Shopping for Freedom: Escaping the Cult of Consumerism
United Natures Media (2019)
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