Vance Packard, The Hidden Persuaders, 1957.
21. The Packaged Soul?
"Truly here is the 'custom-made' man of today -- ready to help build a new and greater era in the annals of diesel engineering."
-- Diesel Power.
The disturbing Orwellian configurations of the world toward which the persuaders seem to be nudging us -- even if unwittingly -- can be seen most clearly in some of their bolder, more imaginative efforts.
These ventures, which we will now examine, seem to the author to represent plausible projections into the future of some of the more insidious or ambiti us persuasion techniques we've been exploring in this book.
In early 1956 a retired advertising man named John G. Schneider (formerly with Fuller, Smith and Ross, Kenyon and Eckhardt, and other ad agencies) wrote a satirical novel called The Golden Kazoo, which projected to the 1960 Presidential election the trends in political merchandising that had already become clear. By 1960 the ad men from Madison Avenue have taken over completely (just as Whitaker and Baxter started taking over in California). Schneider explained this was the culmination of the trend started in 1952 when ad men entered the very top policy-making councils of both parties, when "for the first time" candidates became "merchandise," political campaigns became "sales-promotion jobs," and the electorate was a "market."
By 1960 the Presidency is just another product to peddle through tried-and-true merchandising strategies. Speeches are banned as too dull for citizens accustomed to TV to take. (Even the five-minute quickies of 1956 had become unendurable.) Instead the candidate is given a walk-on or centerpiece type of treatment in "spectaculars" carefully designed to drive home a big point. (Remember the election-eve pageant of 1956 where "little people" reported to President Eisenhower on why they liked him?)
The 1960 contest, as projected by Schneider, boiled down to a gigantic struggle between two giant ad agencies, one called Reade and Bratton for the Republicans and one simply called B.S.&J. for the Democrats. When one of the two candidates, Henry Clay Adams, timidly suggests he ought to make a foreign-policy speech on the crisis in the atomic age his account executive Blade Reade gives him a real lecture. "Look," he said, "if you want to impress the longhairs, intellectuals, and Columbia students, do it on your own time, not on my TV time. Consider your market, man! . . . Your market is forty, fifty million slobs sitting at home catching your stuff on TV and radio. Are those slobs worried about the atomic age! Nuts. They're worried about next Friday's grocery bill." Several of the merchandising journals gave Mr. Schneider's book a careful review, and none that I saw expressed shock or pain at his implications.
So much for fictional projections into the future. Some of the real-life situations that are being heralded as trends are perhaps more astonishing or disconcerting, as you choose.
A vast development of homes going up at Miramar, Florida, is being called the world's most perfect community by its backers. Tide, the merchandisers' journal, admonished America's merchandisers to pay attention to this trail-blazing development as it might be "tomorrow's marketing target." The journal said of Miramar: "Its immediate success . . . has a particular significance for marketers, for the trend to 'packaged' homes in 'packaged' communities may indicate where and how tomorrow's consumer will live. . . ." Its founder, youthful Robert W. Gordon, advises me Miramar has become "a bustling little community" and is well on its way to offering a "completely integrated community" for four thousand families.
What does it mean to buy a "packaged" home in a "packaged" community? For many (but apparently not all) of the Miramar families it means they simply had to bring their suitcases, nothing more. No fuss with moving vans, or shopping for food, or waiting for your new neighbors to make friendly overtures. The homes are completely furnished, even down to linens, china, silver, and a -refrigerator full of food. And you pay for it all, even the refrigeratoi full of food, on the installment plan.
Perhaps the most novel and portentous service available at Miramar -- and all for the one packaged price -- is that it may also package your social life for you. As Mr. Gordon put it: "Anyone can move into one of the homes with nothing but their personal possessions, and start living as a part of the community five minutes later." Where else could you be playing bridge with your new neighbors the same night you move in! In short, friendship is being merchandized along with real estate, all in one glossy package. Tide described this aspect of its town of tomorrow in these words: "To make Miramar as homey and congenial as possible, the builders have established what might be called 'regimented recreation.' As soon as a family moves in the lady of the house will get an invitation to join any number of activities ranging from bridge games to literary teas. Her husband will be introduced, by Miramar, to local groups interested in anything from fish breeding to water skiing."
In the trends toward other-mindedness, group living, and consumption-mindedness as spelled out by Dr. Riesman, Miramar may represent something of an ultimate for modern man.
Another sort of projection, a projection of the trend toward the "social engineering" of our lives in industry, can be seen perhaps in a remarkable trade school in Los Angele-i. It has been turning out students according to a blueprint and in effect certifies its graduates to be co-operative candidates for industry. This institution, National Schools, which is on South Figueroa Street, trains dies! mechanics, electricians, electrical technologists, machinists, auto repairmen and mechanics, radn^and TV mechanics, etc. (Established 1905.)
I first came across this breeding ground for the man of tomorrow in an article admiringly titled "Custom-made Men" in Diesel Power. The article faced another on "lubrication elements" and appeared in the early days of the depth approach to personnel training. The diesel journal was plainly awed by the exciting potentialities of social engineering, and said that while miraculous advances had been made in the technical field "one vital branch of engineering has been, until recently, woefully neglected -- the science of human engineering." It went on to be explicit: "Human engineering, as we refer to it here, is the science of molding and adjusting the attitude of industrial personnel. By this process a worker's mechanical ability and know how will be balanced by equal skill in the art of demonstrating a co-operative attitude toward his job, employer, and fellow employees."
The newest trend, it went on to explain, is to develop in the worker this co-operative outlook prior to his actual employment, while he is receiving his training, when "he is most receptive to this new approach." National Schools in Los Angeles, it said, has been a unique laboratory in developing many phases of human engineering. It followed the progress of the graduate as he went out into industry and checked not only on the technical skills he showed but on "his attitude toward his work and associates." These findings were compared with a transcript of his school work. By such analysis plus surveying employers on the traits they desire in employees National Schools, it said, has been able "to develop the ideal blue print for determining the type of personnel industry needs." National students, it stated, were taught basic concepts of human behavior, and "special emphasis is placed on the clear-cut discussion and study of every subject that will tend to give the student a better understanding of capital-labor co-operation. To this end . . . representative authorities in the diesel industry have been made associate faculty members at National Schools -- where they lecture." Truly, it exulted, here was the "custom-made" man ready to help build a greater tomorrow for diesel engineering!
The kind of tomorrow we may be tending toward in the merchandising of products may be exemplified by the use of depth probing on little girls to discover their vulnerability to advertising messages. No one, literally no one, evidently is to be spared from the all-seeing, Big Brotherish eye of the motivational analyst if a merchandising opportunity seems to beckon. The case I am about to relate may seem extreme today -- but will it tomorrow?
This case in point, involving a Chicago ad agency's depth probing on behalf of a leading home-permanent preparation, was proudly described by the agency's president in a speech to an advertising conference at the University of Michigan in May, 1954. He cited it in detail, with slides, to illustrate his theme: "How Motivation Studies Mc7-Be Used by Creative People to Improve Advertising."
The problem was how to break through women's resistance to giving home permanents to their little girls. Many felt the home permanents ought to wait until high-school age, "along with lipstick and dating." (Some mothers, I've found in my own probing, also suspect home permanents are bad for the hair of little girls and have some moral pangs about it.) At any rate, the agency found, by depth interviewing mothers, that they needed "reassurance" before most of them would feel easy about giving home permanents to their little ones. The agency set out, by depth probing little girls, to find a basis for offering such reassurance. It hoped to find that little girls actually "need" curly hair, and to that end devised a series of projective tests, with the advice of "leading child psychologists and psychiatrists," which were presented to the little girls as "games." When the little girls were shown a carefully devised projective picture of a little girl at a window they reportedly read into the picture the fact that she was "lonely because her straight hair made her unattractive and unwanted." When they were given projective sentence-completion tests they allegedly equated pretty hair with being happy and straight hair with "bad, unloved things."
The agency president summed up the findings of the probing of both mothers (their own early childhood yearnings) and daughters by stating: "We could see, despite the mothers' superficial doubts about home permanents for children, the mothers had a very strong underlying wish for curly-haired little girls." (This is not too hard to believe in view of the fact that hair-preparation merchandisers have been hammering away to condition American females to the wavy-hair-makes-you-lovely theme for decades.)
A seven-and-a-half-pound volume of data detailing all the probings was turned over to the agency's "creative" people and a series of "creative workshops" was held with "a leading authority in the field of child psychology" conducting the discussions. This authority apparently needed to reassure some of the creative people themselves about the project because the authority stated: "Some of you may react, as many older women do, and say, 'How awful to give a child a permanent,' and never stop to think that what they are really saying is, 'How awful to make a girl attractive and make her have respect for herself.'"
The child psychologist analyzed each piece of copy, layout, and TV story board for its psychological validity to make sure it would "ring true to parents." One upshot of all this consulting was a TV commercial designed to help a mother subconsciously recognize "her child's questions, 'Will I be beautiful or ugly, loved or unloved?' because they are her own childhood wishes, too."
Another possible view of tomorrow may be seen in the search to find ways to make us less troublesome and complaining while staying in hospitals. Dr. Dichter undertook this exploration, and his findings were reported in detail in a series of articles in The Modern Hospital. The study was undertaken because of the constant complaints of patients about food, bills, routine, boredom, nurses. They were generally irritable, and hospitals that tried to remove the complaints by changing routines, diets, etc., seemed to get nowhere.
So the depth probing of patients began. One fifty-year-old woman recalled her shame at being chided by a hospital aide for calling out for her mother several times during the night. Probers found that patients in hospitals were often filled with infantile insecurities. They weren't just scared of dying but scared because they were helpless like a child. And they began acting like children. Dr. Dichter reported that his most significant finding "deals with the regression of the patient to a child's irrationality. . . . Over and over in each of the interviews, in one form or another, there echoed the basic cry, 'I'm frightened. . . .'" He said the grownup's regression to a child's helplessness and "dependence and his search for symbolic assurance were clear. In searching for this symbolic assurance the patient begins seeing the doctor as father and the nurse as mother.
What should the hospitals do with all these adult-children? The answer was obvious. Treat them like children, apply to grownups the same techniques they had been applying in the children's wards to make the children feel loved and secure. For one thing there mustn't be any signs of dissension between doctor and nurse because it would remind the patients of their childhood fears when mother and father quarreled.
Eventually -- say by a.d. 2000 -- perhaps all this depth manipulation of the psychological variety will seem amusingly old-fashioned. By then perhaps the biophysicists will take over with "biocontrol," which is depth persuasion carried to its ultimate. Biocontrol is the new science of controlling mental processes, emotional reactions, and sense perceptions by bio-electrical signals.
The National Electronics Conference meeting in Chicago in 1956 heard electrical engineer Curtiss R. Schafer, of the Norden-Ketay Corporation, explore the startling possibilities of biocontrol. As he envisioned it, electronics could take over the control of unruly humans. This could save the indoctrina-tors and thought controllers a lot of fuss and bother. He made it sound relatively simple.
Planes, missiles, and machine tools already are guided by electronics, and the human brain -- being essentially a digital computer -- can be, too. Already, through biocontrol, scientists have changed people's sense of balance. And they have made animals with full bellies feel hunger, and made them feel fearful when they have nothing to fear. Time magazine quoted him as explaining:
The ultimate achievement of biocontrol may be the control of man himself .... The controlled subjects would never be permitted to think as individuals. A few months after birth, a surgeon would equip each child with a socket mounted under the scalp and electrodes reaching selected areas of brain tissue .... The child's sensory perceptions and muscular activity could be either modified or completely controlled by bioelectric signals radiating from state-controlled transmitters.
He added the reassuring thought that the electrodes "cause no discomfort."
I am sure that the psycho-persuaders of today would be appalled at the prospect of such indignity being committed on man. They are mostly decent, likable people, products of our relentlessly progressive era. Most of them want to control us just a little bit, in order to sell us some product we may find useful or disseminate with us a viewpoint that may be entirely worthy.
But when you are manipulating, where do you stop? Who is to fix the point at which manipulative attempts become socially undesirable?