Vance Oakley Packard (1914-1996) was a journalist, author, and social critic born in 1914 in Granville Summit, Pennsylvania. He earned his undergraduate degree in English in 1936 at Penn State, and earned his master's degree in journalism 1937 at Columbia University. As a journalist, Packard worked for the Center Daily Times, the Boston Daily Record, the American Magazine, and Collier's.
In 1957, Packard launched his career as an author and public speaker with his publication of the bestseller on advertising, The Hidden Persuaders. Among other aspects of advertising, the book discussed so-called "motivational research" or "depth psychology" advertising, attempts by advertisers to influence consumers on a subconscious level. After the success of The Hidden Persuaders Packard went on to publish several other books, almost all of them dealing with sociological issues or social criticism.
Packard died at the age of 82 in the hospital at Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts.
Packard's books are still read today, and his first book, The Hidden Persuaders, is currently in print again for its 50 year anniversary. Though there is a certain datedness in some of Packard's writing (not surprising considering its age) some of it appears remarkably prescient.
His 1960 book The Waste Makers is particularly so. It is overall a critique of consumerism and planned obsolescence. In it, he discusses how products are designed cheaply in order to prompt consumers to buy replacements; how the lifetime of major products such as appliances and electronics was already declining, compared to the early 1950s; how people were going into debt in order to buy; and how excessive consumerism threatened the American character. He also suggested that we might one day mine landfills to recover scare resources; though first implemented even earlier than 1960, landfill mining has only recently actually been attempted and discussed on a large scale.
Some of Packard's other books, such as The Sexual Wilderness dealing with the upheaval in relationships due to the Sexual revolution, address issues that are still discussed and debated today.
In 1994, David Horowitz published a biography of Vance Packard entitled Vance Packard and American Social Criticism, suggesting Packard's continuing relevance.
Politics and Religion
Packard stated or implied several times throughout his writings that he was a practicing Christian. In The Hidden Persuaders and The Waste Makers he occasionally refers to sermons he heard at church, and how they relate to the issues at hand. In The Hidden Persuaders, he even names his pastor (Loring Chase) and his church (Congregation Church in New Canaan, Connecticut).
Packard's politics would appear slightly liberal. In The Waste Makers, he addresses two controversial issues, resource depletion and population control, in much more reasonable terms than some of his liberal contemporaries (e.g. Paul Ehrlich). He suggested that abortion was a viable means of population control, but he also cited Catholic Ireland's non-abortion solution to the population problem as a good idea: they simply married at a later age. While discussing resource depletion, Packard notes that while major sources of ore may be running out, there is a virtually infinite supply of metals such as copper in everyday rocks, which could conceivably be processed for ore recovery.
- The Hidden Persuaders (1957; overview and critique of advertising)
- The Status Seekers (1959; discussion of class and class division in America)
- The Waste Makers (1960; critique of consumerism and planned obsolescence)
- The Pyramid Climbers (1962; on the conformity among corporate executives, among other related topics)
- The Naked Society (1964; on modern threats to privacy)
- The Sexual Wilderness: The Contemporary Upheaval in Male-Female Relationships (1968; discusses the changes in relationships due to the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s)
- A Nation of Strangers (1972; on the damage to community caused by constant transfers of corporate executives)
- The People Shapers (1977; psychological testing, etc., and its effect on controlling people)
- Our Endangered Children (1983; how the current American society is damaging to children and their futures)
- The Ultra Rich: How Much is too Much? (1989)
- It is notable that this implied a very small number of teen pregnancies or pregnancies out of wedlock.