Economic literacy has long been touted as a potential solution to national economic crisis and individual financial precarity. But what does it mean to be economically literate? In a field full of contestation, how do some perspectives get disqualified or excluded, and others held up as facts? Between 1976 and 1978, the nonprofit, quasi-governmental public service advertising organization The Advertising Council saturated the American media environment with messages about American citizens’ responsibility to become economically knowledgeable, and distributed over ten million copies of a glossy brochure designed to teach citizens the least they needed to know about the American economic system. Activist groups criticized the Ad Council campaign as propagandistic–but when these groups responded with their own information campaigns, they found themselves excluded from access to public funds and airwaves. Where was the line between objective information and propaganda? Who had the power to decide? How has this dynamic changed over time, as new media technologies have emerged and neoliberal policies and philosophies have moved from the margins to the center of American political culture? In this talk, Jack calls attention to corporate managers and executives as consequential social and ontological actors with distinctive vernacular theories of media and politics.
Caroline Jack is an Exchange Scholar in CMS/W and a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Communication at Cornell University. Her article “Fun and Facts about American Business: Economic Education and Business Propaganda in an Early Cold War Cartoon Series” was recently published in Enterprise and Society.