S7 History - The Century of the Self by Adam
14 May 2023
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.
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.
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.
It was the start of the all-consuming self
which has come to dominate today's world.
Engineering of Consent
The programme explores
how those in power in post-war America used Freud's ideas about
the unconscious mind to try and control the masses.
planners came to believe Freud's underlying premise - that deep
within all human beings were dangerous and irrational desires
and fears. They were convinced that it was the unleashing of
these instincts that had led to the barbarism of Nazi Germany.
To stop it ever happening again they set out to find ways to
control this hidden enemy within the human mind.
daughter, Anna, and his nephew, Edward Bernays, provided the
centrepiece philosophy. The US government, big business, and the
CIA used their ideas to develop techniques to manage and control
the minds of the American people. But this was not a cynical
exercise in manipulation. Those in power believed that the only
way to make democracy work and create a stable society was to
repress the savage barbarism that lurked just under the surface
of normal American life.
Three: There is a
Policeman Inside All Our Heads: He Must Be Destroyed
In the 1960s, a
radical group of psychotherapists challenged the influence of
Freudian ideas in America. They were inspired by the ideas of
Wilhelm Reich, a pupil of Freud's, who had turned against him
and was hated by the Freud family. He believed that the inner
self did not need to be repressed and controlled. It should be
encouraged to express itself. Out of this came a political
movement that sought to create new beings free of the
psychological conformity that had been implanted in people's
minds by business and politics.
This programme shows
how this rapidly developed in America through self-help
movements like Werber Erhard's Erhard Seminar Training - into
the irresistible rise of the expressive self: the Me Generation.
But the American
corporations soon realised that this new self was not a threat
but their greatest opportunity. It was in their interest to
encourage people to feel they were unique individuals and then
sell them ways to express that individuality. To do this they
turned to techniques developed by Freudian psychoanalysts to
read the inner desires of the new self.
Four: Eight People
Sipping Wine in Kettering
This episode explains
how politicians on the left, in both Britain and America, turned
to the techniques developed by business to read and fulfil the
inner desires of the self.
Both New Labour, under
Tony Blair, and the Democrats, led by Bill Clinton, used the
focus group, which had been invented by psychoanalysts, in order
to regain power. They set out to mould their policies to
people's inner desires and feelings, just as capitalism had
learnt to do with products.
Out of this grew a new
culture of public relations and marketing in politics, business
and journalism. One of its stars in Britain was Matthew Freud
who followed in the footsteps of his relation, Edward Bernays,
the inventor of public relations in the 1920s.
believed they were creating a new and better form of democracy,
one that truly responded to the inner feelings of individual.
But what they didn't realise was that the aim of those who had
originally created these techniques had not been to liberate the
people but to develop a new way of controlling them.
BBC Four site - the source of the text on this page