If there’s anything as American as apple pie it’s got to be bacon and eggs for breakfast, right? As American as it may be now, it wasn’t that way about a hundred years ago. In the 1920s, The Beech-Nut Packing Company, which produced pork, hired a man, Edward Bernays, to get people to buy bacon. Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, coined the term “public relations,” because “propaganda” sounded too German. The bacon promotion worked. So, while George Washington didn’t lie about cutting his father’s cherry tree, it’s probably accurate to say he didn’t eat bacon regularly for breakfast either. Who does anymore?
Before homogenization, if you let the milk sit, the cream rose to the top. That old saying refers to excellence. The implication was that the best would stand out. Milk producers then developed a way to make the fat droplets emulsify. Now milk in the fridge pours out the same way all the time. It’s consistently the same. Conforming to current tastes, it becomes more marketable. They put the word on the carton. Homogenized Milk.
Bread is the staff of life. It can be made into many forms and can be used in many ways. Its versatility is legendary and in at least one religion, its transformation is miraculous. Something that must be remembered, however, is the implied presence of the baker. Someone made the decision to make the bread precisely the way it ended up.
As we head off to market, these are the things we are going to buy: bacon, milk and bread.
For decades, critics have increasingly applied the term, "homogeneity" to the media. That word is defined as, “the quality or state of being all the same or all of the same kind.” The observation is that the media, consolidating into fewer hands, is making information more uniform across the board, and the effect is consistently making people think the same, from San Francisco to Miami and all the little towns between. Everyone is exposed to many of the same ideas. Not all the ideas, but many of them. What that means, especially for kids who tend to follow trends and fashion, is the behavior of someone in Portland, Maine, or Portland, Oregon, would tend to become more uniform. Mass communication has made this process easier and faster.
Think about two cultures colliding in the past. Several decades, if not a century or more, would be required before people began to merge culturally, becoming whatever hybrid that defined their identity. Now, communication being what it is, not as much time would be required to develop a mutual identity. In fact, actually preserving cultural differences in the name of heritage becomes harder. The French, famously, have resisted what they see as American cultural imperialism.
In 1066 the French famously invaded England and imposed themselves on that Anglo-Saxon culture for generations. The Normans, specifically, were of Scandinavian origin, but the ruling language in England became French. Today would anyone in Bristol hate their neighbor for being of French or Saxon or Viking origin? Folks of Celtic origin might still hate the Romans but that would appear to be merely a supernatural ability to carry a grudge.
History has shown us the longer peoples live around each other the more assimilated they become. A certain homogeneity is natural if there are no isolated cultures developing in their own peculiar way. Mass communication would seem to make that assimilation process faster as especially the young trade manners and fashion with each other. What that implies is that ultimately, communication being what it is today, the peoples of earth will merge into one identity. It may take centuries, but that’s a drop in the bucket in terms of universal time. Speaking of that, at some point we may come in contact with extraterrestrials, which will start that assimilation process all over again. Hopefully it won’t be the Borg. Another possibility could be a natural or man-made global catastrophe, which would send many of us back to survival mode, and tribal consciousness, and we could start all over again that way.
Psychologically it would seem many people feel more comfortable being around “people of their own kind,” however they define it, and sometimes it’s defined in a classist sense. Certainly advertisers have exploited the desire to conform to the crowd, including in thoughts and beliefs, and the insecurity people sometimes feel when they are different from others. That’s why so much advertising is geared toward the young. They’ve been raised on it. In some ways they’ve been guided by it. Some would say they are more cynical about it because they’ve been exposed to it for so long. Perhaps that’s so. However, advertising is apparently very successful because we see so much of it. Everywhere. As cynical as people may be about advertising, there seems to be no cynicism about what advertising has implied: that the buying and selling of anything is proper and expected. Capitalism is the only way.
Way back in the early part of the last century, if you were rich and wanted to protect your wealth and the inheritance of your descendants, especially from the humorless Communists, you would probably develop a philosophy among your peers that would seek to control the impulses of the unwashed masses. You’d seen in relatively recent times what can happen when common folk get too much power. They chopped off heads in France. If you think about it, that's an extraordinarily apt metaphor. After the First World War an entire class of society, the aristocracy, became irrelevant. Unfortunately, if you happened to have made or inherited your wealth in a democracy, you’d have to find ways around the shouting workers demanding equality. You can't beat them into submission like the Nobles did in the good old days. What is one to do?
If you had a long-term vision, you’d see it was imperative to set up an economic system wherein your class was protected as long as possible, as the aristocracy had done since the first strongman proclaimed himself king. You would allow for a certain level of class mobility, a pressure valve, as it were, to provide hope for many of the unwashed that they too might one day be clean. It’s not as if one person would come up with this, or even a small group of men behind closed doors in secret meetings, as many conspiracy theorists have claimed. It would have been the spoken and unspoken desires of an entire class of people who believed they owed their allegiance more to their affluent friends, who were of many nationalities, rather than to the countries that claimed them as citizens. How to preserve such an idea in the land of democracy? You own businesses. You have power. But your carrot and stick are not enough to maintain that power. You need to convince people you are right to insist upon your own substantive survival. How could you do that without appearing selfish and greedy? Enter public relations, the baker.
In 1992’s Manufacturing Consent, Noam Chomsky And The Media, Chomsky refers to Rheinhold Neibuhr and Walter Lippman, making the point that the ruling classes in the early 20th century didn’t think much of the average American’s intelligence.
“Walter Lippman…described what he called the manufacture of consent as a revolution in the practice of democracy…He said this was useful and necessary because the common interests, the general concerns of all people, elude the public. The public just isn’t up to dealing with them. And they have to be the domain of what he called a specialized class." In 1932's Man And Immoral Society, Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, "Rationality belongs to the cool observer. but because of the stupidity of the average man, he follows not reason, but faith and the naive faith requires necessary illusion and emotionally potent oversimplifications which are provided by the myth-maker to keep ordinary person on course."
Walter Lippman was a journalist. Reinhold Niebuhr was a very popular and influential theologian, who in fact, came up with the famous serenity prayer. So if the intelligentsia of your day gives you a rational reason to “control the masses,” that’s a good part of the work. You get your baker to throw in the ingredients, knead the dough and bake a special recipe that is appealing to consumers.
The theory of a “marketplace of ideas” was originally meant to be a description of free speech, using the analogy of a free market, but that idea, unfortunately, also implies buying and selling. It’s the idea as commodity, not as an indication of truth or wisdom, or something that can’t be bought. That analogy implies democracy, yes, the more people who accept the idea enable the idea to become pervasive. Still, there is no indication in that strict definition that the idea is anywhere close to truth. It is merely popular. In fact, in the homogenous culture, it is more likely to be accepted. However, it represents, in a sense, the fundamental acceptance that only a market may determine what’s valuable in the cultural consciousness. I am not intending to make a religious point but only to show an alternative way of communicating, when I say that Jesus Christ did not sell his message to his followers. He certainly convinced them, but there was no commerce about it. You know what happened when he came upon the money changers in the temple.
That really is the basic message. If reality is defined as a place where everything can be a transaction, obviously those who have means have greater power and influence, the ability essentially, to preserve that power indefinitely, so long as the population remains homogenous and relatively secure.
Finally, though, what’s needed is a figurehead of sorts in government, someone who makes it easy for you, the rich, to continue to live the good life, someone who will remove the barriers to business, who will ensure you will bring home the bacon for as long as it is feasible to forecast. In the Gilded Age John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and J.P. Morgan, who several times tried to destroy each other, fine Capitalists that they were, actually teamed up to help elect William McKinley for President, because they had so much power they could do that.
After the propaganda has been spread like butter on bread across the population, as generation after generation, born into their subtly changed realities, never think to question the justice of it all, desiring deeply the white milk that everyone else around them desires; what the rich need, in order to get as much bacon as possible, is to buy a fat pig.