The Situationist

The Century of Dipositionism – Part I

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 13, 2010

From Wikipedia:

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, changed the perception of the human mind and its workings. His influence on the twentieth century is generally considered profound. The series describes the ways public relations and politicians have utilized Freud’s theories during the last 100 years for the “engineering of consent.”

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Freud himself and his nephew Edward Bernays, who was the first to use psychological techniques in public relations, are discussed. Freud’s daughter Anna Freud, a pioneer of child psychology, is mentioned in the second part, as is one of the main opponents of Freud’s theories, Wilhelm Reich, in the third part.

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Along these general themes, The Century of the Self asks deeper questions about the roots and methods of modern consumerism, representative democracy and its implications. It also questions the modern way we see ourselves, the attitude to fashion and superficiality.

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The business and, increasingly, the political world uses psychological techniques to read and fulfill our desires, to make their products or speeches as pleasing as possible to us. Curtis raises the question of the intentions and roots of this fact. Where once the political process was about engaging people’s rational, conscious minds, as well as facilitating their needs as a society, the documentary shows how by employing the tactics of psychoanalysis, politicians appeal to irrational, primitive impulses that have little apparent bearing on issues outside of the narrow self-interest of a consumer population. He cites Paul Mazer, a Wall Street banker working for Lehman Brothers in the 1930s: “We must shift America from a needs- to a desires-culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things, even before the old have been entirely consumed. […] Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.”

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The videos from Episode One, “Happiness Machines,” are below.  Here is the BBC‘s overview:

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 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.
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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.

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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.

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It was the start of the all-consuming self which has come to dominate today’s world.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Hey Dove! Talk to YOUR parent!,” “Deep Capture – Part IX,” “McDonalds tastes better than McDonalds, if it’s packaged right,” “Industry-Funded Research,” “Captured Science.”

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5 Responses to “The Century of Dipositionism – Part I”

  1. […] The Century of Dipositionism – Part I […]

  2. http://www.archive.org/details/AdamCurtis_TheCenturyOfTheSelf

  3. […] I of this series is here.  Part II is […]

  4. […] week Dr. Matthew Winslow will moderate discussion of a You Tube video series featuring a BBC documentary on Sigmund Freud’s American nephew, Edward Bernays, who […]

  5. […] Part VII,” “Deep Capture – Part IX,” “The Century of Dispositionism – Part I, Part II, and […]

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