The Ph.D. Program in History

at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York


RAZPOTJA Interviews our Professor Stuart Ewen




Here’s the original English version of the interview as well: 

Author of the interview: Blaž Kosovel

Illustrator: Katja Pahor.



The following is a rough translation of the interview. To access the original interview please click here.


Somehow we think that we know everything about the United States, because we are constantly under attack of its popular culture and its economic-policy decisions that affect the entire world. However, even if we are talking about a single Western civilization, can not be equated with European countries or even the EU. The emergence of the USA is precisely in rebellion against the European system, in the desire to create something different, which is not associated with tradition and which later will increasingly be based on a scientific approach to fashion. An enormous number of immigrants require specific solutions, unparalleled European nation states. The emergence of management, public relations, advertising, Applied Social Sciences – these are the specifics of the USA, which was only subsequently came to Europe. And although these areas are key elements of modernity, not many historians, that would be studied. One of the key Stuart Ewen, who for decades dedicated to discovering how the world has become a scientific laboratory.


Stuart Ewen (1945) is a historian who deals with the history of media, consumerism, propaganda and public relations, and visual culture, while often broke new ground. Generally considered one of the pioneers of the field of media studies. His book, PR! – The Social History of Spin (PR! – Social History of Spin, 1996) was the basis for the BBC documentary The Century of the Self (Century of the Self, Adam Curtis, 2002) and is the first ever book on the history of public relations. Among the other parts of it are also found Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer Culture (Masters of consciousness: advertising and the social origins of consumer culture, 1976), and the Channels of Desire: Mass Images and the Shaping of American Consciousness (Programs desires: Mass images and the shaping of American consciousness, 1982).
In his student years he was a human rights activist, professor his job is still seen as a profession and not just a mere academic lecture. He teaches at New York’s Hunter College in the department of film and media studies and post-graduate center of The City University of New York at the Department of History and Sociology.


In your books you write about American society as something that was created at the beginning of the 20th century …

USA is a country that is at least the end of the 19th century made up of diverse peoples from around the world. In European societies, the idea of culture or civilization, something that has evolved over time and has set out a common tradition. On the contrary, he was one of the main problems faced by the most influential American institutions of the 19th century, a heterogeneous population of the Union (non-white, Catholic or Jewish origin), which is not apparent from the Anglo-American Protestant tradition of the founding fathers. Therefore, the idea of Americanization became a central idea in discussions businessmen, social workers and others when dealing with difficult and sometimes militant population, which in no way did not share a common tradition.

Would you say then that American society arose only in the 20th century?

I think that has always existed, but it was a very exclusive concept based on American Anglo-Saxon elite, which originates from the 18th century. With the growth of the population is between them led to a desperate feeling that the real American tribe in danger from the flood of otherness: people who are not like me. The break is represented by civil war and the emancipation of a black population that followed. In the last decade of the 19th century occurred eugenics movement. Before Nazi Germany, no country has adopted eugenics with such open arms just as the United States. The reason was precisely the fear of a flood of otherness: people who do not share the same values as we do, because it does not derive from the business, but the working environment.

Which measures has undertaken eugenics movement of the time?

Eugenics, on the one hand, promote fertility and abundance of families in those who have had the real Americans: they often use the term “Nordic” and “Aryan”. This is a time when the United States are beginning to build an empire overseas colonies, which had previously belonged to Spain. Above the Philippines to develop a sensibility of White superiority, or “liability” (ie white man’s Burden, “white man’s burden”, op.: A.). At the same time he was present fear (by the way completely justified) that the numerical ratio shifted to the detriment of white problem population, which was then defined very narrowly: the Anglo-American Protestant conception of “belstva” he is still included Scandinavians and Germans, who were among the early settlers Midwest (Midwest), but it is not included Italians, Jews, Slavs … the Irish have not. These are considered dark people; Jude had to Orientals, Italians, so to speak for the north Africans. Therefore eugenics movement during the great immigration from eastern and southern Europe between 1890 and 1920 promotes fertility that guy “better” work Americans; while there are initiatives to reduce fertility people who see themselves as inferior. Produced all the more sociological studies of hereditary tendency to criminality in families. Favorites are the various graphs showing hereditary degeneration generations.

This is not merely a desire for “creating the America.” Present were active initiatives have been very successful for some time in order to legitimize the sterilization of people labeled as weak-minded. They were introduced even forced sterilization laws by the Supreme Court in 1925 declared to be in conformity with the Constitution. Legislation that allowed the sterilization of persons who were considered inferior, was also up to the 50s of the last century of the American legal system.

Not at all, it was a lot of various institutions that deal with the “slaboumneži.” Even intelligence tests (IQ) formed for this purpose.

Intelligence tests are therefore heritage eugenics movement?

Hold on. They invented a new terminus technicus “moron” (ang. Moron) for those who were inferior, but functional. This means that they may have been literate and able to work, but this label have reduced opportunities when choosing a job. At Ellis Island, the intelligence test carried out on a large scale and between 80 and 90% of immigrants is on this basis was considered to morons.

The same people who have dealt with eugenics, are in fact also wrote protipriseljensko law. This came into force in early twenties and virtually all of a sudden cut off immigration from eastern and southern Europe, and Japan; Chinese immigration were stopped already in 1882 the federal law known as the Chinese Exclusion Act. All these measures were ways to “purify the blood”, which will flow into the country.

Why are all first opened the border? Do they need a lot of manpower?

This appears like a contradiction as in slavery. First, open the border for the workforce required to start the crop of capitalism, and then discover that these people are a potential threat to the “purity of blood” slave-owning class.

It should also be noted that since the mid-19th century onwards, ie from the time when the United States developed into a modern capitalist economies of scale, there was enormous resistance to such new economic structure by the Anglo-American craftsmen, who have a tradition of control over their working conditions. The squad is big campaigns to bring people in the United States, which engaged in civil tasks, ie. work, broken down into small parts for the performance of which requires no skill. The entire movement followed by a Taylor development of scientific management and process work withdraw its relationship with certain skills; This makes it possible to anyone who would cause problems at work, replaced by anybody else, because the work was divided into tasks that can also be implemented chimpanzee.

From the idea of scientific management is not far to public relations and advertising, with which you have worked a lot in your work.

Taylorism or scientific management, which was first administered in factories, to become a general principle of society. It is the idea of the world as a laboratory, where all forms of human life are subject to managerial techniques. This is one of the great discoveries of the time and is unique in that what you said American sensibilities and which is separated from European society humanistic intellectuals. These American intellectuals could qualify for pragmatics, because their goal was to understand the society in order to better control it.

So it was basically social scientists, not social scientists? 

Yes, while I believe that the boom in social sciences in the United States is because they were from the outset defined as useful. Here is we do not have to do with Max Weber, Durkheimom, George Simmelom, which explores the philosophy of money metropolis and spiritual life as well as the experience of living in modernity. On the contrary. In the United States the social sciences very early start to engage people who see society as something dangerous, like something that should be monitored, as space requires social engineering in many areas. In 1920, half the population of the USA is still composed of immigrants and their children, to which must be added the black population. However, the ruling class to this day remain largely white and Protestant: with the exception of Kennedy and Obama were all white presidents and Freemasons …

This leads to the requirement of social engineering in various spheres of society. In the early 20th century, among other phenomena field of social work, which is nothing else than the application of social sciences at a large scale, designed to immigrant children learn how to become Americans.

How to behave like Americans?

Yes, but here is the behavior associated with quite specific content. You can treat it as a control model, but control models only work when people internalize these control systems. The same applies to propaganda, which only works when people internalize it and identify its messages through their own efforts. For me, propaganda and democracy are much more closely related than propaganda and dictatorship. From the perspective of the post-war United States, where I grew up, we were constantly talking about Soviet propaganda: I saw this propaganda and was not successful. Propaganda can only be successful when people personalize its communications, as has happened with consumer vision of life. Propaganda has come into disrepute before the Nazis because she was also there truly effective; failed the people is to instil a sense of connection, which is based on mutual love and hatred to all others.

However, whether or not the Nazi propaganda techniques first developed just in the United States?

Most of the German machine was built in American laboratories. Even the German eugenics laws were based on the laws that are already in force in the United States. They are also the leading physicians of the American eugenics movement in 1938 received honorary doctorates from the University of Heidelberg.

In addition, there is the Commission for Public Information (Committee of Public Information, see note at end of text), the first fully integrated institution of propaganda in history. In fact, there was a change of view on society. If we look at society merely as a collection of people can not understand much; but if you look at it as a network of persuasion and pulses, it can be controlled if all these impulses coordinate within a single machine. The Commission has therefore included advertisers, publicists, illustrators, academics, journalists who promote war exploits, etc..

Or was, therefore, the Commission for Public Information first agency, which is actually advertised America?

There is a whole book, “How do we advertised America” (How We Advertised America, 1920 written by leader George Creel Commission, op.: A.). However, it was a much more sophisticated program beyond advertising. Advertising is is generally defined as something for which you pay money in exchange for space and time, and people understand it so well. The Commission has applied the principles of advertising so that it was any interaction between people perceived as a potential moment of advertising, taking a big role to play communication by word of mouth.

For example, teachers in primary schools are encouraged to make students write papers about the war and war bonds, with a view to particular immigrant pupils home to spread awareness among parents, which are assumed to be less susceptible to these questions. In the early period of thinking propaganda before World War II, it is the children deemed to be a key driver in changing sensibilities of their parents in relation to the Old World. Here arises the idea that the love of parents replace the love of a child. This is the beginning of the power of youth and youth cultures.

Does not the same as the consumer the idea that all immigrants connects to ameriškost through American products?

Also, girls liberate the traditional roles of being able to freely buy clothes and go to the cinema alone.

Films were key in this. In the United States, the cinema began primarily as entertainment for immigrants, movies were full of social issues. Even the first film studios were in Astoria in Queens. Streets of New York was used as a natural location for these films.

When the cinematographic production into mass move to Hollywood, the film becomes all the more fun for the middle class with much less social issues and much more costume dramas. Become a kind of dream world where necessities of life are no longer the main issue. What happens is the transition from filmmakers dealing with a company of filmmakers who deal with high society. This is starting to promote the film life of movie stars and their lifestyle.

So we have to do with the beginning of the concept of lifestyle (lifestyle)?

True, the film stars become a kind of bait for power (Decoys of power) itself does not have power, because it can quickly rise up and fall even faster, but can become illustrations and models of inspiration for people, accompanied by twenty explosion of magazines, dealing with movie stars.
My grandmother was born in the late 19th century in Riga and was therefore still young, when there were first film. She was from a socialist environment, she worked as a manual worker in a factory, but was completely in love with Hollywood. Can you tell me all the details from the lives of movie stars, the wedding who walks with whom, etc.. Like many of its contemporaries, it was through the movies learned how to become an American. This film model was then extended to the consumer market.

As product placement?

Product placement (advertising an incorporated in the film, ie., When players use certain trademarks, Op.: A.) Eventually became much more aggressive than it was at the beginning. By then, a movie star wore a certain dress, this dress was later to be found in shops in different price categories. Similarly, the film star vehicles of a particular type of car, which has thus become the desire of many. General Motors, the first automobile oligopoly producing cars for different price brackets, with all mimic each other.

Consumer culture is thus born in twenty years?

Yes, here is the start of ideas amerištva, defined as consumerism. It is necessary to point out that consumer sensibility twenty does not reach all layers, because the economy still needs poverty both in the factory and on the farm. Otherwise, the entire climb advertising coincides with the illusory problems of businessmen, saying that people who consume too little.

In fact, the creation of a consumer society a huge turning away from the Protestant logic of economy, which was in force in 19th century America. At the same time, this change very quickly lead to large economic collapse in 1929 …

Exactly! This is because they need to promote the consumption of mass people to lend money by issuing loans. Consumerism is based on building sand castles – who will build new castles, if not knocked over the old? It should be noted quote from the book economist Simon N. Patten The new basis of civilization (The New Basis of Civilization, 1907): “In the future standard of living is no longer the criteria for basic necessities of life, but by how quickly people will get bored things. ”

What kind of person therefore requires a consumer society?
What happens is a shift from the idea of citizenship to the idea of the consumer. Being a citizen is not technically subject to the amount of money you have. You can be unemployed but you can still you vote. When the idea of citizenship and political rights replaced the idea of consumerism, it becomes that person an advantage, not a right. It is something that depends on your disposable income or nowadays on the ability to obtain credit.

It seems that credit has become the key category of American consumerism …

Hold on. For example, if you want to rent an apartment and have a million dollars in cash, while poor credit (credit score is a calculation of the individual’s ability to acquire and loan repayment, while it is worth mentioning that the points above, if an individual has a loan and repaying it regularly, as However, if the loan fails, Op.: a.), you will be able to sell the apartment, but not submitted. Who still uses cash? The poor and criminals. Lately there has been much written about the fact that many potential partners before the union with each other to review their credit scores – no one wants to take someone who is not able to repay its debt. Also do you keep calling if you would like to improve their credit scores … All of this means that we have moved away from the concept of inalienable rights to situations where your value as a person measured by your ability to borrowing money.

If, therefore, consumerism formed in twenty years, what happens in the sixties, which generally apply to his start?

The sixties were a time when democracy is leaving town demographics. Then, in turn, increases the ability to analyze and interpret the human psyche and behavior in much more sophisticated ways than in the twenties, when the only difference between people deal with their income. From now starting to build the diversity of people depending on what they can buy. At the same time, of course, there is no doubt that the ability of the diversity of people turn into big American lifestyles course marketing strategy.

Notwithstanding this, it was in the sixties actually much criticism approach of advertising and consumer culture. I am then in Madison, Wisconsin, edited Connections, one of the first underground newspapers, which was half the contents of a parody of advertising. Among other things, we also had ads for napalm …

The sixties were not only the time of the creation of a more diverse consumer, but also a time of great challenges for certain basic social structure for the entire post-war military-industrial complex, the relationship between gender and neinkluzivno monochromatic image of America, who knew only one possible direction. The sixties are in fact boil in one of the most formally controlled periods in the history of the 20th century. If, for instance. Looking at the “red specter” (Red Scare) from the beginning of the Cold War: there really was not a Communist, communists are not even minding. This was mainly action against the people in the film industry, journalists, teachers, employees on radio and television. They went against people who might influence others who may be opinion leaders. They were not interested in people who are sitting at home, but one that could spread “dangerous ideas” through scripts, books, articles, lectures, etc..

So there have been no American ways, but only one American way, and also there was no American dreams, but only one American dream?

Exactly so. For many, America was still a place where they fled; it has always been a place for outsiders. However, America is a country that is not always friendly to outsiders, especially in its most conservative moments. I remember how I was at the time reaganizma lectured at many universities throughout the United States and around the world. So I often come in some small place where it was possible to immediately feel the power of the political moment, conservatism, the values of the students. Certain professors invited me in order to wake these students; but it was sometimes very difficult to do.

In America, there is still a tendency, which of course is not true that when we talk about America, only talking about one thing. And also that when we talk about the American way, just talking about one possible way. I myself come from an environment where the diversity of political ideas clearly more than we do. This can be good or bad, but certainly do not expect from anyone that thinks the same about vsem.vsakogar expected to think the same about everything.


Note: The Commission for Public Information was founded by President Woodrow Wilson to convince the American public of the necessity of entering into St. 1st. War and its purpose is also to promote the United States around the world. The latter was achieved with complete control over the entire mass culture. In it were, among others. participated Edward Bernays and Walter Lippmann. Bernays, Freud’s nephew, uncle findings of psychoanalysis applied to the development of relations with the public, advertising and marketing; among other things, in 1928 wrote the book Propaganda. Lippmann, one of the leading American intellectuals of the 20th century, among other things invented the concept of “stereotype” and “Cold War”. The Commission has existed only 28 months between 1917 and 1919th

The interview was published in the 15th issue of razpotij (Spring 2014).