DID I BUY THAT?
With the election of Herbert Hoover to the presidency in 1929, many in the business community were very optimistic as to the economic growth of the country. Hoover believed that his new administration would spell the advent of a new age of prosperity for the American people. Unfortunately that optimism lasted about 8 months into his administration. The stock market crashed in October of that year. After 4 years of much torment his presidency was laid to a peaceful rest and Franklin Delano Roosevelt entered the presidency with the promise of a New Deal in 1933.
During the thirties, goods advertisers did not sink into oblivion. Sales continued but at a slower pace. They simply waited and reminded people that the products would be there when needed. They took full advantage of the arts and advances in cinema to helped in media campaigns. Radio became an integral tool of the advertising gurus. Well placed ads kept the spirit of consumerism alive through a new ideology of acceptable scarcity, hard work , and fortitude. In 1935 Edward Bernays and Grover Whalen undertook the public relations for what was to become a colossal event of the time, the 1939 World’s Fair. Although seen by many as a great scientific enterprise, it was seen by the National Association of Manufacturers and the major corporations as a counter to what they considered the “socialization” of the country by the government. Edward Bernays called the Fair “democricity” in that it would be an opportunity for ailing corporations to introduce to the public ideas that they have for future consumer products. One of the largest and most innovative pavilions at the fair was Futurama, a transportation exhibit which featured many of General Motors concepts.
In the years following World War II, the trend toward creating a new corporate culture for the American family reached epic proportions. Through the use of the television corporations carried this new consumer culture of self-determination and meaningful community into thousands of households. It was during this time that we see the early development of the “credit card”. These cards parodied the popular desire for self-determination and freedom in a general culture that had become regimented and authoritarian. Advertisers of the fifties presented a spectacle of a good life with messages of how Americans should live and what it meant to participate in a society of abundance. The TV characters and ads presented images of cars, white picketed fences and well manicured lawns in the suburbs. To look different, think different or act different hinted at “nonconformity”.
While the decade of the fifties was largely one of containment and regimentation of the social consciousness, the social upheaval that followed revitalized a simmering resistance that existed since the turn of the century. It started in the South where black people who had been ignored for economic opportunities and as consumers were now seeing that their efforts to be part of this new culture had been all for naught. Their resistance to the culture spread to the Northern coffee houses, and colleges, where white youth expressed their discontent with the hypocrisy of a system that promised “the good life” for some and not for others. The tension between the image of the “Leave It To Beaver” housewife and the growing involvement of women in the job market erupted a festering wound that had been growing since the 1920s.
All of these factors combined to form a “tune in, drop out” subculture among the young and a preoccupied dominant culture that grappled with issues of war, dissent, and assassinated leaders. The old advertising methods were not helping big business in this mileau. People had lost hope in promises of a “good life” and there were rumblings of alternative possibilities. The very media that was utilized by the advertising executives to sell products and to shape public opinion in various ways, was now one of the primary tools of the new resistance. The TV news covered the beatings and racial slurs coming out of the mouths of Southern law enforcement. The newspapers showed pictures of the horrors of the Viet Nam War and tallied the death toll of young American youth. Radio talk shows aired the social debates of the day. What the general populace witnessed altered their beliefs and changed their decisions when it came to trusting the political and corporate structure.
As 1969 approached there developed a plethora of alternative movements and they expanded the scope of the opposition. It became “in” to “cop out”. However, it did not end there. As resistance mounted the geniuses of public relations shifted their tactics. Next month we will cover the 1970s to the present.
Please e-mail me and let me know your thoughts on this matter.
Oh yeah, don't forget your autographed copy of "The Ackee Chronicles".
Tony VanSluytman - the Author
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Tony VanSluytman - the Author
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