The Century of the Self

The Century of the Self

2002, Psychology  -   234 Comments
Ratings: 8.56/10 from 1130 users.

The legacy of famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud informs the lives of people throughout the world even to this day, though it's a phenomenon to which most are unaware. The Century of the Self, written and produced by Adam Curtis, is an exhaustive examination of his theories on human desire, and how they're applied to platforms such as advertising, consumerism and politics. This four-hour odyssey is divided into four distinct segments.

Happiness Machines. The first episode concerns Edward Bernays, Freud's nephew and one of the most influential pioneers in public relations. Appealing to what his uncle believed were the aggressive and prurient forces hidden inside of all mankind, Bernays manipulated these inner desires to promote group thinking - first in drumming up the patriotic support of U.S. citizens during World War I and later in the realm of advertising.

The Engineering of Consent. Perhaps the darkest illustration of Freud's philosophy can be found in Nazi Germany during the Second World War. The film's second segment recounts the efforts of Bernays and Freud's daughter Anna, who collaborated alongside the American government to devise methods for suppressing the barbaric potential of the human mind. It was only through these activities, the government believed, that a harmonious democracy would be possible.

There is a Policeman Inside All of Our Heads, He Must Be Destroyed. Segment three takes place during a vastly different period of American history: the 1960s. As dissenters of Freud began to come to prominence, so too did a younger generation who were determined to fully embrace and flaunt their inner desires. Following on their lead, corporations and their advertisers morphed their message from one of conformity to a celebration of the individual. In so doing, they showed that the tenants of Freud's theories could be successfully manipulated regardless of the temperature of the times.

Eight People Sipping Wine In Kettering. The final section takes us full throttle into the universe of politics. During the 1990s, in a desperate measure to regain the White House, the Democratic Party enlisted the assistance of Matthew Freud, a public relations expert and the great-grandson of Sigmund. With a determined reliance on focus groups, the party recalibrated their campaigns to fulfill the innermost desires of the American people. Shortly thereafter, Bill Clinton became the 42nd President of the United States.

Whether these tactics were employed for reasons of nobility or perversion is for viewers to decide. Regardless, The Century of the Self unlocks many essential human truths; chiefly, our vulnerability to influence and our need to be controlled.

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1 year ago

So many regular sincere people in America made him (Edward Bernays) rich and he called them "stupid." So sad. So unfair.

3 years ago

The sh*ts really hitting the fan now with Covid 19.
Scum !

Lashana Kirkland
6 years ago

Those in power have used fraud theories to try and control the dangerous crowds of people and also they way they think and live everyday. There was once a dangerous intention of feelings. That made a program for peace of the world. If you could use propaganda for war you can use it for peace. There is a lot going on in decision making. Persuade women to smoke was an experiment since women don't do it much but cigarettes was a symbol of male power, so some called this "torches of freedom". If a woman smoked it made her powerful and independent. Smoking for women was really irrational but made them feel more independent. Transport the way Americans thought about products. People must be trained to desire new things. Man desire must overseek his needs. Some people are amazed n how motivated the human mind is made. Some people have hidden characters. Sometimes people have to express themselves. Humans are believed to make rational decisions on a rapid basis. Some humans rethink democracy. Mass mind is unrational. People not driven by their mind but their spinal cords. When thinking about what goes through the human mind on a daily basis would really amaze many people the mind is very unique.

6 years ago

Very interesting (and somewhat disturbing) documentary. I'm curious about the follow on 15 years later that analyzes how these psychological approaches have continued to influence modern day society whereas political and corporate leadership in America and Britain (i.e. Brexit, Trump, etc.) are concerned.

6 years ago

shame he couldn't analyze his peado grand son

6 years ago

Interesting documentary but definitely told from a pro-communist point of view. Needs to put in proper context. Like much of cultural marxism, the film does an amazing job of cloaking its intentions.

6 years ago

And so I can never be certain I actually know anything.

7 years ago

show this in the schools young minds need to see this before the system (schools) totally embed their control systems upon them ,, as sally says ,essential

Zac Tolan
7 years ago

The revolution is : If you have two t shirts and your neighbor has zero t shirts, give him one t shirt!

Zac Tolan
7 years ago

Someone asked for solutions. I have them. Not me, but Solomon (King of ancient Israel, son of King David.) Solomon fell away at the end of his life, but before that, he passed on all his wisdom to us. Although he failed to serve God fully until the bitter end, he did serve God for much of his life. I will also have you know that I am not a christian or religious person. Now, even someone as wise as Solomon, the likes of whom never was before, nor would anyone as wise come after, concluded that this was the answer(solution): 1. Fear God 2. Keep His commandments 3. Enjoy: (a)your food (b) your drink (c)your work (d) your spouse ( I guess if you have one, but I don't think its necessary)

Solomon was the ruler of the Holy nation, and had grandiose palaces and built magnificent gardens. He was wise enough to recognize that it was all vanity.
So, if you want all the answers to the great mysteries of the universe (now I say this with love towards you, ) it is: Fear God, do what He says, and enjoy your food and drink, have a cheerful heart as you labor. If we all did this, we would have an ideal society. Thankfully, the Son of God is coming back in the sky to take over here and will rule the world with a rod of iron. Even the people whose heart it is to 1. Spurn God 2. Disobey Him 3. Have a crabby attitude and be unappreciative, will have to go along. Genuine virtue will be imposed worldwide muahahaahaaaa! Thing is: God is good and only aims to take into eternity those who take on His ways from the heart. He's so good, He gave us a free will. So we are free to be crabby and disobedient and lovers of sin if we want to, but God is not going to let people like that ruin paradise for everybody else throughout eternity. They might all be stuck together somewhere. Friends, let us not be there for all time. : )

w. lewis
7 years ago

I feel violated and not in a good way . A healthy, inquisitive mind is a marvelous thing along with the energy to be heard. I grew up believing in truth, justice ,and the American way. It's hard to lose Santa twice. This is an excellent documentary, a truly "must see" maybe not perfect, but enlightening. ALL people deserve enough respect not to be manipulated, lied to, and pigeon holed into subservient existence (consumerism) by the people they grew up trusting. I don't mean to suggest people are stupid or naive, but too trusting. I believe the German people were heavily manipulated and worn out from their previous generation's mistakes, WW1 and economic disaster and lazy. Maybe apathetic is a better word. It seems the community around where I live votes or doesn't vote on command. It is predictable, they trust they're leaders not to mistake the wrong candidate. I'm grateful for what education I did receive and retain. And being able to get good, informative information for critical thinking. trying to balance the skeptic and the cynic. Thanks to all you who contribute a thought.

7 years ago

What happened to the videos? . It all shows that "sorry, this video does not exit". Is this restriction country dependent or removed entirely due to some other reason?

Elaine Mackenzie
7 years ago

Very interesting :) There is also a good book written by Robert B. Cialdini (influence). which some of you may find interesting. Also The four horsemen documentary is the business too.

Psychedelic Piper
8 years ago

Part 3 is missing again.

Val Valiant Five
8 years ago

For those watching this great series and wanting to know if the are any solutions to the mess we are in, look up the life works of Jacque Fresco, Peter Joseph and Gabor Maté. They are a great jump-start into new ways of thinking about what it means to be a human on planet Earth. ~Cheers to the challenge of changing for the better.

8 years ago

so in essence, we're not really informed citizens in a healthy democracy; we've all been moulded into obedient consumer droids, selfish wage slaves, consumptive craphounds, lobotimized & atomized, at the service of a greedy elite.

Ken Warfield
8 years ago

Most important documentary in history which should be required viewing in order to participate as an informed electorate if you want a true democracy.

Stuart Sovatsky
8 years ago

The spinal puberty known as Kundalini or tumo or uju kaya (buddhism) Holy Ghost or Shekinah etc found in Plato, davening and zikr (spinal rocking) goes beyond the "freudian desire-bodymind" that Bernays manipulates its adrenalin/testosterone etc... see Advanced Spiritual Intimacy amazon com 300p book on this endorsed by many.. uses Foucault's Ars Erotica critique of Freud to get free of him and his nephew's world-ruining myopic theories

8 years ago

I love this site. The amount of knowledge available here is... I find myself coming here more than any other place. It's great. Props to whomever runs the thing.

Could you update the links for this series? There are good links for the episodes that aren't available here.
Part 1: vimeo DOT com/48842811
Part 3: vimeo DOT com/112533840

Thanks so much. I'd even volunteer my time and web knowledge if you are interested, admin. Feel free to contact me.
Best site I ever done saw.

8 years ago

I hear the voices of so many angry and unhappy people. "Evolved?" Hardly. Tragic to deny God and spiritual peace.

Serene Voice
8 years ago

Freud has done much damage to the psyche of the world. It is time for him to be proven wrong conclusively. That can only be accomplished by humans embracing and valuing rationalism and critical thinking skills above materialism and selfish desires. It is time for humans to grow up.

8 years ago

Raymond Scott music!

"America is a giant mistake"
8 years ago

Perhaps this explains why psychoanalysis is not widely accepted in the US & the UK…this way the population remains in repressed & in the dark while the government, military, pharmaceuticals, etc continue making profit off ppl

8 years ago

No coincidence that the Tel-lie-vision was created under this era. Do you know that it puts you in a hypnosis state? (which is the most powerful tool to shaping a mind) There is a book called "Remote controlled" at Amazon about it. Check it out, it's terrifying.

And someone should act upon this madness of hypnosis, because that is where the real deal is! I don't find it weird that there is not more about tel-lie-vision, because its producer is "BBC".

8 years ago

After this watch "The power of nightmares" its a seamless sequel

8 years ago

When one considers the physical human (organism), thoughts, desires, belief systems, and propensities of humans, you are forced to confront the paradox of mind vs body. In the physical realm, which is all there is, though at times invisible, it doesn't take long for the persistent student of biology to discover the relationship with more primitive organisms. One sees the process of evolution, that brought us from self assembled proteins, to (archaea bacteria / extremophiles / (prokaryotes cells without a nucleus), to single celled aerobic (eukaryotic bacterial cells / with a nucleus), to (chordates / multi celled worm like organisms with a primitive ("backbone like structure"), and ("primitive spinal chord"") to an ever increasing number of transitions, more complex collections of cells in organisms on the same basic theme. It is seen in every species of (vertebrate), and played out in the development of the (human fetus) during gestation from embryo.

We are a complex web of symbiotic specialized cells, a stratified collection of interdependent cells that has manufactured it's own holographic construction of a protective bubble, in which to transform, and dissipate energy from a high state to a low state.
All of our imaginings, of spirit, or god, or love, of dreams, are the mere jumbling packets of energy dancing in the blackened room.
We are an illusion, like fireflies, in the cosmic hologram, to eat, and be eaten. The hologram becomes more complex, the pixels get smaller, the vision sharper, until we pass through the ("brane") to build the construction a new, in another dimension, but to the same purpose, our perception of consciousness morphing into a new machine, a new heat sink, a pile of sand washed away on the cosmic shore. "That sucks"!

8 years ago

I encourage you all to read the Qur'an (in it's true context) and free your minds.

Terror is as terror massacres
8 years ago

Thank you to all involved in creating this excellent, and engaging, documentary.

Very well done.

Derek Seymour
8 years ago

go back to sleep Amerika. here! buy s*it you don't need to make you happy, and keep the elites in power, doesn't it feel good to mindlessly consume worthless trinkets whilst your soul shrivels up and dies

9 years ago

Powerful documentaries and mostly good discussion below. IMO we live in a primitive, destructive, even collectively suicidal time....

What are inborn and persistent HUMAN NEEDS, and how do we organize (and how transition from today's sorry but very entrenched state of affairs with plenty of 'programmed' people and a 'deep state' existing who hold the armies of the world) to a society that addresses essential human needs of all (or most) people? What is a child (and the state of women who give birth, for example) and what are their unique needs? What is the adaptive unconscious, what is consciousness? (You can't be conscious of what you are not conscious of.....until something (like tremendous loss or dislocation, or simply a quiet sense of dis-ease, wakes you up - and you join with others for change. As an individual, you are next to powerless to make the change needed, all the hype aside.)
How does manipulation, socialization, cooperation and non-socially destructive competition and innovation (which are also essential, one could argue) work? How threatening is our tendency, enforced by everything media & most social conditioning and even human language itself, to 'not be in the present moment', but still in short-term' thinking, in our ego-centered nature (which is necessary to survive some things, but damning & false/delusional in other contexts). How damning is our relationship-and-inter-being-denial?

How can we live on a finite planet (with its Life-renewing SYSTEMS that are being make toxic or non-operational and destructive to human and sentient being life) and base our economies on endless growth? How could we convince the People of the folly and who this benefits, and how that is hidden in plain sight?

How can the net effect of our technology be more than to amplify our self- & Nature-destruction and fear-based delusion and ignorance? And economy of crony capitalism is going to save us? Or totalitarian socialism?
A civilization built on no heart and no connection to Nature of which we are a part, a civilization resting now on our socialization quotient used against us to perpetuate & enhance our delusions, to benefit 'the few' and give this hidden elite the best chase of surviving the madness...with their own survival, but ultimately delusional needs...?!

No, all ideas are not equal, but ideology over human needs, science and heart -- with capitalism, and most religion with their 'one true God' and 'people', communism, our ideas on Nature - each only addresses some parts of our needs and human dilemma, while destroying our foundation for Life!
Primitive Tools of destruction! We are ignorant beyond our knowing!

What we learn about 'human nature' is immediately corrupted and exploited (Bernays was but one advancer, preceded and followed), pressed into the service of keeping the powerful powerful, with what is foisted on a mostly unconscious exploited public who knows at least unconsciously they will live and die, and so grab what they can of security, individuality, belonging, variety, meaning, connection to something bigger....
The arc of history is what it is, short for the human race relatively speaking, ...yet with global climate change and material like nuclear/poisoning and mind-control potential born in the last few centuries....well, we are at a breaking point for human life on this planet.
Documentaries like this are an attempt to wake up the People. Very important. Also important -- the EXPERIENCE of having human needs met - especially in the young.

9 years ago

"Manufacturing Consent"
Noam Chomsky

John Diaz
9 years ago

Edward Bernay's / Newphew of Sigmond Frued. The father of American propaganda, the father of American media spin. I am surprised that a american statue wasn't been erected in honor for his guidlines on how to manipulate a mass population of American with dogma.

Dominic Festa
9 years ago

Aww man, after reading the intro I was kinda looking forward to watching this. What's up with the "Sorry This video does not exist" message?

9 years ago

I'm pretty sure that Documentary does exist.

9 years ago

Governments are the very entities that knowingly drive the masses to barbarism. The U.S. government was taken over in 1913 with the passing of the Federal Reserve Act by the royal families of Britain and Europe and their Wall St. bankers and Robber Barons. They are not benevolent philosopher kings, or even benevolent despots, they are scumbags who wish to restore the Divine Right of Kings and put an end to the 200 year old experiment in freedom in the West.

9 years ago

I would love to see a 5th episode on what has taken place between the Clinton Administration and Obama's 2nd term. It seems as if the Paradigm has shifted and we now have a highly expedited due to the fact that we've now reached a point where we have more generations that have lived through the mind-rape of the 60's than lived before the unhealthy cultural shift took place.

9 years ago

Just have to wonder if there´s any connection between Edward Bernay adressing Sigmund Freud as "Uncle Siggy" , and if Bernay had anything to do with "Uncle Sam"? They´re quite the mirrored images of each other, Sigmund and "Sam"... :)

10 years ago

dear all, what are some solutions you come up with.

Mandy Sue
10 years ago

I'm about halfway through these comments and I just had to stop to say you all are the most intelligent and fascinating people whose comments on an article I have ever read, and I just want to say thank you, for being so damn interesting and not devolving into name calling as is so often the case in these forums. I've learned lot and you're awesome.

I'll watch this doc. I can't count how many times I've heard somebody proclaim that they're not affected by commercials, and I've warned them that they are precisely the most vulnerable, those who believe they're too smart to be manipulated.

10 years ago

So the self actualizers who thought they were so independent from outside influence and marketing by business ended being manipulated by it all over again, playing straight into their hands and continuing to make them rich.

Anthony Mustacich
10 years ago

This film shows very clearly how the expansion of Amerikan capitalism was inextricably tied into corporate monopolization and mass consumerism through propaganda.

10 years ago

irony - edward bernays (jew) techics were used by gebels :)

Allan Tierney
10 years ago

I’ve just re-watched all four hours of Adam Curtis’ series ‘The Century of the Self’ from beginning to end and I would encourage everyone also to watch.

The subjects covered are of such a depth and of such relevance now that I can guarentee you will see this westerm consumer world where politics is sold as just another product is, much, much clearer. In fact I can guarentee you will see a LOT of things much, much clearer.

This is not some heavy documentary that’s laborious to get through. It’s style is creative and engrossing. Adam Curtis specialises in immaculate research, stimulative visuals and a constantly engaging narrative.

If you can stay the course to the end of this four part series in one end-to-end showing I’m sure you’ll come out at the end so much better informed about where we are today. And how we got here, why Thatcher won the elections she did and what a tremendously difficult job it will be to EVER gain a government that is not merely about fulfilling individual desires.

PLEASE watch. In four parts, or as a whole as I just did.

Some of the topics covered:

The rise of western consumer societies and the subsequent need of businesses to find ways of getting people to buy things that were not necessities. How the study of human psychology was brought to bear on manipulating us toward selfish desires.

How the field of Public Relations arose and was developed to manipulate our desires, both conscious and unconscious.

The rise of an intense desire for individual fulfillment and expression and how this was manipulated, first by business marketing their products, and then by politicians on both the right and the left to gain power.

The rise of Reaganism and Thatcherism and the advent of Clinton and Blair following in their footsteps.

The reasons behind why Clinton and Blair moved so far to the right and the methods they used to win power in societies which had become increasingly motivated by individual desire.

10 years ago

Edward Bernays probably the most dangerous man to have ever lived.

10 years ago

Just a great series of thought provoking videos. What I take away from it is that we shouldn't reject capitalism or the corporate culture, neither one will go away anytime soon, but to just be aware of what is going on. The corporations are watching us, classifying us, and marketing to us... but let's not be too narcissistic, they are not out to destroy us, they just want money.

Mathew Tindal
10 years ago

Freud is far surpassed in intellect and wisdom by Carl Jung. The fact that Freud is still held to be the go to guy for Psychology disgusts me.

10 years ago

As soon as I encountered Freud I felt uncomfortable, it struck me this was not a theory directed towards the pursuit of knowledge but a manner of pidgeonholing people and asserting power over them through the psychoanalyst. It has been interesting to see over the last while concerns with psychoanalysis implanting a subconscious narrative into patients rather then unearthing them. In addition there is no doubt in my mind that Freud was essentially fatalistic who tried (an to some degree has suceeded) to turning his opinions on human nature (and possibly his own guilt complex) into a pseudo-science. His relationship with Jung (another deluded individual) is of interest as it underlines the man's narcissism and absolute refusal to accept any criticism of his theories whatsoever. That doesn't sound like a scientist to me. There is also proof that he manipulated his "clinical" cases in order to prove his theories. A tyrant of the mind, not the first and certainly not the last. The fact that his "theories" have been used to manipulate people doesn't surprise me in the least. His nephew was a real piece of work...

10 years ago

Thanks for putting up this post. these 'cultural' criticisms are not new and from what I've been able to glean from the review, the author of the book reviewed is using other people's ideas, which isn't to say that they aren't true. I'd recommend John Ralston Saul's "Voltaire's Bastards", "The Doubter's Companion" and "The Unconscious Civilization", not to mention a host of others ("Manufacturing Consent" Herman & Chomsky) plus the other giants who provided these people with the shoulders on which to stand. The source ideas are extremely difficult to argue (by the originators) and their implications hard to understand (by their emulators), but eventually they percolate and are popularized and even when they become part of the popular domain, most of those throwing stones at the edifice thus revealed wouldn't know where to begin to replace what they'd otherwise dismiss. I would hope that I could dispense with the latest publication to know that I live in an extremely cynical age full of in-your-face charlatans who don't know what they're talking about. But consider that to really understand what the guys mentioned above are really going on about you might have to read the mystics and assimilate their ideas into everyday experience, how would anyone relate all of this to a secular ground plan and repackage it in the form of a viable political system? If the system f--ks us over everytime we switch on the TV, let's not get f--ked over twice by those who write about it and get published. they are no messiahs, closer in fact to excited little boys. As for Freudian phsychology, I've always regarded Freud as a plumber in comparaison to Jung, whom I think of, in this category, as a dowser. But again, plumbing is more practical, and you tell me anyway under which laboratory conditions the release of the relevant archetypes is going to be solicited in a patient in order to reconstruct his broken or stunted personality. Better stick to aspirin if medicine is what you need although I recommend diet and regular excercise.

john kay
11 years ago

Political and corporate "mind manipulation" for "monetary profits" is fine with me to a very limited extent, as long as it is not mean-spirited. The problem is all the corruption in every facet.These "powers in place" are not only robbing us economically, but also becoming uncontrolable and dangerous socially.

I expect this mentality from these greedy, tricky bastards, but what I didnt expect and absolutely HATE is that it seems an increasing number of good-natured citizens that I encounter daily are becoming unpleasant and sheep-like, both directly and indirectly due to this tactics and mindsets.


11 years ago

Sure, J F, I agree...but, like the guy above your comment's not-so-veiled reference also indicates, "when your argument starts rambling about the Federal Reserve...Zeitgeist and other conspiracy theory films," I and others who think like me, see just how well the hegemonic superstructures Bernays and others authored really DO work--those that prop up this illusion of reality in petroleum-based geopolitical power terms. Western hegemony works so well that even open-eyed minds can see the ugly truths that crack the sociopolitical surface, yet refuse to consider the geopolitical (let alone geoeconomic, not that one really could) implications that those revelations clearly suggest==at least from the standpoint of conspiracy theorists. There is, in this sham of a democracy, nonetheless legislated space for all opinions, ours included, and I'm happy to share that space if only cybernetically. Note, however, that we are restricted in the exercise of that freedom to the protected and sanctioned "opposition space" bounded on all sides by, you guessed it, "dominant space." And now my 15 bits are up.