The subtle assumption behind a date is that he and she know each other a little, but not too much. There has to be enough knowledge of the other to provide a basis for fantasy, yet not so much knowledge as to crowd out fantasy altogether. Somewhere in between there is a delicious just-rightness in which each feeds the fantasies of the other, bringing the date alive with the possibilities of intimacy, of romance, of sex and of love (not necessarily in that order).
Theoretically, at least, there is always the possibility that the two fantasies will somehow coalesce and become one, and then that the shared fantasy will actually happen — that together their dreams will come true.
That part was the up-side. The down-side is that either he or she might not be what they seem. Instead of innocent fantasy, instead of he and she being as equals in their dreams, one of them might have an ulterior motive.
Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward L. Bernays*, was a leader in the field of ulterior motives throughout much of the early 20th Century. He promoted the systematic use of propaganda to promote social change for commercial, political or military reasons.
In his 1928 book, Propaganda, he explains the widespread influence of propaganda in American society, and also its methods. Propaganda, he observes, balances the democratic power of the masses by replacing the old ruling class with a new group of rulers (p. 19):
The minority has discovered a powerful help in influencing majorities. It has been found possible so to mold the mind of the masses that they will throw their newly gained strength in the desired direction.
He saw a particular affinity between propaganda and social causes (p. 139):
…in a broader sense the very activities of social service are propaganda activities. A campaign for the preservation of the teeth seeks to alter people’s habits in the direction of more frequent brushing of teeth. A campaign for better parks seeks to alter people’s opinion in regard to the desirability of taxing themselves for the purchase of park facilities. A campaign against tuberculosis is an attempt to convince everybody that tuberculosis can be cured, that persons with certain symptoms should immediately go to the doctor, and the like.
The propaganda methods that he pioneered were based on the then recent understanding of unconscious motivation for which his uncle had become famous. A salesman wanting to persuade people to buy did not any longer have to rely on a direct appeal to the conscious rational mind. He could instead appeal indirectly, and much more powerfully, to the unconscious mind (p. 54):
The new salesmanship has found it possible…to set up psychological and emotional currents which will work for him. Instead of assaulting sales resistance by direct attack, he is interested in removing sales resistance. He creates circumstances which will swing emotional currents so as to make for purchaser demand.
Continuing with a practical example:
If, for instance, I want to sell pianos, it is not sufficient to blanket the country with a direct appeal, such as:
“YOU buy a Mozart piano now. It is cheap. The best artists use it. It will last for years.”
In using a direct approach like that, the salesman is confronting social custom directly with rational arguments. A better approach is to create an ambience in which buying a piano seems the natural thing to do (p. 55):
The modern propagandist therefore sets to work to create circumstances which will modify that custom. He appeals perhaps to the home instinct which is fundamental. He will endeavor to develop public acceptance of the idea of a music room in the home…
The music room will be accepted because it has been made the thing. And the man or woman who has a music room, or has arranged a corner of the parlor as a musical corner, will naturally think of buying a piano. It will come to him as his own idea.
In the process of creating this ambience there is no mention of buying a piano at all. The commercial gain that is the ulterior motive for the propaganda campaign remains hidden.
In a modern example of the genre, Erik uses several online dating agencies to arrange dates with many women. But Erik’s dreams are not of romance, or even of sex. Erik has a different motive.
To understand his true motive, you have to pick his story apart. His direct message is a trivial one, with a twist or two to hold your attention. Meanwhile, the propaganda value of what he is doing lies in the ambience he creates.
On the surface, Erik’s video is about an experiment to illustrate stigma — people’s assumptions about mental illness. The trick he plays on his unsuspecting dates is that he makes sure they include the information that he is mentally ill in their fantasies about him (2:24):
Something I forgot to tell you is that I have these mental health problems, and I want you to know this.
He doesn’t specify what his mental health problems (plural) are. He leaves that to his victim’s imaginations. What kind of mental health problems are so important that he would feel compelled to warn people about them before meeting? Imagine!
What happens next is not worth re-telling. It is exactly what you would expect. Oh, and he plays the same trick on some people looking for a flat-share. Yawn.
As a piece of propaganda, the message of this video lies in the ambience it creates — in the setting of the story, not in the story itself. The scene is set by the voice-over right at the start (0:24):
…you might not think it to look at him, but Erik also has a mental health problem. Eight years ago he was diagnosed with severe depression…
For several years now, Erik has received regular treatment to help him manage his depression and lead a full life.
That’s the propaganda message. Depression has no apparent symptoms. Depression can last eight years. The trick Erik plays on his unsuspecting viewers is that while they are engaged or outraged by the story, they do not question the life he leads. By setting this tall tale in a context where depression has no apparent symptoms and lasts for eight years, the video makes you accept those things while your attention is drawn to the story line.
In fact, those things are false.
Depression has disabling symptoms. Erik, though, is an engaging and forward-looking character who is clearly not disabled by depression at all. That is not to say that he might not have been depressed at one time, but he isn’t now. He is now merely labelled, not disabled.
Depression almost never lasts for years, unless it is deliberately maintained. How to treat it is well known. Recovery usually takes a matter of weeks or months, for those sufferers who can get treatment.
So this video is like a 1920’s music room. Your attention is drawn to the songs being sung, but the propaganda exists to make you accept that music rooms are the thing — the message is in the setting, not the storyline.
In the video your attention is drawn to issues around lies and stigma, but the propaganda exists to make you accept that symptom-free long-term depression is the thing — the message is in the setting, not the storyline.
The video is part of a propaganda campaign to promote the idea that people who have a mental illness can never recover from it, and that they therefore need long-term support. With that long-term support, so the idea goes, they can lead apparently normal lives, but the label ‘mentally ill’ is stamped on them forever.
The campaign is run mainly on behalf of organizations that sell services to government. That is, central government and local government pay them a lot of money to do what they do. In order to make sure they continue to get paid, they conduct propaganda campaigns like this one.
What are these services that they sell to government? Long-term support services, obviously. To repeat Bernays’ line:
He creates circumstances which will swing emotional currents so as to make for purchaser demand.
* Hat-tip to Frank at Lunatic Fringe: The Fashioning Of A Sickness Market