In CTS film club we watched part one of “The Century of the Self” series. In this episode, they covered Freuds theory of human nature and how humans have internal desires and forces. In the theory, Freud stated that if these inner feelings and desires were not controlled, it could lead to complete chaos. Within this part of the series, it is explained how this theory grew and how it was used to manipulate the masses.
Psychoanalysis; (noun) “a system of psychological theory and therapy which aims to treat mental disorders by investigating the interaction of ion ions and unconscious elements in have mind and bringing repressed fears and conflicts into the conscious mind by techniques such as dream interpretation and free association”
Sigmund Freud was an Australian neurologist and he as one created a huge study known as ‘psychoanalysis’. Soon after his study emerged, it was realised by Edward Bernays, Freuds nephew, that this analysis could be used by those in power to gain complete control. Bernays took his uncles theory and used it to manipulate the masses.
It wasn’t long until Bernays introduced this theory to large American cooperations to show how to make people want things that they didn’t actually need. This was the beginning of a long journey as to where masses of people would be controlled without their knowledge. The theory was even used in politics as it appeared that each party was able to offer what us as humans desired. This mindset would soon lead us to become an all-consuming culture.
Some people were exposed to the idea and saw the analysis of their inner feelings as an intrusive threat as it meant that they were not in complete control. A huge part of this was due to the fact that showing emotion was frowned upon during that era, as described in the clip, it was seen as “destruction of self empire”.
Freud found that humankind actually had internal emotions and desires which evoked our primitive forces, this was evident in things such as war and sexual desire. Big cooperations and even the government found this whole theory very interesting and it soon because clear how they could use it to their advantage. Bernays was on employed to inform of the USA’s aims in war through the press and public interactions. All of this was very heavily influenced by the strive for democracy.
“If you could use propaganda for war, then you can certainly use it for peace” – Edward Bernays
This method was all about manipulation. The whole concept was that by giving the public information, this would drive idea meaning that this would play with or evoke their internal irrational emotion. One of Bernays most famous experiments regarding this method was convincing women to smoke. At this time, females smoking was looked down upon and discouraged, it was considered a male dominated social activity. A tobacco company approached Bernays and explained how this stigma was potentially deterring half of their profits.
Bernays approach to this experiment was linked heavily to the concept of penis envy. The cigarette was described to be symbolic of the penis and make dominance. Naturally women would want to fight back to this act so Bernays encouraged them. It was planned that. Several women would light a cigarette at a busy public event all at the same time. The cigarettes new symbolic meaning would be referred to as “torches of freedom”. Bernays then told the press that there was rumors of this rebellion which, of course, ensured that the press would capture and publish the events meaning that it would be publicised even further. Soon after this women began to smoke and sales began to rise. This is a prime example of how products could be linked to emotion and desire which made people act irrationally.
This emotional connection to products and services within the industry made people consume through desire instead of necessity. This was to help over come a concern of mass production. Cooperations were worried that the mass production in and all-consuming culture would cause them over produce. They were scared that if someone already had something that worked, they would not replace it until they actually needed it. Bernays managed to convince People to buy through desire instead meaning that they were able to mass produce newer models and earn more profit.
Bernays was also extremely clever within his relations with the public. He was the main influence and creator of things such as product placement, gender specifying products, encouraging independence through manipulation and he even had the idea of using strong figures such as celebrities to help promote the products and services. All of this was known as consumptionism.
In 1924, the president called Bernays in Apple to help him gain good press coverage and therefore more votes from the public. Bernays had the idea to invite celebrities to the white house just so that it would get good coverage. This is a great example of how media was used to help politics.
Bernays and his glory soon began to come to an end. Throughout his power, many people listened to his advice and bought shares. His promise for good investment later became empty as the New York stockbroker began to collapse in 1929 and the economy went down bringing America into recession. This meant that people now only brought what they needed, not just what they wanted.
All of this evoked people’s irrational behaviour and the lack of control caused chaos in the form of angry masses. Angry mobs arose and decided to fight back against the authorities. At the time President Roosevelt wanted a new way to control the masses. He decided to ease the uproar with new industrial projects for the good if the nation and it’s people. America began allowing and trusting people, to know what they wanted and they could act upon it through means of polls and more public votes that would be shown in newspapers and in the media. Big businesses fought back against the government as Bernays’ work gained them custom. Prior to this Bernays portrayed public opinion as irrational so it was dismissed.
Meanwhile across Europe Bernays’ ideas were being used within European politics which went against democracy and settled purely for control and power in Nazi Germany. Hitler and his associates used Bernays and his studies to control a whole nation. This was to be the beginning of extortionate power and order which would result in mass genocide and a world war.
Overall I really enjoyed this episode of “The Century of the Self” as I was unaware of the story behind mass control. This method is still heavily used in advertising today which shows how much of an impact it has had on our society. I find the study of psychoanalysis extremely interesting and find it fascinating how people of certain power can have such a big influence on our lives and how we spend our money. Relations with the public is an extremely important part of communication, it contributes heavily to consumerism which is key for a stable and growing economy. I also find it amazing how Bernays’ theory changed society for the better in terms of creating a healthy economy, but throughout Europe, it had the potential to contribute toward mass genocide and world war.
Within the actual episode, I feel that the history was explained extremely well and the theory was demonstrated with real footage and interviews with important. Knowledgeable figures of the time. I feel that this gave viewers better understanding of the topic and allowed them to fully engage with the story. The jump cuts and dramatic sound kept the viewer interested and made us want to watch until the very end.