The Century of the Self is a 2002 British documentary by Adam Curtis that explains how the psychological theories of Sigmund Freud were used by those in power to control the dangerous masses in democratic countries. Many of the most basic ideas behind American marketing and public relations during the 20th century, including the focus group, were invented by Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays. The American economy was converted into a consumer economy that relied upon people wanting things and feeling a need for things that were designed to increase the feeling of want.
The idea underlying this entire documentary, its fundamental observation is simply that in a democracy nearly the entire population is made up of stupid cow-like people who can be very easily controlled into thinking of themselves as unique individuals who are making their own decisions. The fact is that people, for the most part, are cannon fodder. They are willing to throw their sons and daughters into the meat grinder of war for the pretense of defending an economic structure completely dependent upon people earnestly believing that they really really need the new version of the iPhone. The mind control has worked. You can tell from the lines in front of the Best Buy at midnight waiting for the new Xbox. If you find yourself standing in line to buy the first new iPhone, you are simply mindless meat strung between bones without the slightest capacity for self-direction. You are one of the people in the crowd being laughed at by the guy in the window at the top of the skyscraper.
But it gets even worse. If you are making a call on your iPhone you are very likely the same mindless meat as the person waiting in line to buy the phone. Phone calls don’t exist anymore. They are now just pools of water where you throw your quarters and make a wish.
The series consists of four episodes. Each episode is presented in six parts on YouTube. You can find all the related parts if you click through to YouTube.
Episode 1: “Happiness Machines”
Episode 2: “The Engineering of Consent”
Episode 3: “There is a Policeman Inside All Our Heads: He Must Be Destroyed”
Episode 4: “Eight People Sipping Wine in Kettering”