The Century of the Self (TV Mini-Series 2002– ) Poster

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Crucial viewing for anyone ever exposed to advertising
ptagg25 January 2006
It cannot have been easy to make a documentary series about the history of advertising and consumer society, about ethics (and their absence), about notions of the self and its manipulation in the interests of power and profit. In "Century of the Self" Adam Curtis lays bare the mechanisms of consumerist brainwashing. He does so in an entertaining and engaging manner, using archival footage, amateur videos and interviews of great historical and ideological value. His voice-over is sometimes humorous but the script never loses touch with the seriousness of the topic. This series is so important and watchable that I expose my students to a few of its most crucial extracts. At the best of times, the more thoughtful students seem anyhow to wonder what weird kind of world they have been dumped into. After seeing this film most of them start asking essential questions about ethics, propaganda, manipulation, individual liberty, etc. Essential viewing, I think, for anyone endowed with a brain, a critical spirit and a modicum of self-respect.
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Freud's Follies
hlyen25 August 2005
Caught this fantastic documentary at Cinema Village in NY. In short, it traces the tremendous influence of Freudian ideas and the family Freud - Siggie, Anna, and nephew Edward Bernays - on the development contemporary capitalist societies.

Using chilling footage and lucid voice over, it traces the methods by which Freud's discoveries about the sub/unconscious mind were systematically implemented by corporate America in the 1920's and later the U.S. government to increase their wealth/power while at the same time giving people the impression of greater personal freedom. It was Bernays who founded the 1st public relations firm and coined the term "engineering consent".

Its thesis spans everything from the invention of public relations, modern advertising techniques, Nazi Germany, CIA brainwashing, the self-help movement, consumer culture and current U.S./British electoral politics. All of which have direct antecedents in the ideas of Freud.

Apparently, due to lack of copyright clearances, it is not available on DVD or tape. But hopefully it will make the art house circuit. His follow-up, The Power of Nightmares, is supposedly even better. It deals with 9-11.

More comprehensive and persuasive than "The Corporation" and more objective and grounded that Michael Moore's work, "Century of the Self" is essential viewing.

If you think corporate and government collusion in controlling the masses is tin hat stuff, well, start measuring your head...
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Freud's Family Creates the Consumer Culture
Sandsquish20 October 2008
The Century of the Self contrasts whimsical film footage with an ominous narrative.‭ ‬It describes the way our ideas about human nature have changed and how the development of psychology has allowed social institutions to use these ideas to exert more and more control over people.‭ ‬This documentary focuses its attention on Sigmund Freud's family,‭ ‬especially his daughter and nephew,‭ ‬who exerted a surprising amount of influence on the way corporations and governments throughout the‭ ‬20th century have thought about,‭ ‬and dealt with,‭ ‬people.

At the end of the‭ ‬19th century,‭ ‬Freud had a remarkable insight into human behavior.‭ ‬He believed that people were,‭ ‬often,‭ ‬unaware of what motivated them and didn't really know how they felt about things.‭ ‬He called this part of the mind,‭ ‬the part that people couldn't recognize,‭ ‬the subconscious.‭ ‬Being the cynic he was,‭ ‬Freud decided that the unconscious was filled with irrational,‭ ‬destructive,‭ ‬emotions which posed a danger to society.‭ ‬This was,‭ ‬unsurprisingly,‭ ‬a very unpopular point of view when Freud first wrote about it.‭ ‬At the time,‭ ‬people knew that they were,‭ ‬actually,‭ ‬divinely rational beings who were in complete control of themselves.

But Edward Bernays,‭ ‬Freud's American nephew,‭ ‬was a little more receptive to his uncle's ideas,‭ ‬not because he was concerned with whether or not people were naturally destructive,‭ ‬but because Freud's ideas about people having strong emotions might help him convince people to buy things they didn't really need,‭ ‬and make a lot of money for him and his clients in the process.‭ ‬As long as his uncle wasn't completely wrong,‭ ‬then all Bernays had to do was associate emotional ideas with pointless products,‭ ‬and then consumers just wouldn't be able to help themselves.‭ ‬He was right,‭ ‬and his remarkable successes created a new industry,‭ ‬called public relations,‭ ‬which relied,‭ ‬almost entirely,‭ ‬on playing emotional games with people's heads.‭ ‬

Worse,‭ ‬the terrifying events, fueled by Freudian propaganda, that began to occur in Germany during the depression convinced politicians that Freud had been even more right than they suspected.‭ ‬People's emotions were clearly dangerous and had to be controlled.‭ ‬Government agencies began using Bernays‭' ‬PR techniques,‭ ‬and Himmler's propaganda methods,‭ ‬to convince people to suppress their emotions and conform to social norms.‭ ‬Anna Freud,‭ ‬Sigmund's daughter,‭ ‬and one of his most influential evangelists,‭ ‬even decided that she would see to it that her British nephew and niece were raised this way,‭ ‬as an example.

However,‭ ‬one of Freud's students,‭ ‬Wilhelm Reich,‭ ‬eventually decided that Freud had been a little paranoid.‭ ‬Emotions weren't bad,‭ ‬people weren't evil,‭ ‬and the solution wasn't control and repression,‭ ‬but expression.‭ ‬Freud's daughter didn't like the sound of this,‭ ‬especially since her nephew and niece had since grown up to be severely troubled adults,‭ ‬providing an unnervingly good proof of his thesis.‭ ‬This Reich guy had struck a nerve,‭ ‬and so she ostracized him from the psychology movement.‭ ‬But Reich's ideas still caught on.‭

And this didn't make either industry or government any happier than Anna.‭ ‬Neither of them knew what to do with the individuals that self-expression created.‭ ‬They had mass-produced products and policies that they sold through massive public-relations campaigns.‭ ‬Then,‭ ‬they noticed that self-expression gurus were organizing‭ "‬focus groups‭" ‬where people met to work out how they felt about things.‭ ‬All these institutions had to do was ask these focus groups the right questions,‭ ‬and they'd tell them how to sell people more products and policies than they had ever imagined possible.‭

It turned out that all business and government really had to do was categorize people according to their emotional development and social attitudes and then play each category off of one other.‭ ‬Corporations could sell slight variations of the same mass-produced products to people,‭ ‬as long as they associated one variation with one group of people,‭ ‬and then convince them that this variation allowed them to express their true nature.‭ ‬And politicians no longer had to worry about sweeping social changes,‭ ‬they could just play off one segment of voters against another and then sit back and watch all the consumers obsessively buy things, oblivious to social problems.‭

Documentarian Adam Curtis' bewildering collage of film clips, pop-music snippets, and interviews helps portray the slightly absurd and surreal cynicism and manipulation practiced by the 20th-century's supposedly enlightened business and political leaders.
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Thought Provoking, but Imperfect
alistair_deacon-129 April 2011
The Century of the Self is a thought provoking, four part documentary describing how Freudian and post-Freudian ideas about human nature were adopted by corporations and politicians to manipulate society and public values in the 20th Century. There is a particular focus on the influence of Edward Bernays, the inventor of public relations, on American culture, business, and politics. This is a well crafted, engagingly paced, and consistently interesting documentary, and has developed a bit of a cult following.

This documentary is a bit overly simplistic and tries to fit the messy reality of history into neat little boxes. It gives far too much credit to Freud and his followers, failing to acknowledge that Freud's ideas, even by the 1970s, had been largely discredited and dismissed by the psychological community. The idea of an individual was not new to the 20th Century (let alone Freud or his successors), nor was the idea that most human beings are irrational simpletons (or worse) who must be manipulated and led around by the nose through appeals to their basest emotions and desires, but The Century of the Self tells us that these were revolutionary new ideas and concepts. One didn't need to be a Freudian to come up with advertising that, for example, shows a pretty woman in a short skirt sucking on a tubular popsicle and saying, "Oooh what an exciting man you are!" to a man in a flashy new convertible, but the documentary implies that pretty much all of advertising and public relations until the 1960s was driven by Freudian theories about human nature and the unconscious mind.

An embarrassingly ironic note is struck throughout with the use of mood music prompts to indicate to viewers what values they should attribute to different organizations and ideas, such as by playing foreboding, negative music whenever corporations are mentioned by the narrator. This becomes quite absurd in the context of what is basically an extended criticism of attempts by advertisers and politicians in the 20th Century to influence public sentiment through manipulative emotional prompting rather than honest information and debate about ideas.

Those criticisms aside, The Century of the Self is a good watch and filled with interesting information and insights.
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how we became what we are
dragokin18 April 2014
The Century of the Self is one of the best documentaries i've ever seen. Using archive footage Adam Curtis told the story of how today's consumer society came into existence. Also it goes to show how we, the today's consumers, make our choices.

It all began by Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, who did consulting in corporate marketing. Using Freud's ideas Bernays created demand for products people didn't consciously need.

As the twentieth century progressed, these ideas grew beyond marketing and influenced contemporary politics. They remained between two poles, though. One claimed that people can't and shouldn't make their choices and needed guidance from those in the know. The other stated how we should be liberated by peeling layer after layer of consciousness until we find what we really want.

Of course, the truth was probably somewhere in between, but this hadn't prevented those in power from doing what they want. The joke is that eventually even the politicians started fulfilling the needs and wants of the voters instead steering them.

You might as well check Adam Curtis blog on BBC website.
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An incredible summary of 20th century business and propaganda
dewhurst-kyle16 August 2014
This movie is a description of the gradual shift of democracy and business to cater towards the flourishing sense of self expression and self gratification following the great war. Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud championed the idea that the mob, was a gathering of unconscious, irrational desires and if left to themselves would destroy themselves in chaos. He believed that you had to tell them what they wanted. Idiots he called the mob, and by combining different symbols ingrained within the subconscious desires of the individual (He linked woman's freedom rights, with the rights to smoke cigarettes, which were at that time, only socially acceptable for men). He combined these desired symbols with products to make society conform around these capitalist desires. He was the king of capitalist propaganda because of this genius to control the mob. The film then followed the rise of the hippy culture and the growing need for self expression. As Freud believed that deep in the unconscious were bad desires, waiting to come out and wreak havoc on the individual the hippy movement expressed the opposite belief that if you allowed self expression to come out, freedom would be attained and beauty would flourish. Marketers operating under Bernay's old paradigm had trouble marketing to this counter-culture and thus was born the focus group. THe focus group involved sitting a bunch of people down and allowing them to express their deepest desires about a product. Not based on logic but how it made them feel. In this way they shifted from manipulating about how you felt about a product to designing products based around the self expression of the people. But perhaps this wasn't the end of manipulating as they found that the individual wanted something to make them feel like an individual. In this spirit of self expression, everyone wanted to be unique, and capitalists seized this new self-expression. The underlying theme being that, when you want someone to choose something a certain way, you play to their emotions not their rational. Bernays still being right in this as politics learned this move in the 50's as well. They learned that they had to discover the individuals desires not their rational to cater towards. Individuals said they would like to pay tax for welfare but when it came to voting time, they acted out of their desires. In this way Bill Clinton would get footage of him doing the activities that swing voters would find themselves doing, as they must have found that people wanted a president who could relate to them. It wasn't the change in policy that had such an effect on votes, but a change in catering to the persons emotions.
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WATCH THIS TO BE A GENIUS i am not shouting
youngerthanbuck10 October 2009
this is the best documentary i have ever seen, considering i have seen quite a lot of it. don't miss out on watching something that will change your life.

I'll try not to spoil anything, but you must swear to watch this documentary. it'll change you to change the world!!!

I mean, it tells you why you buy stuff, it tells you what is really going on with the government, it even has topless girls (artistic) and lesbian nuns (nice). plus all of the knowledge of yourself, its a win win situation. seriously don't hesitate, watch it now!! now!!

Oh also, it explains a lot about life.
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isaacroccoco21 April 2018
Adam Curtis documents the rise of consumer culture, public relations, propaganda and advertising. The main focus is Edward Bernays, Sigmund Freud's nephew who used his uncle's behavioral theories in his advertising, public relations, and propaganda business. He was also hired by the US to soften public resistance to entering WWI.

In 1928 Bernays wrote a book called "Propaganda" and its first paragraph should be all you need to read to want to watch this documentary;

"The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country."

Got that? That was in 1928, His methods have since evolved into predictable science.
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Amazing start, kind of dragged on in the end, but a great documentary
siderite30 November 2017
Learn how a few people, using Sigmund Freud's ideas, manufactured the modern consumerist thinking of today. Honest BBC Worldwide documentary that shows how the likes of Eddie Bernays managed to popularize the idea that masses of people are led and can be controlled through their basic needs alone, the reason why all the crap around is crap. And it's not a conspiracy theory, not science fiction, but history.

The first episode alone makes it completely worth watching, but the other three are good, too. See how to different philosophies of psychology battle to gain control over how we treat human beings, both being right and wrong at the same time. Learn how big business and politicians are pulling just a few important strings and huge number of people just jump like marionettes. And all of it while convinced it is done for democracy and our individual self's sake.

Sometimes it gets a little repetitive and biased. I think it could have been a really good two hour and a half movie, with no episodes, but it's great as it is too and I really recommend watching it.
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An Analysis of the battle of good vs evil since the Adam and Eve
blkm1nyc1 September 2005
I am going to buy this movie on DVD as soon as I can get it.

It tells of the battle of good and evil not in abstract terms but in concrete facts.

It tells of one group of people who see human beings as basically weak and must be controlled.

Another group of people see human beings as basically good and that society must work to bring out the best in humanity.

Then there is the group (the DEVIL - male and female) - the greedy, power hungry, slime balls that coop the good nature of the human being for profit and power.
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Extremely interesting documentary, though dry at times.
vithiet30 December 2018
Extremely interesting even though it can be quite dry at times.
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Disjointed anti-business propaganda
Four hours of often interesting historical information on the parallel development of the business of psychology with the business of marketing. Other than that the four hours are consumed with disjointed and veiled attacks on business and consumers. The tone of the presentation is monotonously ominous.

For reasons never explained, businesses springing up to give people exactly what they want - and this is always suggested to be evil. The viewer is told on one hand that people have grown more and more selfish and big-bad business has been there to contribute to this ailment ... while on the other hand we are told that people really don't decide much of anything at all without being manipulated by these dark forces called capitalists.

So which is it, businesses catering to the base impulses of people or people feeling base impulses because they are wooly-headed sheep manipulated by business? We are told that unbridled emotionalism governs selfish people, but it is suggested that properly enlightened leaders are somehow not guided by emotionalism but by heartfelt and properly-caring rationalism. Just how the leaders manage to grow up and avoid being manipulated by business and capitalism and develop properly to become rational gurus we are never told... However it is clear that we the people somehow never reach this nirvana. Outdated-neo-Marxist tripe....
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