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COVID-19: Propaganda & the Art of Exploiting a Pandemic

COVID-19: Propaganda & the Art of Exploiting a Pandemic

Throughout the U.S., institutions that have no real interest in public health are exploiting our sense of vulnerability to benefit their public images and their bottom lines, says Dr. Mike Pappas. 

We have all likely seen or heard the commercials. They typically start with slow music and maybe a nice sunrise. The ads then give lip service to the “strange and uncertain” times in which we’re living. But never fear, your savior is here: some large corporation wants to let you know that they are “here for us.” Do not worry, even after the pandemic is over, they will still be “here for us.” This touching treacle would be incomplete without a nod to the “healthcare heroes” continuing to fight during this pandemic. It just touches your heart, doesn’t it? But the eerie similarity of many of the commercials is a bit off putting… It is almost as if there is a propaganda campaign designed to exploit our worry and vulnerability during the global pandemic. 

The Field of Public Relations

Exploring the field of public relations is helpful when examining the recent flood of sentimental adverts. Edward Bernays, Sigmund Freud’s nephew, is universally known as the “father of public relations.” In the 1920s he pioneered the technique of shaping and manipulating public opinion, which he called “engineering consent.” In his influential 1928 book “Propaganda,”Bernays highlights the need to utilize people’s emotions to steer public opinion. He states:

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in the democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of the country.”

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