The Century Of The Self is a fascinating BBC documentary available on YouTube that gives a history of public relations (basically Nazi propaganda techniques with a more friendly name) and its far-reaching implications in our society and the world. The documentary features Edward Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud, who pioneered this dubious practice.
Bernays took the psychological discoveries of his uncle, mainly those of how humans have a sense of need or emptiness or a need for an unknown fulfillment, and have them correlate the idea that those can be fulfilled with consumer goods. The concept was so successful it went on to be used by politicians, corporations, the military, and pretty much anyone in power. The concept of planned obsolescence is tied to this, as manufacturers needed a way to get people to buy more stuff, and replace the stuff they had. The magic wand was supplied by Bernays, whose effective techniques make consumers feel like they are lacking if they do not have the latest and greatest. Sound familiar?
It’s easy to say that this technique is important now more than ever, but the documentary shows that these techniques were just as dangerous when they were first introduced as they are now. People were turned from finding self-worth within, and handing over that power externally to consumer goods and the conspicuous display of them. The documentary is powerful because once you’re aware of this manipulation, you can see the effects all around you. It’s fascinating to see how this affected fashion, where people were encouraged to express their individuality — through consumer goods of course. Discovering that the first World’s Fair was in fact a propaganda campaign by Bernays on behalf of the manufacturers of America fighting back to the New Deal was an eye-opener. Designed to make consumers think that progress was due to capitalist corporations as opposed to government. Highly effective.
If you’re interested in the advertising industry, public relations, or psychology, you’ll enjoy this very much. It’s long — the video contains all four 1-hour episodes on one video. Well worth it.