12 March 2011

The Century of the Self

When Dave and I were negotiating how we would live together four years ago, he told me he didn't want to get cable TV. I was already spending much of my time watching television via DVD, so I had no problem with this. Today, any time I find myself sitting in front of a conventional television, I am blown away by how many and how disruptive the commercials are. Seriously, I used to sit through all that? Yikes!

I've been in the habit of heading out to our local library branch to borrow DVDs, and Dave has hooked up a computer with internet connection to my old TV, so we're never short on things to watch. Lately, we've been into documentaries, and are huge fans of much of what the BBC has to offer.

Enter The Century of the Self. If you're a Mad Men fan, you might be interested in this. Starting with Freud's development of his theory of the self in the early 20th century, it talks about how corporate and political forces have used these theories to shape and manipulate public consciousness. If you're interested in dystopian fiction, you might be interested in the ways public policy makers throughout the 20th century sought to control what they perceived as a society constantly on the verge of mass revolt and violence.

This set of four one-hour programs really gets to the heart of how we see ourselves, and how the powers that be deliberately shaped this self-perception in order to achieve specific ends. It's no coincidence that in the course of 100 years, we've gone from being consumers of necessities to consumers of any number of delights. It's no coincidence that one of the number one values of our culture is "individuality," while more and more we police each other in the name of conformity.

This is a chilling story, and one worth knowing about. I think The Century of the Self is essential viewing for anyone interested in why we are the way we are - a great set of insights for anyone who wants to understand the mechanics of world building or the way that large social movements get started and persist.

From the introduction:

A new theory about human nature was put forward by Sigmund Freud. He had discovered, he said, primitive sexual and aggressive forces, hidden deep inside the minds of all human beings - forces which if not controlled, led individuals and societies to chaos and destruction. This series is about how those in power used Freud's theories to try to control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy. 


Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

I'm glad Freud came along. Even though most of his ideas don't hold together, he was really the first one that started the questioning process involved in psychoanalysis. I think this is a good thing. Asking the right questions leads us to confront truths about ourselves that otherwise, we may not have cause to even understand. And as far as people trying to control other people...that has been going on for thousands of years. It's going on right now as young adult authors continuously rave about one book (example: The Hunger Games) until I feel peer pressure to purchase it. It's a form of control...designed to intimidate and or make someone agree on something.

Elizabeth Twist said...

Peer pressure is one form of control, totally, but the documentary is much more about top-down techniques of manipulation. Many of Freud's insights were used to turn people into the good little consumers we are today. I hope this changes.

Regina said...

I rarely watch television myself. I am either too busy with home life in general or I am reading or writing and of course occasionally blogging! :)