Escaping the Cult of Consumerism

Shopping for Freedom: Escaping the Cult of Consumerism

United Natures Media (2019)

Film Review

Shopping for Freedom is best described as an illustrated podcast about the legacy of Edward Bernays, the father of the public relations industry. It’s intended to remind us of the subtle way public relations and propaganda influence our culture to the point we only imagine we have free choice in the items we purchase.

The film has no background narrative. The sound track is a casual conversation between the hosts of Ashes Ashes, a podcast about the “end of the world.” Meanwhile we are bombarded with priceless archival footage of early TV ads and the propaganda news reels shown in schools and movie theaters in the fifties and sixties.

The footage begins with the propaganda films Bernays produced in the early fifties to win popular support for the CIA-backed coup to overthrow Guatemala’s elected government – at the behest of United Fruit Company (to protect its monopoly control of the banana industry)

The film goes on to describe Bernays’ work under Woodrow Wilson promoting US entry into World War I, and the new science of psychological persuasion as described in the former’s 1928 book Propaganda.

The hosts go on to give illustrated examples of Bernays’ successful campaigns – to increase smoking among women and consumption of nutritionless breakfast cereals and to shame working class women who got married without diamond engagement rings or wore the same dress more than once a week.*

Intriguingly the filmmakers also insert several one second “subliminal” messages inserted into the video, which the hosts never comment on. I saw “You are enough” flashed twice, three one-second Coke ads, and “eco-capitalism” flashed once.

The film concludes by recommending viewers question all their choices. Most people claim not to be influenced by advertising. In most cases, however, many of us are unaware of habits (such as buying diamond engagement rings) the PR industry has elevated into cultural norms. In all their decisions, people need to ask themselves, “Is someone trying to sell me something?”

*Bernays was also hired by ALCOA in the mid-forties to run a campaign to dispose of toxic fluoride waste by persuading municipalities to add it to their public water systems. See Edward Bernays: Father of Water Fluoridation



20 thoughts on “Escaping the Cult of Consumerism

  1. Why am I getting so much information about Edward Bernays all of a sudden? I’ve spent the last four nights watching “The Century of the Self,” noted above, and now this podcast on “Shopping for Freedom.”

    “The Century of the Self” was most enlightening in explaining how psychoanalysts used Freud’s theories to sell products. It helped me understand better why psychiatry is regarded with such suspicion today.

    Strangely, my motive for going into psychiatry was to help set people free, possibly because I held more with Carl Jung than with Freud. I have since seen I was swimming against the current, because the profession itself is going in the opposite direction. True freedom requires assuming responsibility for your own choices.

    Unfortunately, the whole “health care industry” is currently predicated on socially engineering people along specific channels, just as advertisers and politicians have done for so long.

    I am glad documentaries and podcasts like this are coming out, however, because this kind of information will help set people free, to start questioning assumptions and beliefs, and to learn to trust their own, individual judgment.


    • Difficult, isn’t it to get out of Matrix programming. Do you see how all “organizations” however well-meant their beginnings, inexorably turn to serving the Matrix? Pick any of them, in any time of history, anywhere in the world and you will see the same pattern repeat, as nauseam. This is why I insist that nothing can outsmart the System and its programming except self empowerment. The problem with that is, it cannot be taught. It’s an inner awakening to one’s own independent power achieved through detachment and the Matrix conditioning has made very sure that if at all possible no one, ever, will understand what detachment entails, what it really means. So the system remains quite safe as long as Earthians are around to safeguard it with their slavish obedience and regurgitated belief systems.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I haven’t seen The Matrix and only know its premise in a vague way, but I can say I’ve always felt like an alien on this planet, because people seem to have such contradictory beliefs. I’m coming to terms with the idea that I am by nature a loner, a “yin” type of person, with an eclectic philosophy picked up from experience and obsessive reading of whatever finds its way into my hands. I’ve never been too much of a TV watcher, which possibly insulates me from some of the propaganda. Mostly, I learn from nature itself and from attending to day-to-day routine.

        Your references to self-empowerment resemble my ideas about inner guidance and listening to “that still, small voice within,” even though it prods me into bucking perceived authority or convention in multitudinous ways. My life has been a process of peeling back the layers of distortion between my direct perception of reality and “reality” itself. Of course, there are many facets of “reality,” so this can get confusing, too.

        Self-empowerment becomes necessary when everything and everyone betrays your trust, or falls short of expectations or promises. While this may sound cynical, I realize that reliance on other peoples’ (or institutions’) opinions or beliefs burdens both with unrealistic expectations, and dis-empowers everyone affected.


        • Your comment has just revealed to me a kindred spirit! Some ideas I live by today: believe all things, believe in nothing. Nothing is impossible. Trust no one. Everything is real, it’s how you handle the revelation that matters. When in doubt about a situation, choose compassion. There are many others but these are the key guiding principles – for me.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Sha’Tara,
            I recognized you as a kindred spirit long ago, Even when we don’t agree, you are willing to consider and reflect on my ideas. To be willing and able to hear with the intent of understanding, rather than arguing (or denouncing, or otherwise blocking further exploration) is a rare talent.

            Liked by 2 people

    • I love Adam Curtis’s Century of Self, Katherine. I wish he would make more documentaries. I personally prefer Wilhelm Reich to Freud or Jung. Reich was really the true father of psychoanalysis. We read his book Character Analysis in our training program, which was very helpful in understanding the role of specific defenses in blocking affect and how a therapist can empathically unpack them. From everything I’ve ever read, Freud seems to have been a really bad therapist. He basically stood over people like a big father figure and ordered them to get well.

      I also really like Reich’s Mass Psychology of Fascism.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: Escaping the Cult of Consumerism | The Most Revolutionary Act | AGR Daily News

  3. Oh my ……………… Tubularsock FEELS like going out and buying something! Now, just where did I get that feeling? Tubularsock wants one of those fold up TV’s that becomes a coffee table….OH YES!


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