The Century of Self
The Century of the Self: Happiness Machines
By Ahni Jul 12, 2008 6 Comments
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
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.
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."
to Wikipedia, some of his 'feats' included:
In the 1920s,
working for the American Tobacco Company, he sent a group of young models to march in the New York City parade. He then told
the press that a group of women's rights marchers would light "Torches of Freedom."
Bernays once engineered
a "pancake breakfast" with vaudevillians for Calvin Coolidge in what is widely considered one of the first overt
media acts for a president.
Bernays used his uncle Sigmund Freud's ideas to help convince the public, among other things,
that bacon and eggs was the true all-American breakfast.
In October 1929, Bernays was involved in promoting "Light's
Golden Jubilee." The event, which spanned across several major cities in the U.S., was designed to celebrate the 50th
anniversary of Thomas Edison's invention of the light-bulb (note: the light-bulb was in fact invented by Joseph Swan).
Bernays helped the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) and other special interest groups to convince the American public
that water fluoridation was safe and beneficial to human health. This was achieved by using the American Dental Association
in a highly successful media campaign.
In the 1930s, his Dixie Cup campaign was designed to convince consumers that only
disposable cups were sanitary.
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.