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War Games: Globalized Public Relations of Western Ideology

The world has almost forgotten, forgotten the way things used to be. We’ve chosen to forget the ideologies of the world that existed before the bombs, the wars, and the dark nights. “History is but a myth that mankind has decided as fact” (Assume 2006). After the Great Wars, America wrote the world’s history, and later with the fall of Communism, capitalism under the guise of freedom and democracy became the world ideology (Steger, 2009).  Its goal, globalization, and spreading the ideology around the world. As with any ideology, there are those who may choose to oppose it, to challenge it, and therefore, it should come as no surprise that International Public Relations was created by western powers to combat dissent to the Western Narrative. Utilising Herman’s and Chomsky’s Propaganda Model we can layout the framework for why public relations is inherently westernised, and that media is embedded into the markets system as a result of capitalism dominance (Herman 2003).

One could argue that public relations are talents which the human species are innately born with, and that this gift has existed since we first crawled out from the cave. However, our self-awareness of these abilities, and our choice to study and refine them into a skilled trade began just after the First World War with the father of Public Relations, Basil Clarke. Clarke whose background was in journalism, eventually joined the British government in propaganda wartime efforts, and later developed his Little White Book, that split the field of Public Relations off from publicity (L’Etang, 2004).  Indeed, by 1921 Walter Lippman, an American political commenter, recognized the phenomenon of “manufacturing consent” as a “self-conscience art and regular organ of popular government” (Lippman 1921:248 cited in Herman 2003).

By World War II, propaganda had become such a vital part of the war on all sides that it is no surprise that it was continued and incorporated into the global ideology set by the winners after the war.  While the Western Allies as a whole can claim victory, even in the best of cases, Europe was devastated. Economies destroyed, infrastructure in ruin, the only country to find relative prosperity in the wake of the Second Great War was the United States. Indeed, Europe would be rebuilt; it would rise again, fashioned from American goods, purchased with the dollar, loaned under the Marshall Plan. The Marshall plan set the rules for free-trade and “democracy” with its new American Capitalist ideology at its core as a condition for receiving the aid (Steger 2009).

This new world ideology moved Europe further away from its former protectionist roots, and polarized the world into an us (capitalism) versus them (Socialism , Marxism, Communism) war of the mind.  It would create a new type of war built on fear, propaganda, and international communications. There would be no lack of a need for individuals capable of traversing the murky waters of the Cold War, and unsurprisingly, this same tactic became an efficient bleed-down of Military application into commercial markets. Company’s wishing to conquer new lands would employ the same skills as they had in war efforts to combat corporate dissent, increase brand awareness, and ultimately create profitability in both domestic and foreign markets. Indeed, Thomas Ferguson goes as far to say that news-media, controlled by profit maximizing investors, limits dissemination of news that negatively portrays this “specialized class” as they employ their communications (Ferguson 1996: 400 cited in Herman 2003).

If Public Relations serve as a conduit for communications between Western Ideology and the world, how do we measure its effectiveness? Generally, we can see the global reach of capitalism even in those who oppose the ideology.  In 2001, Al Qaeda’s anti-Western sentiment was expressed when Obama Bin Laden dished out his own public relations video to state-ran Aljazeera. The enemy of the democracy and freedom, Laden, dressed in Western style fatigues, carrying a modern assault weapon, and wearing the latest designer watch, failed to see the irony in his folly (Steger 2009). What it proves is that the spread of western influence and even public relations (basically what Laden was doing) has become such a part of the world that its Western roots are undeniably embedded within the human experience to the point that we’ve forgotten what the world looks like without it (Ibid.).

Some might argue that the westernization of public relations within individual countries is therefore tied to its political and economic structure. The more along the spectrum of democracy and capitalism a country is, the more likely it is to perceive public relations as a Western construct. Clearly, in more socialized democracies, trust, truth, and integrity are more integral to what’s defined as public relations. Yet even within these variants of moralized public relations, we find admission of these concepts as being in conflict with stereotypes and established perceptions. It is important to remember that these concepts set forth by individuals such as John W. Hill, manufactures idealistic portrayals of an industry which may or may not actual function within these ideals (Heath & Bowen 2002).  These variants of Bernay’s “public be damned” have attempted to legitimize the industry within a moral framework despite critics’ responses that Public Relations is merely lying. (Cutlip et al., 2006). Kantonian principles allow for this evolution of the industry for the betterment of mankind, and certainly, Kant would argue that deception limits trust and autonomy, but pragmatically, psychologists would remind us that a certain amount of distortion is beneficial for social relations (Bivins 2008; Krajczyńska 2012). Indeed, if we’re to argue that Public Relations was birthed out of Western propaganda, we must accept that communication in general is inherently paradoxical, and that the components of ethical behaviour and speech include a moral behaviour of Noble Lies. Confused? Consider this quote, “in some circumstances, it may be that a polite smile or [that] tactfully keeping quiet may be more conducive to your well-being than saying what you actually think and feel.” (Wardrop 2012). Indeed, research by Doctor Olivia Robinson at the University of Greenwich determined that often expressing truth or being factual about one’s own self led to less financial success (Ibid.). Therefore, it should come as no surprise, telling your fat friend that they “look smashingly thin today”, is “ethically” better than telling them the truth.

Many examples exist within the modern context to suggest the games of early Public Relations are still in play. From Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations”, to Bush’s declaration in favour of disarming Iraq of its (now realized) non-existent weapons of mass-destruction. Does Coke really refresh you with its diabetic inducing sugar and caffeine, or does the burger from McDonald’s ever look like the one in the advertisements (Morris 2013)? Are we to believe that scandals and cover-ups aren’t part of modern public relations? “It’s as safe as Dawn dishwashing liquid.”, a BP representative stated referring to the rainbow gunk created in the wake of the oil disaster (Hertsgaard 2013). Indeed, propaganda is alive and well even within immoral truth. In 2001, Philip Morris commissioned a report labelled the Public Finance of Smoking in the Czech Republic which found the increased mortality rate caused by smoking reduced pension pay-outs and decreased national health-cost, thereby providing a net financial advantage to the country (Morris 2001).

To further satisfy this argument that propaganda is alive and well in the modern age, we only need to look at democracy’s favourite weapon: Photoshop. In contrast of the war-time posters that personified the German enemy as animals, today’s caricatures range from unattainable body images on magazines, to fake military jets (and rockets, and space monkeys,) that Iran uses to demonstrate its military “superiority” (Fitzgerald  2013). Each of these entities strives to sell or promote the image within our globalized economy of democracy and freedom to compete against the Western hegemony. When China tried to pass off scenes from the blockbuster movie Top Gun to demonstrate its military capabilities, it failed to see the irony in their Communistic endeavors against the west utilising a Hollywood film (Ibid.).

Of course, for those of us residing in the West it is important to recognize our own humility as we desperately cling to what personal self-respect we may have for ourselves. Chomsky himself, while suggesting “responsibility among intellectuals”, manifests the hidden realities of public relations, lifting the guise, so that we’re now forced to be accountable, while consequentially outlining a model for applying such deceptions, and to which we previously may have been naïve to (Chomsky 1967).

Indeed, such western discourse has been the result of turning conversation into math through Communications Theory. Today, these propaganda statements, Photoshops, and generalized shades of grey result in effective communication for the greater good, often communicated through these entropic and metaphysical channels (Littlejohn 2008).

In Chinese culture, communications resemble less of the western mathematical approach and more that of a ritual (Huang 2003). Despite Huang’s suggestion that the West’s approach is simply for information exchange and that Eastern communications is more about relationships (guansi), social penetration has been a military phenomenon since the first undercover-agents, and an established mainstream psychological theory since the seventies by a New Yorker social scientists Irwin Altman and Dalmas Taylor  (Altman & Taylor  1973).  While Huang attempts to differentiate the Eastern relationship from western communication, the repetitive use of western theory suggests the only vocabulary to describe Eastern communication is through a Western “dictionary” (Huang 2003).  While there’s little doubt that Eastern public relations has existed, the East has chosen to adopt western language, hybrid capitalism, and westernized public relations. One need only needs to visit a Western-style University course in Public Relations to see the large number of Chinese students ready to adopt western thought.

Interestingly, ritual plays a huge part in Western Public Relations in the form of the apologia (Hearit 1994). In a case study between three international companies (Chrysler, Toshiba, and Volvo) during a crisis, it was determined that each company chose to use this ritual to manage their crisis (Ibid.). What varied was the approach to admission of responsibility and the amount of regret to re-establish their reputations. When Chrysler’s odometers were found to be disconnected, Chrysler’s C.E.O. chose to have a frank conversation with the public. He insisted the consequences of their actions were minimal, and they’d gladly replace any vehicle involved in their “testing” (Ibid). Japanese Toshiba was caught selling to the Soviets and decided to deny their actions as the U.S. voted to immediately ban Toshiba products within their country as a reactionary countermeasure (Ibid.). Lastly, Swedish Volvo after falsely staging a monster-truck rally that couldn’t crush their vehicle (because it was re-enforced) decided to re-label the event a “dramatization” in response to charges of deceptive advertising (Ibid). While each company dealt with the crisis in their own unique method, what is abundantly clear, is how each of these companies were in the end forced to conform to Western standards of public relations through their modified message. The result of non-conformity could have resulted in law-suits or product bans within the United States and its allies (e.g. the Axis of Freedom).

In fact, it is all a war game.  As modern public relations began to take shape during wartime, America was already preparing for its neo-colonial empire of capitalistic domination and its need for its new Public Relations skillset. In 1922, U.S. Senator Beveridge declared “He has made us adept in government that we may administer government among savage and senile peoples! He has marked the American people as His chosen nation to finally lead in the redemption of the world!” (Beveridge A. cited in HyserArndt 2007). Almost a century later this same sentiment applies to western rhetoric within the western pursuit of capitalism guised under “freedom’s triumph” (Steger 2009). What sounds like a coy public relations campaign is in actuality part of the Defence Planning Guide drafted under U.S. Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and which become foreign policy under the Bush regime. The goal was to protect American interests and deter competitors, pre-emptively and military “including western European allies” from aspiring for a “larger or global role” (Steger 2009). In effect, democracy, freedom, and westernized public relations were now the standard of the globalized economy now dictated by the victors of global warfare.

In conclusion, the story of mankind is the story of war on earth.
 In conclusion, the story of mankind is the story of our global village finding a shared voice through the common language of International Public Relations and Global Communications.

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