One of the strange things about this is that we cannot keep from talking about it as “PR Disaster,” both in terms of the incident itself, and the poor initial response of the management.
It is indeed a PR disaster but this just shows how deeply “The System” has incised itself into our minds.
Public Relations is an invention of Edward Bernays, who adopted his uncle Sigmund Freud’s theories to corporate ends. There is one particular incident, well worn to be sure, which I think illustrative.
One of his early clients, the giant American Tobacco Company—maker of dozens of brands including Lucky Strikes—came to him with a problem: women did not smoke. It was considered vulgar and mannish. In the cinema of the 20s, for instance if a woman character smoked it was to telegraph that she was (cough) no paragon of virtue. But the champions of Industry lusted for the revenue and so Bernays cooked up a bogus feminist movement called ‘torches for freedom’ and staged a women’s rights march with mostly hired ‘activists.’
The media went gaga. The photos went around the world.
The feminists fell for it, too.
The spectre of this may be perhaps seen in the Kendall Jenner Pepsi fiasco. The world is not so innocent now.
But this I think shows the substitutionary nature of PR. The difference between advertising and PR is that advertising lies to you outright whereas PR casts you into a hall of mirrors and subtly, slowly persuades you to substitute a premanufactured irreality for the real one. But, fundamentally, what is happening is a shell game of sign and symbol: this brings about a kind of strange deadlock.
We ‘know’ that ‘everything’ we see is manipulated and fake. But sometimes it isn’t, sometimes it is really happening but we cannot help but think of it in the way that we think about the fake things.
The link between action and consequence is broken. We only THINK we are undertaking action. We keep filling out online petitions, we keep regurgitating hashtags, we keep dancing the semiotics-polka yet nothing seems to change.
These are false.
PR thinking has completely subverted our response. It has subverted democracy. Nothing can change. We are pilots of an airliner with a fly-by-wire system that has been disconnected.
Now we want Virtual Reality. We want to strap on a helmet and see the imaginary made so real because the real has come to seem so imaginary. This is the true shape of power.