The Century of the Self (2002– )
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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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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....