Forever Under Construction

The Century of The Self

Posted in Economics, Society by homeyra on May 31, 2009

I had bookmarked this 2002 BBC documentary long time ago, then forgot all about it.

After a discussion on democracy which occurred after an earlier post, I was listening to a podcast where this movie was mentioned again. Finally I watched an hour of The Century of The Self and I am heading to see the rest of it. It is so thought provoking that I had to share and recommend it right away. Here are Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and part 4. You can read about all episodes through links on this BBC page.

A key figure of this first video is Edward BernaysFreud‘s nephew – and the profession he invented in the 1920s: Public Relations.

225px-Edward_BernaysBernays was the first person to take Freud‘s ideas to manipulate the masses. He showed American corporations how they could make people want things they didn’t need by systematically linking mass-produced goods to their unconscious desires. He was one of the main architects of the modern techniques of mass-consumer persuasion, using every trick in the book, from celebrity endorsement and outrageous PR stunts, to eroticising the motorcar.

Bernays was an adviser to the tobacco industry, big business, General Motors, U.S. Presidents and the CIA. He was also an inspiration to Goebbels, Nazi Germany’s propaganda minister.

A few excerpts from Part 1:

“Following that (Roosevelt‘s) election, business people start to get together and start to carry on discussions, primarily in private, and they start to talk to each other about the need to sort of carry on ideological warfare against the New Deal, and to reassert the connectedness between the idea of democracy on the one hand and privately owned business on the other. And so under the umbrella of an organization which still exists, which is called “National Association of Manufacturers” and whose membership include all of the major corporations of the United-States, a campaign is launched explicitly designed to create emotional attachments between the public and big business. It’s Bernays’ techniques used in a grand scale, I mean totally.[…]

The campaign set up to show dramatically that it was business, not politicians who had created modern America.”


“He (Bernays) was about to help create a vision of the utopia that free market capitalism would build America if it was unleashed. In 1939 New York hosted the World’s Fair. Edward Bernays was a central adviser, he insisted that the theme be the link between democracy and American business. […]
The World’s Fair was an extraordinary success and captured America’s imagination. The vision it portrayed was of a new form of democracy in which business responded to people’s innermost desires in a way politicians could never do. But it was not a form of democracy that depended on treating people as active citizens as Roosevelt did, but as passive consumers because this, Bernays believed, is the key to control in a mass democracy. […]

But this struggle between the two views of human being as if there were rational or irrational was about to be dramatically affected by events in Europe. […]”

The director, Adam Curtis is also the author of  The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear – 2004 and The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom – 2007.

Adam Curtis blogs here.


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