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The Century of the Self Essay

The Century of the Self is a British documentary series in four episodes diffused by BBC four in 2002 and art house cinemas in the US. This documentary was written, realized, produced and directed by Kevin Adam Curtis, an English filmmaker, born in 1955. His work is more of a journalistic work than a director work; indeed his works are based on sociology, philosophy and political history.

Adam Curtis won various awards like Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award at the San Francisco International Film Festival in 2005 or the Alan Clarke Award for Outstanding Contribution to Television at the British Academy Television Awards but The Century of the Self is best-known work. The Century of the Self is a documentary talking about the untold and sometimes controversial story of the development of mass consumer society in Britain and the United States. It shows the evolution of the Western individual, traditional rights to the individual consumer, how that created consumer-king, by whom and for whose interests?

This film examines how Freud’s theories of the unconscious shaped the development of PR and advertising; and why psychoanalysis may still appear today as a critical theory of consumerism and social conformity. The word « consumerism » can be defined in different ways: ? Refers to all doctrines, actions and organizations dedicated to the defense of the interests of consumers. The most common form of consumerism is the consumer association. His actions cover the areas of protection, information, education and the rights of consumers.

Refers to an economic ideology. This is a consumer of goods and services that mutate according to the lifestyle of our society. This is a subtle and insidious notion that we then speak of consumer society. Consumerism is, as such, slammed since the late twentieth century, either by the environmental movement or “anti- ads “. The first episode of the series is devoted to the relationship between Freud and his American nephew, Edward Bernay. Bernay invented the public relations profession in the 1920s and was the first person to use Freud’s ideas to anipulate the masses.

He showed American corporations how to make people want things they did not need by linking mass production of consumer goods to their inner desires. Bernay was one of the principal architects of persuasive techniques in mass consumption, using all the tricks of legerdemain (“every trick in the book “), from celebrity endorsement and public relations blows most outrageous, until the autoeroticism. His most famous coup was breaking the taboo of smoking for women by persuading them that smoking was a symbol of independence and freedom.

Bernay was convinced that it was more than just a way to sell more consumer goods. It was a new political idea to control the masses. Satisfying unaware that his uncle had identified irrational desires, people could be made happy and thus docile. To conclude I think the century of the self is the most profound documentary I’ve ever seen and it’s unique because of its ability to show how our society became the way it is today, what emerges is nothing less than a history of 20th-century social control. The Century of The Self explains not alone why the country is the way it is, but why you are the way you are.


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