The Century of the Self: Happiness Machines

The Century of the Self: Happiness Machines

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John Ahni Schertow
July 12, 2008
 

Happiness Machines is the first of four episodes from “The Century of the Self,” a 2002 Documentary that examines “the rise of the all-consuming self against the backdrop of the Freud dynasty,” or as Director Adam Curtis puts it, “how those in power have used Freud’s theories to try and control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy.”

In “Happiness Machines,” Curtis focuses on Sigmund Freud’s American nephew, Edward Bernays, “the father of the public relations industry.” Bernays was the first to use Freud’s theories to manipulate the masses.

In fact, Bernays argued that such manipulation was necessary in a democratic society. Wikipedia quotes from his book, Propaganda (1928):

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society.

Of course it’s nonsense — however, Bernays had no difficulty making his theory a working part of American life; most importantly, the film notes, through “showing American corporations how they could make people want things they didn’t need by systematically linking mass-produced goods to their unconscious desires.”

According to Wikipedia, some of his ‘feats’ included:

Wikipedia also points out that Bernays acted on behalf of “the multinational corporation United Fruit Company (today’s Chiquita Brands International) and the U.S. government to facilitate the successful overthrow (see Operation PBSUCCESS) of the democratically elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz Guzman.” They labeled Arbenz a communist, as you can see here.

See below for part one of “The Century of the Self”. You can watch the remaining three parts at the Internet Archive

The Century of the Self: Happiness Machines

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