps us cope.  

 Online dating is a good example, of how we use this amazing mix of imagination and reason  to organize things.    It is both  the Manufacturing of Consent (the nice dinner he buys for you, the gifts, hugs and kisses, hot sex…whatever) – and the Manufacturing of Identity.
As individuals and as members of a group, we each recapitulate the ontological discontinuity that we see expressed on the macro level in the relationships between governments and corporations and the public.  On the micro level you are always in conflict-- with parts of yourself and with people around you, your boss, your parents, your friends, your lovers --with your history and with your future --  and to transcend that you must brand yourself and package that identity.  You must become a "thing".
 Mostly people think of themselves as something like a Toyota Lexis – which can be measured and has specifications-- and a price.  A certain color, a certain style.    40  miles to the gallon, three scratches on the bumper . It is also a brand.  Your Lexis you can make your own, but you belong to the Lexis community. You brand yourself within a larger brand.

There is a  Newtonian concept of self, everything definable, quantifiable.    Like the apple that hit Newton on the head, it is has form and shape – you can see it. 

The human self, however, is, at another level,  a quantum construct, as I have suggested using the term Field of Being;  it is amorphous, abstract even –partly private, partly public, partly individual, partly collective. It is not so much seen as detected.   Try to observe it -- and it mutates.    The human mind?   Partly aware, partly unconscious. Corporate, governmental ,and other collective entities: ditto.  You can also think of the mind as euro-psychologist Gary Marcus doe --s as  a kluge, a fantastical, steampunk, jury-rigged thing that gets us through the day using stuff from the junkyard o experience and genetic heritage.

Descartes said, "I think therefore I am" . He did not have Twitter or Facebook.   Today:  "I spin therefore I am".  Keeping in mind that we mostly believe our own bullshit.
Online dating sites are places for self-advertising -- and self branding. 

Dating sites all have places for objective,  “factual’ information --age, height, weight,  education, occupation.  Then, interests and hobbies,   preferences in foods, movies, and music and so on.  Then there things that are more subjective  --likes and dislikes,  what others think of you.  What you think of yourself.    And most important all --some “message” – statement defining who you are and what you want.   Now, most people cherry pick the factual part, if they don’t actually lie.  And the subjective part is “interpreted” to suggest a certain kind of person, with appeals to a target audience.  

  This is an advertising -- pure and simple --with bait – and a hook, (however poorly executed). 

So you choose the best photos, even if a bit old, hopefully photo-shopped.    And you construct an identity that hides the wrinkles and warts.  You neglect to mention your lamentable habit of murdering little old ladies in red hats every Thursday night, your tendency to a fart during sex, or voting for George Bush or other similarly disgusting things. .
 If you are a woman you do not say: “I’m tired of working and I want to find a guy with lots of money who buy me a comfortable home, which hopefully he will be too busy to visit very often”.  If you are a guy, you will not say, “I’m looking for a horny slut who has a horny girlfriend we can do 3Ps with”.  Rather, you warble about how much you want a “meaningful long term relationship”, “warmth",  “ communication” and you like puppies and red wine and long walks.  Oh, and you like kittens too.

Many animals have courtship rituals – the mating dance – but human beings have the internet.

As in classic propaganda, the appeals conceal agendas. 

 And that’s the problem.

At some point, propaganda breaks down.  Let’s say, you meet some one through an online dating site.  You and he/she are quite different from your profiles.  Which is good because otherwise, you would never have gotten along.  You live happily ever after.   Or not….It is a tangled web we weave.
 Governmental and corporate propaganda can have unexpected outcomes too. .  At some point, reality bites – or kisses.

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