Four score and eleven years ago—in 1928—George Washington Hill had a problem: he wanted more women to smoke cigarettes. But smoking was scorned as a crutch for “fallen women and prostitutes.” He was president of the American Tobacco Company, and he thought that if he could get women to smoke, it would be “like opening a gold mine right in our front yard.”
Hill hired public relations guru Edward Bernays to help sell his cigarettes. After consulting with a psychoanalyst (Abraham Brill), Bernays decided against merely hawking Hill’s brands of cigarettes. Instead he tackled the cultural taboo that condemned women smoking.
Bernays decided to pay a bunch of women to smoke cigarettes while marching in New York’s 1929 Easter Sunday Parade. He didn’t want the stunt to appear as marketing (even though that is exactly what it was), so he carefully orchestrated the event. His instructions included:
Because it should appear as news [and not publicity], actresses should be definitely out. While they should be goodlooking, they should not be too “model-y.” Three for each church covered should be sufficient.
Of course they are not to smoke simply as they come down the church steps. They are to join in the Easter parade, puffing away.
In a crafty manipulation of the growing women’s rights movement, he spun the event as feminists lighting their “Torches of Freedom.”
When Others Think They Know What’s Best
Bernays believed that society is best managed by cultural elites, people who know better than us how to live. His best-known book on marketing (suitably titled Propaganda) opens with these two paragraphs:
The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.
We are governed, our minds molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized.
When I tell Christians I am writing a book on Cultural Creep, they unanimously exclaim, “Yes, I hate the world’s sexual promiscuity.” But that is not the subject of my book. People have always wanted extramarital sex, but for hundreds of years it has been illicit and repugnant.
The question of “worldly influence” is: how were our “minds molded,” and “our tastes formed” so that previously frowned-upon sexual practices became so run-of-the-mill? And who did it?
Creating “Common Sense”
Blaise Pascal, the 17th century scientist and philosopher, said:
It’s not those who write the laws that have the greatest impact on society. It’s those who write the songs.
Legislation doesn’t rule us nearly as much as the manufactured ideas hammered into our hearts by the elites who “manipulate the habits and opinions” of us masses. Song by song, show by show, actor by actor, they drum into our heads a newly created “common sense” set of answers despised a mere fifty years ago.
The modern world’s embrace of uninhibited sex simply releases our flesh to act without restraint. The world brainwashes us into believing that any restraint against our “natural” desires will cause irreparable damage. It is even given a name: repression.
In his later years, Bernays regretted his contribution to the growth of smoking. He tried in vain to free his wife from the nicotine addiction his elitist-self had nurtured.
What Torches of Freedom do we light today that will imprison us in dark addiction tomorrow?