The Century of the Self is a four part BBC documentary that delves deeply into the work of Edward Bernays, commonly known as the father of public relations. Parts 3 and 4 explore the glorification of selfish consumption after World War II and how Reagan, Thatcher, Clinton and Blair perfected the “politics of self” to win and hold power.
The Century of the Self
BBC Documentary (2005)
Part 3 (There’s a Policeman Inside All Our Heads) and Part 4 (Eight People Sipping Wine in Kettering)
The Politics of Self
Following World War II, the CIA hired Sigmund Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays to advise them on controlling the “irrational aggression” of the masses. They were concerned that 49% of US soldiers evacuated from combat had to leave the battlefield for “emotional problems.” Today their condition would be diagnosed as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In the mid-forties, the psychoanalysts who interviewed them diagnosed that they had unresolved conflicts related to their unconscious aggressive and sexual drives.
Convinced these problems were widespread among the greater population, in 1946 the Truman administration championed the passage of the Mental Health Act. The Act funded new guidance centers throughout the US to assist Americans to control and suppress their dangerous unconscious drives.
Meanwhile the public relations industry hired psychoanalysts to set up focus groups to use advertising more effectively to improve consumer demand for corporate products. These early focus groups employed psychoanalytic techniques to help advertisers improve sales by secretly appealing to unconscious needs and insecurities.
Students Opt for Self-Liberation
The anti-Vietnam War movement of the late sixties quickly morphed into a broader anti-capitalist movement that attacked corporations for corrupting government and brainwashing the public. This movement was strongly influenced by Wilhelm Reich and Herbert Marcuse, who had split with Sigmund and Anna Freud over their belief that unconscious aggressive and sexual drives had to be suppressed and controlled. Reich and Marcuse taught that it was repression itself that distorted unconscious aggressive and sexual drives and made them dangerous.
In 1970 the National Guard massacre of unarmed Kent State students in 1970 split in this anti-capitalist movement. For the most part middle class student supporters shifted their focus to “liberating” themselves rather than organizing for political change.
In addition to widespread experimentation with illicit drugs, this shift led to a surge of self-improvement initiatives and therapies, collectively called the Human Potential Movement.
Values and Lifestyle Marketing
Employing computer technology and psychologists trained in self-improvement techniques, the public relations industry adapted to this new individualism and preoccupation with self-expression with “values and lifestyle marketing.”
One of their main strategies was to blur the line between advertising and journalism by incorporating three key messages into news reporting: selfishness is good, the needs of individuals are more important than the needs of society and that only business can properly satisfy individual needs.
The Politics of Self
This deliberate promotion of selfishness and individualism cut across social classes and was a key factor in persuading blue collar voters to vote for Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher – and programs that significantly hurt their own economic interests.
Ultimately it was Bill Clinton and Tony Blair who perfected this new “politics of self” by incorporating focus groups and lifestyle marketing into their political campaigns. Their advisers convinced them that voters had to be regarded as consumers and that the secret to getting elected was by catering (i.e. pandering) to voters’ unconscious primitive selfish desires. It was a hell of a way to run government and would cause the Democrats to get the boot in 2000 and the Labour Party in 2010.
I will never understand why the majority of the people are so easily fooled? I blame 85% of the population as much as the ‘rulers’ for the state of affairs we are in. If people want to be a bunch of unthinking cattle, we will never get out of this paradigm. I’ve found it impossible to awaken the stupid, thus I find much humor in all these zombie movies, as it’s a great analogy of society.
I think I understand it. It’s like being a rat in a cage where your owner controls everything that happens to you. The corporate state is the sole source of information for the majority of people over 30. If they’re poor and don’t have access to the Internet, it never occurs to them that they’re being lied to.
Don’t forget that neighborhood and community organizations have totally broken down in most parts of the country. This means that, for most people, radio, TV and newspapers are the only source of information and entertainment.
Fortunately a growing number of young people and women age 45-55 (middle aged women are really interesting) are switching off the TV and deliberately seeking out other sources of information.
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I guess it’s disappointing, but not hopeless. I’m never without hope. There’s plenty going right to not give up. 🙂
It guess it’s easier for me because I have a great deal of support for my political views here in New Zealand. For the 20 years I was an activist in the US, it was an incredibly lonely place.
At present the Green Party is fighting to get 20 MPs into Parliament in the election on Sept 20.
In case anyone is interested, here is our New Plymouth candidate. Fracking is a very big issue for us. They call New Plymouth the Texas of New Zealand: http://www.opunakecoastalnews.co.nz/Elect_Mag/July%2010%202014/index.html
JTremaine reblogged this on my blog … very interesting reading on what has taken place in our world. Concerning women 45-55 turning off the tv, for this 61-year-old woman there just isn’t enough on the tv anymore that is educational, entertaining, or worth my time. 🙂
IMHO middle aged (and senior) women rock. If there’s any hope for change in this world it will come from that quarter. They’re the lifeblood of the NZ Green Party and on Sept 21 (when we have our elections), we plan to turn this country on its head.
Well when that happens — and I have no doubt but that it will — take pictures and report on it!
I had never really been involved in politics at all until 2007 (the 2 times the shrub ran I voted for Benjamin Martin of the Patriot b/c one of his lines was “What is worse, 1 tyrant 3000 miles away, or 3000 tyrants 1 mile away?”) We peons in the US are being overrun by tyrants 1 mile away; not to mention the tyrants in our government. But all that changed in 2007 when Obama started looking like he was going to be the Democratic delegate, and I swallowed his lies hook, line and sinker! I voted for Jill Stein in 2012 and while I will never again vote either D or R, neither will I write-in some movie star who played a part I liked. 🙂
So I anxiously await the outcome of your upcoming elections!
Pwr 2 the GREEN PARTY peons!
Well then, maybe you can help us. The NZ Greens have a US branch, as so many Kiwis live overseas. Here’s the Facebook link: https://www.facebook.com/KiwiGreensUSA/timeline
Or you can email email@example.com
Readers in Australia can help us by contacting our Melbourne branch: https://my.greens.org.nz/melbourne-greens
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