Escaping the Cult of Consumerism

Shopping for Freedom: Escaping the Cult of Consumerism

United Natures Media (2019)

Film Review

Shopping for Freedom is best described as an illustrated podcast about the legacy of Edward Bernays, the father of the public relations industry. It’s intended to remind us of the subtle way public relations and propaganda influence our culture to the point we only imagine we have free choice in the items we purchase.

The film has no background narrative. The sound track is a casual conversation between the hosts of Ashes Ashes, a podcast about the “end of the world.” Meanwhile we are bombarded with priceless archival footage of early TV ads and the propaganda news reels shown in schools and movie theaters in the fifties and sixties.

The footage begins with the propaganda films Bernays produced in the early fifties to win popular support for the CIA-backed coup to overthrow Guatemala’s elected government – at the behest of United Fruit Company (to protect its monopoly control of the banana industry)

The film goes on to describe Bernays’ work under Woodrow Wilson promoting US entry into World War I, and the new science of psychological persuasion as described in the former’s 1928 book Propaganda.

The hosts go on to give illustrated examples of Bernays’ successful campaigns – to increase smoking among women and consumption of nutritionless breakfast cereals and to shame working class women who got married without diamond engagement rings or wore the same dress more than once a week.*

Intriguingly the filmmakers also insert several one second “subliminal” messages inserted into the video, which the hosts never comment on. I saw “You are enough” flashed twice, three one-second Coke ads, and “eco-capitalism” flashed once.

The film concludes by recommending viewers question all their choices. Most people claim not to be influenced by advertising. In most cases, however, many of us are unaware of habits (such as buying diamond engagement rings) the PR industry has elevated into cultural norms. In all their decisions, people need to ask themselves, “Is someone trying to sell me something?”


*Bernays was also hired by ALCOA in the mid-forties to run a campaign to dispose of toxic fluoride waste by persuading municipalities to add it to their public water systems. See Edward Bernays: Father of Water Fluoridation

 

 

Untold History of the US – The Cold War

Parts 4 and 5 of Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States explore the exaggerated claims of Soviet expansionism that characterized the Truman/Eisenhower administration.

Part 4 begins by contrasting the economic standing of the US and the USSR when the war ended in 1945. The US economy was booming. America controlled 50% of the world’s economic production and most of its gold. The Soviet economy, in contrast, had been shattered. Truman reneged on Roosevelt’s promise to provide the Soviets post war aid to assist in their recovery. During the US occupation of West Germany, he also discontinued German war reparations to the USSR.

The late forties was a period of excruciating poverty for Eastern Europe, with major famine in the Ukraine. With the Soviet economy in a shambles, the claims made by Truman about their intention to conquer the world were ludicrous.

After Henry Wallace, the last holdover from the Roosevelt administration, made a major speech (echoing statements by Einstein and Eleanor Roosevelt) opposing nuclear weapons, Truman fired him.

This episode also explores the first implementation of the Truman Doctrine, justifying US intervention in the domestic affairs of other countries. Truman first used it in 1947 to put down a popular uprising against a fascist coup in Greece. In a clear precursor to US intervention in Vietnam, Truman sent in US advisors to train the Greek military in “counterinsurgency tactics,” ie death squads to crush unions and human rights organizations and concentration camps to extinguish civilian support for pro-independence activists.

Part 4: Cold War: 1945-50

Part 5 explores the election of Eisenhower to power in 1952, coinciding with Khrushchev’s rise to power in 1953 and the re-election of Churchill in 1951 (Churchill was replaced by Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee from 1945-51).

Eisenhower, who had opposed using the A-bomb against Japan at Pottsdam, became a fervent nuclear weapons supporter as president. Under pressure from anti-communist hawk John Foster Dulles, he resisted Khrushchev’s and Churchill’s to organize a peace summit to limit the nuclear arms race.

Eisenhower would go on to engage in war crimes in Korean, causing massive civilian deaths by bombing North Korean dams.

In addition to authorizing the CIA overthrow of democratically elected governments in Iran in 1953 and Guatemala in 1954, he paid 80% of French military costs as they endeavored to defeat Vietnam’s pro-independence movement.

In this episode, Stone also explores the formation of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1955 in Java. Members consisted of world leaders determined to remain independent of either US or Soviet influence. In attendance at the first meeting were Ho Chi Minh  (Vietnam), Tito (Yugoslavia), Nehru (India), Nasser (Egypt), Zhou Enlai (China) and Sukarno (Indonesia). The CIA eventually removed each of these men from power, in some cases via assassination.

Part 5: the ’50s: Eisenhower, The Bomb and the Third World