BOOKS: Toxic sludge is good for you!

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1996:

Toxic sludge is good for you!
Lies, damn lies, and the public relations industry
by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton
Common Courage Press (Box 702, Monroe, ME 04951), 1995. 236 pages, $16.95.

Toxic Sludge Is Good For You maintains
that public relations groups, backed by the
money and influence of major business and
industry, have completely co-opted every
good and noble concept society has, and have
calculatingly twisted them for the sole purpose
of maintaining the status quo of Business As
Usual––meaning forest clear cuts, unregulated
use of environmental poisons, uncontrolled
“harvesting” of natural resources, and unrestricted
meddling in the politics of other countries,
all the while convincing John Q. Public
that this is responsible social policy.


The authors believe public relations campaigns
are pretty much responsible for nearly
all aspects of our lives. For instance, they cite
the the public relations campaigns that convinced
women to become enthusiastic smokers.
They maintain that the promotion of the
“peaceful atom” to power our homes was
mostly a cover, a way to guarantee the unhindered
stockpiling of nuclear weapons.
Nonprofit organizations purportedly set up to
represent the public interest, Stauber and
Rampton contend, are often just fronts for corporate
interests; they cite the so-called wise
use movement, which promotes exploitation
of natural resources by mobilizing “pro-industry
citizen activist groups,” which can “do
things the industry can’t,” such as “evoke
powerful archetypes such as the sanctity of the
family, the virtue of the close-knit community,
the natural wisdom of the rural dweller” to
attack environmentalists, “and take the battle
to them instead of forever responding to environmentalist
initiatives.”
Stauber and Rampton have little
more confidence in “progressive” industry:
“In place of traditional paid advertising,
[Anita] Roddick [owner of The Body Shop] mastered the public relations art of obtaining
‘free publicity’ for her company by linking
herself to a variety of progressive causes.
Reporters flocked to cover The Body Shop’s
use of ‘natural’ ingredients in its products,
opposition to animal testing and support for
organizations such as Amnesty International
and Greenpeace,” but investigative reporting
by Jon Entine and others eventually discovered
that “only a miniscule fraction of the Body
Shop’s ingredients” came from the advertised
sources; that “product formulas [were] filled
with non-renewable petrochemicals; used animal-tested
ingredients; [and] were contaminated
and contained formaldehyde.”
Further, Stauber and Rampton
report, not to the surprise of regular readers of
ANIMAL PEOPLE, that genuine grassroots
movements for change can expect to be infiltrated
by spies and agents provocateurs hired
by public relations groups to undermine and
discredit their activities. They cite as a case in
point the 1988 alleged bombing of the U.S.
Surgical parking lot––by a fringe activist who
bought the bomb with money provided by two
agents provocateurs working for U.S.
Surgical, one of whom drove her to the scene.
In short, the authors maintain, many
of us are brainwashed through clever public
relations ploys.
How did everything get to this sorry
state? According to Stauber and Rampton,
“the working-class majority has felt its economic
and political power diminish or disappear.
It has become necessary to work longer
and harder to pay bills and earn a living.
People have less free time for community
involvement and grassroots citizen action.
Many of the social institutions that should be
the bulwark of grassroots democracy are rapidly
disappearing.”
Which is as may be, though lack of a
sense of community, rather than lack of time
and interest, may be more the culprit: next
door neighbors seldom know each other well
enough to say good morning, much less to get
together in citizen action groups.
To correct the perceived problems, the
authors counsel vigilance: learn to recognize
the insidious lies of public relations, and resist
them at every opportunity. “Not in ANYBODY’s
back yard!” should be our motto,
they argue, as they point out that the price of
“progress” is often far too high, with payments
going on for way too long.
––P.J. Kemp

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