Bacon is a useful insight into the problem with news. Who would have thought, but stay with me. Bacon and Eggs seem as natural a breakfast to many as the news.
Less than a hundred years ago, it wasn’t. A major US producer needed to up its profits. It sold pork and thought how do we get Americans to increase their consumption.
Bacon existed as cured meat used almost universally in an assortment of hot meals, broths and stews captured beautifully in Mary Randolph’s 19th century popular cooking book of its time.
The producer turned to one Edward Bernays, believed to be the father of PR, whom understood how to manipulate minds. Bernays was the nephew of Sigmund Freud and had already turned US public opinion upside down with his successful smoking campaign. Smoking amongst women rose when he adroitly turned cigarettes from symbols of male dominance and penises, to liberation and Torches of Freedom.
The Bacon campaign would also be a venture of porkies magnitude (UK jocular slang for not telling the truth). Bernays sought out a doctor friend — an independent (cough!) doctor, he says. The physician wrote to several thousand doctors suggesting whether a heavy breakfast in the morning was actually good for you and should include bacon. They generally all agreed.
The campaign worked mainly because the press bought into it. It was a national and international story. The producer, Beech-Nut’s profits soared. Bernays had done it again and the burgeoning PR industry went into overdrive. This story is equally allegorical of public relations relationship with the media. The PR industry is intricately linked to media. Without PR lots of media could not exist, many “publications and bulletins would be poorer”, writes Stefan Stern, Visiting Professor at the internationally respected Cass Business School in London.
Much of what we read in the press is about vested interests from groups, which may have nothing to do with you or me. Sometimes they’re tenuously slanted to be. Bacon and Eggs is a construct of a “good” breakfast meal, as much as News is equally a construct of information it’s believed we need. Poignantly, news is a commodity. Pioneering media, particularly in the US discovered in boardrooms how to sell it, what sells and how to make a profit. Getting inside our feelings sells. Today Twitter and Facebook are continuums of this edict.
Bernays identified another thing. People, particularly crowds are irrational and are driven by emotions and it’s up to institutions to control them for a healthy democracy. He believed that to the core. And then he turned to Uncle Siggy ( Sigmund Freud) who helped him manipulate individuals like Pavlov’s dogs.
We crave emotions — hence the success of cinema and its use of effects and searing music. News isn’t inherently bad. It’s the ideology of those with networks and power who have little regard for alternative, even measured, points of view. Today, by-passing what constitutes news is as difficult as undoing an age-old habit, eloquently put in the verse of Dr Seuss in that best-selling children’s book Green Eggs and Ham.
“I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-Am.”…which eventually becomes… “I do so like green eggs and ham. Thank you. Thank you, Sam-I-Am."