The Century of the Self, is a documentary series written, directed and co-produced by Adam Curtis. Released in 2002 and distributed by BBC Four. It’s divided in four episodes of aprox. 60 mins.
It explores how the theories developed by Sigmund Freud were used by his nephew, Edward Bernays, to manipulate the masses. By linking mass produced goods to the unconscious desires of the public, he discovered people could be made to want things they didn’t need. Bernays investigated and applied techniques of mass-consumer persuasion, using any means to achive his goals. He was the first one to associate a product to an ideal, by associating cigarettes to the idea of freedom and independence, the taboo of female smoking in public was brought down. He was also convinced that the theory would prove useful if applied to politics for control of the masses. By satisfying their irrational inner desires people could be made happy and docile.
The post-war america tried to control de masses using Freud's ideas, believing that deep within all human beings there are dangerous and irrational desires and fears. They believed the only way to make democracy work and create a stable society was to repress the savage barbarism beneath the surface of American life. Arguing that those instincts were part of the reason for the emergence of the nazi regime, they set out to stop it ever happening again, and looked for ways to control this hidden enemy within the human mind. Freud's daughter and nephew provided the philosophy, the US government, its business corporations, and the CIA used their ideas to manage and control the minds of the American people.
In the 1960's, a group of psychotherapists challenged the influence of Freud's ideas in America. The inner self didn't need to be repressed and controlled, it should be encouraged to express itself. A political movement developed that tried to suppress the psychological conformity implanted in people's minds by business and politics, which grew rapidly in America through self-help movements.
For the american corporations it was soon clear that this new self was not a threat, on the contrary, they set out to encourage people to feel they were unique individuals, and then sell them ways to express their individuality. Once again, the Freudian techniques were used to read the inner desires of the new self.
The left parties in America and Britain, with Clinton, and Blair, used the focus group, invented by the psychoanalists, to regain power. They tried to mould their policies to people's inner desires and feelings, just as capitalism did with products. A new culture of public relations and marketing appeared in politics, business and journalism. For the politicians, this was a new way to enhance democracy, but those who created those techniques had no intention of liberating the people, but to control them.