Thinking and practise, Century of the Self.

Yesterday at university I watched the film Century of the self which is s an award-winning British television documentary series by Adam Curtis, released in 2002. It was all about Sigmund Freud‘s and Edward Bernays ideas and theories on society, consumerism and the way people think. In total there is 4 documentaries, this week I watched the first one entitled Happiness Machines (17 March 2002).

“This series is about how those in power have used Freud’s theories to try and control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy.” —Adam Curtis’ introduction to the first episode.

In the video the way Freud (founder of psychoanalysis) changed the perception of the human mind is explored. Propaganda was one of the things Freud’s ideas utilised. The government used his ideas to control people. It amazed me how one man could have so much influence on society. With his theroiries he controlled the way people thought, this was used cleverly in the consumer industry. As society had just been through a war (1914), people didn’t have much money therefore sales were down. Through controlling the mind of society Freud and Bernays through ideas manipulated the masses and created a emotional attachment to products. They shaped the mentality of consumers and made them think they needed the products on the market rather than just want them! Sales soon started to boom. I personally see this as remarkable! How two men could have so much impact on the consumer market. It just shows how important doing your research is!


Another stepping stone in history Edward Bernays created with his ideas and theories on public relations was when he made it socially acceptable for woman to smoke. Many years ago there was a taboo on women and cigarettes. However this soon changed when Bernays asked a group of suffragettes to hide cigarettes up there skirt and light them up during a protest. This hit all the newspapers and ciggerette sales arose. This act became known as torches of freedom. He created the idea that the cigarette was a symbol of a mans penis and by woman smoking them they would have there own penis. As men controlled society at the time this gave woman a feeling of power. By adding emotion to the product, Bernays soon changed the way woman thought about cigarettes. The video talked all about this, it was so fascinating to watch and learn about consumer history. As a graphic designer it is important for myself to know about the way my audience think to make my work appeal to them. Therefore I think it would be beneficial to me to read more about Freud and Bernays work. Im looking forward to watching the next documentary!


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