The Century of the Self

The Dude

After Adam Curtis’ flawed but essential BBC 4 documentary on the neo-cons and Islamic fundamentalists, The Power of Nightmares, I was excited to learn he’d taken a similar approach to tackle the relationships between psychoanalysis, advertising and politics in The Century of the Self. I missed it on TV, but just got round to it on Google Video. I heartily recommend it to everyone:

The final part didn’t send me reeling like the other three, but that’s like talking about a lesser Prince album from the eighties; it’s all fascinating stuff. The basic thread tracks the influence of psychoanalysis (Freudianism and, later, its rebellious spin-offs) on public relations, advertising, consumerism and, inevitably, politics. I knew many of the strands involved, but have never seen them woven together so succinctly.

Especially jaw-dropping for me: learning that Edward Bernays returned from propaganda work in World War I and, thinking that there could be peace propaganda as well as war propaganda, but that the word “propaganda” had too many negative connotations, coined… “Public Relations”; seeing how women were coaxed, first into smoking, then into using instant cake mixes, via the conscious application of psychosexual insights; and realizing for the umpteenth time that we’re being fucked every day of our lives…