The story of the relationship between Sigmund Freud and his American nephew, Edward Bernays. Bernays invented the public relations profession in the 1920s and was the first person to take Freud’s ideas and use them 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.
Bernays 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.
His most notorious coup was breaking the taboo on women smoking by persuading them that cigarettes were a symbol of independence and freedom. But Bernays was convinced that this was more than just a way of selling consumer goods. It was a new political idea of how to control the masses. By satisfying the inner irrational desires that his uncle had identified, people could be made happy and thus docile.
It was the start of the all-consuming self which has come to dominate today’s world.
Adam Curtis’ acclaimed series examines the rise of the all-consuming self against the backdrop of the Freud dynasty.
To many in both politics and business, the triumph of the self is the ultimate expression of democracy, where power has finally moved to the people. Certainly the people may feel they are in charge, but are they really? The Century of the Self tells the untold and sometimes controversial story of the growth of the mass-consumer society in Britain and the United States. How was the all-consuming self created, by whom, and in whose interests?
The Freud dynasty is at the heart of this compelling social history. Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis; Edward Bernays, who invented public relations; Anna Freud, Sigmund’s devoted daughter; and present-day PR guru and Sigmund’s great grandson, Matthew Freud.
Sigmund Freud’s work into the bubbling and murky world of the subconscious changed the world. By introducing a technique to probe the unconscious mind, Freud provided useful tools for understanding the secret desires of the masses. Unwittingly, his work served as the precursor to a world full of political spin doctors, marketing moguls, and society’s belief that the pursuit of satisfaction and happiness is man’s ultimate goal.
Creator, Adam Curtis, has graciously made this BBC series available for download in various formats at Internet Archive here:
The Century Of The Self 1 of 4 | One: Happiness Machines
The Century Of The Self 2 of 4 | Two: The Engineering Of Consent
The Century Of The Self 3 of 4 | Three: There Is Policeman Inside All Our Heads
The Century Of The Self 4 of 4 | Four: Eight People Sipping Wine In Kettering