Thursday, 20 September 2012

Adam Curtis - Century of the Self

Dear All,

You have all watched part 1 of Adam Curtis' documentary Century of the Self, which is entitled "the Happiness Machines." I would like to invite you to comment on the film and the issues raised in it. 

Thank you!


If you would like to watch the documentary again, here the link:


  1. In the “happiness machines”, Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, invented public relations profession to teach the American companies how to make people purchase their products. In the documentary, we can see how powerful it is the propaganda. In my opinion, it is not a techniques of advertising that influence people to buy a product; it is a psychological desires that makes people want the product so much even it’s not needed.
    Also, the power of public of relation can change the majority’s mind as well. Women smoking used to be known as bad and notorious. However, through the propaganda and the influence of public relations, women smoking became a new icon of fashion and a symbol of the freedom of the society.
    After watching the “the century of the self- happiness machines”,we can know that how media and public relations influence and shape the society since 20th century.

    Chloe Yi Chin Lee

  2. The documentary focused on Edward Bernays, he was the first person to take Freauds ideas about human beings and use them to manipulate the masses.

    Edward Bernays realized that by linking products’ to emotional desires and feelings could make people act irrationally.
    This result attracted American cooperation's because during that era people bought products’ based on their basis needs.
    The advertisings are making the environments that push people to buy something they are not really need; by making a desires psychology. Furthermore make something as the symbolic of high-class; with the development of modern media such as movie and television, advertisements within such media have emerged as a new type of advertisements. It makes people buying the latest products and luxuries.

    Through watching this documentary, I know that how powerful public relation works and it’s acutely influence the whole commodity word.

    Shunru Zhang

  3. The documentary film “Century of the self” introduces a famous person called Edward Bernays, who is well known in public relation and adverting. He successfully promoted the idea of freedom and democracy by encourages women to smoke. Since this makes women to think that they have the power like a man, so gives women the feeling of freedom, hence to move the society towards democracy. Through doing this Edward Bernays does not only increase the sales volume of cigarettes, but also makes people to realize the importance of self, so to enhance democracy.

    Make women smoke of course does not mean freedom or democracy, but using this to sale the idea of freedom and democracy, or even the related product is clever. A good public relation person does not only sale a product, but an idea.

    Susan I Cheong Wu

  4. This documentary is relative with Freauds’s idea. He developed unconscious mind and mechanism of repression. His nephew, Edward Bernays, used the idea of Freauds as psychological techniques in public relations and at that time, it was prohibited to smoke for women; however, he not only tried to promote tobacco but also wanted know how it gets an effect from the promotion. He appealed that tobacco means power of men, and women also needs to be equal with men. In my opinion, Edward Bernay stimulated unconscious mind of consumers, and I realized mass media is really powerful in a society and influence to people.

    Moonsun Jung

  5. "The Century of the Self” focused on American Public relations man Edward Bernays and how he used his uncle Sigmund Freud’s ideas and theories on human consciousness to manipulate the public. By using his uncle’s theories, he became a famous person who understands the mind of the people. He did success in various areas. For example, one hairnet company asked Burnays to promote their products. As famous ballerina cut hair, most of women followed her hair style, so women didn’t need hairnet any more. But Burnays had an idea to solve this problem. He met the Minister of Health and Welfare and said, “Every woman who works in kitchen, they have to wear hairnet because of sanitation.” And also, he went to factory, he said, “Every worker have to wear hairnet, because their hair could be the cause of accidents. “ After all, most of the American states revise the law to wear hairnet to keep workers’ safety. Also, he caused an innovation of American breakfast. Previously, the menu of American breakfast is mainly juice or tomato, but he made the menu, “Bacon.” He met doctor and he got an opinion that Bacon is good as Breakfast menu because it has a lot of energy source. Finally, it was big issues to American and today Bacon becomes a main menu of breakfast.

    1. And, he was related in women’s first smoking. He began to support the women’s right, he persuaded women to smoke, and it was connected to freedom. Also, he called the smoking woman as “fascinating woman”. But some people insisted that Burnays supported women’s smoking to raise profits of smoke company. Hence, he was criticized. He said, “There is an invisible hand which control one’s will.” And his PR(Public Relations) was also victims. After Adolf Hitler read his book, “Propaganda”, he used PR to strength Nazism. After all, he had to hear from people, “Father of spin control”, “Assassin of democracy.”
      I think that Freud concentrated on understanding psychology of people, but Bernays used Freud’s psychology to get commercial benefits. Barneys contributed powerfully to Public Relations and caused new innovation by using it, but he suffered the indignity of mishandling. But until today, he has been the best man who involves with Public Relations.

  6. In the 20’s, when Freud ideas were not accepted, Edward Bernays, using Freud's ideas about human beings, showed for the first time how people can do things when they do not need it. Bernays understood that satisfying the inner desires of the people, makes them happier and therefore more docile.

    His first and most exemplary experiment consisted become socially acceptable for women to smoke with one symbolic act, linking cigarettes with their release of male domination.

    This allowed people to see how others can be induced to behave irrationally, thus moving needs to the desires, and from the idea of ​​being a worker to the idea of being a consumer. This helps in a political environment for the control of the population.

    Now days, public relations is a very important weapon used in many ways, transforming the political, economic, and social enviroment of the world.

  7. Basically, Freud and Bernays's ideas of introducing psychological desires were fueled by pure capitalism. The physiological theory impressed the banker and the manufacturers which still stands tall to this day. our need became confused with our desires and that confusion has disoriented our priorities.
    I believe the self control is only diminishing. advertisement companies try their very best, using psychological means, to control the masses.

  8. Through the movie if the century of self.I feel that we consume what the market supply and not consume what we
    really need.We are leaded by the commercial world which controled by capitalism.In a large part,we psychologically
    change because the commercial environment.For example, in the movie,woman were encouraged to smoke in public by
    companies.That considered to be more freedom for women, but in fact, those tabacoo companies gain a huge new market.
    Almost every changes could be relate to business in the society.

  9. Based on Freud's psychological theory, Bernay came up with the idea that people can be manipulated by their desires.
    Using people's emotions and memories, Bernays proved his idea by persuading women to consume cigarettes as a signal of freedom and independence. After that, he noticed that information drives behavior using the consumer's irrational sense.
    Bernays' capacity of use Freud's theory changed the way companies and government see the population. The fact is people can be easily manipulated by information, being those ones true or not. It was created on our minds the idea we have to buy things we don't need as things really necessary to be accepted in the society, to be cool, to show our personality or whatever. To generate an economic progress, the government consider us a happiness machine and estimulate us to buy our happiness over the products we don't need.
    It is sad to agree, but we will be always irrationally controled by information, being this one true or not, good or not. The fact is that we live in a consumist world.

  10. I think that berney's ideas is what we experience in advertisements today and its all about controlling the masses by satisfying their self interest, what really attracted me that its is the same concept of maslow's hierarchy of needs, and how one's needs could affect his actions. and how marketers today apply the same concepts to confuse the consumer whether they need the product or want it because usually marketers appeal to one's needs to be able to convince him.

  11. In the section of the ‘Happiness Machines’ in Adam Cutis’s documentary “Century of the Self”, the documentary mainly covers the life and career of Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, who was the first person introduces Freud’s idea on the mind of human beings and used his psychological idea to shape the masses in public relations; however, he presented how the theory have influenced the corporation and government through advertising to control and supervise people. In his view, he believes that human being could not be truly expressing themselves in the society and not be able to move into the mass democracy, consumerism is the key to the change, which it not only shows the needs of the individuals and it also expresses the inner sense of the hidden self. “It’s not that the people are in change, but that the people’s desires are in change” This shows how the products in the consumerism is not only a product; Moreover, it is an idea for individual to realize who we want to be and who we really are.

    In my view, I think the society today is the reason for individuals to hide themselves, and the way how Bernay introduces the use of psychological means to create commercial benefits is powerful in today’s life. However, this control creates safety and it like a shelter to protect and cover our hidden, unconscious desire and fears.

  12. “Century of The Self” tell us about how people convince consumers to purchase their products. In this documentary film, Edward Bernays is the most important character. He had the idea that tells women “If you want more freedom as a man, you may smoke.” It looks weird today if someone tell me that, but it worked in the past. A lot of women start smoke because of Edward Bernays.
    In my opinion, women start smoke is not only they changing their habit, and it is a culture change. In the old time, people cannot understand why women smoke, and smoking is only for man. However, more and more women start smoke and people accept that.
    I mean, culture is not depending on what you look like or what kind of tattoo you have. Culture is the inside thing behind people and is always changing.

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  14. After watching the Adam Curtis’ documentary “century of the self”, the documentary shows the main protagonist Edward Bernays, who firstly introduced the psychological theories of Sigmund Freud and smartly put the psychoanalyst strategies into the inner world of masses. Due to his successful application of his reasonable theories in U.S, he got the reputation at that time and was invited by the president for helping dealing with the personality issues. Moreover, he also used a typical case of changing the mind of the majority of women and encouraged them to smoke in order to gain respects and equality in the male-dominated society.
    Through a continuous spread of public relations and propaganda, mass people just followed the trend without reasonable thoughts and behaved much irrationally. Consumerism was one of the highlights, an endless overflow of advertising and propaganda made decisions on the choices of the masses so this phenomenon would cause man’s desires overshadow his self-needs.
    The root of causes of those cases is that the masses may lack of the awareness and consciousness of inner world so they could be easily controlled and managed by others who wanted to satisfy their individual purposes and ambitions. Edward Bernays is absolutely a psychological master who played his psychological games among people in order to gain commercial benefits for the companies. For a historical example, Hitler used his talented presentation skills and propaganda his ambitions, which bind with Germany nationalism so he could take over the government with the strong support and started his unethical and intolerable behaviors to the world. The video let we know how strong and skillful the psychoanalyst control the minds of masses and how the horrible mass media instilled thoughts to the society and masses.
    In my personal view, most people have common senses and behave almost the same. If someone realizes and controls them in a negative way, the consequence is unimaginable. The contribution of psychological philosophies of Freud was greatly recognized and we can learn much about our inner world. I expect that we can research and think the theories in a right way, which understands human being and the society much thoroughly, but not to use in a negative way. So we will focus on the perspectives of the individual and become a reasonable person.

    by Steven Zhang

    Reference: same as other classmates

  15. Essentially, they introduced psychological desire driven by pure capitalism. The physiological theory left a deep impression on bankers and manufacturers who still stands tall today. We need our desire to become confused, confusion, disorientation our priorities.
    I believe that self-control is decreasing. Advertisement company figuring out ways to use psychological means to control societies

    by Ricky Wei Li Kao

  16. I think the documentary is a little bit out of the ordinary, and it’s quite interesting. The ideas and thoughts that are mentioned are ideas that I have heard before but I haven’t thought about them thoroughly. The documentary starts with Edward bernays showing how to unite the masses and what motivates human life. He mentions how he decided to take people’s desires and control them by making them feels like their desires were necessities, he played using irrational forces by manipulating people and guiding their behavior; observing how people weren’t conscious that they wanted stuff but they didn’t need them. On the other hand Freud played an important role discovering the psychoanalysis of this, he figured out that people’s feelings were repressed especially when it comes to sexuality, he created an experiment by persuading women to smoke and he found out that women felt more powerful and independent when you give them more freedom to do what they want. The different behaviors that human beings have and how some of the feelings we keep repressed are very interesting topic to study. There is always a reason why we do the things we do and through this documentary we can see and learn how societies behave and are still behaving like that, and I think is good that people took the time to made certain studies about humans and how they behave and why.

  17. The documentary, produced by Adam Curtis, discusses about how the famous Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud built a theory that the media and governments are using, since long time ago, in order to control people`s behavior and attitudes. It gave us notions of manipulation and power. It shows Freud`s nephew life, Edward Bernays, which was the first one using the theory to “convince” and “manipulate” the masse, creating the Public Relations profession. In the beginning Bernays was trying to convince women to smoke, as a symbol of power and freedom. He convinced the women and thought that he could use the theory much more, dealing with the desires of each person. The documentary make us question ourselves why we act and are influenced in a specific way, especially why we do not feel satisfied with less. The human being is always looking for more, for the consumerism. There is the imperialism of the Western culture, which make uses of this theory to convince us all the time to use more, buy more and to extrapolate our possibilities. This is related most of the time from the control that the outside causes on us, controlling our mind and attitudes and manipulating something that we are not aware all the time: our desire.

  18. After I watching Adam Curtis’s documentary “The Century of the Self” , this is talk about an American public relations man Edward Bernays and how he use his uncle Sigmund Freud’s ideas and theories on human consciousness and unconsciousness to operate the public and its desires in business, economics and politics. The film details Bernays’s described that people are essentially irrational and subject to desires they do not understand or can control and it is up to others like himself to take over that control. He was breaking the taboo of women smoking and convinces them this symbol of independence and freedom, which is not only a way to selling products, also was a new idea to control the public needs.

    ----- weiwei

  19. Bernays invented the public relations profession is the first person to take Freud's ideas to manipulate the masses. He showed American corporations how they could make people want things they didn't need by systematically linking mass-produced goods to their unconscious desires.Bernays was one of the main architects of the modern techniques of mass-consumer persuasion, using every trick in the book, from celebrity endorsement and outrageous PR stunts, to eroticising the motorcar.His idea was breaking the taboo on women smoking by persuading them that cigarettes were a symbol of independence and freedom. But Bernays was convinced that this was more than just a way of selling consumer goods. It was a new political idea of how to control the masses. By satisfying the inner irrational desires that his uncle had identified, people could be made happy and thus docile.It is really a powerful propagation to control the public, and selling the products.

  20. Happiness Machine "Adam Curtis - Century of the Self"

    The Century of the Self

    The video is based on Sigmund Freud's idea which was further adopted by his naphew Edward Bernays. According to his view point one can persuade customers to buy the products which they actually don't need. They buy these products just because they think they need it. In the video they explained power of advertisment in modern world. I think today there is no any product which do not have advertisement in the market, ultimatly the advertisments makes a psychological pressure or gain a psychological advantage over the customer's mind. Moreover the example as cigarettes smoking in the women was taken as a unsocialised act but with the growth of media it becames a trend among all classes of the society, now they start taking it as the symbol of freedom, independence, confidence and equal status in the society.

  21. n my opinion, Freud allows us to analyze issues in life that have never thought about before. Since he went through the Industrial Revolution, he was exposed to new human developments such as the incredible influence of mass media. He has a great argument about how mass media is a strong influence in human beings. For instance, people buy things because they feel the necessity to do it, but not because they actually need it. Even though the documentary is from years ago, this situation still happens. People spend big amounts of money on products that they do not really need, yet they would feel out of place if they did not have them. The impact mass media has on people is greater than we think. On the other hand, according to freud we are subjected to civilization. Our instincts, thoughts, intentions, and actions are all based on standards that we must follow. Nevertheless, civilization is essential for our human development.

  22. Sorry for the previous comments. Apart, from the insights of the film: Curtis- Century of the self, I think Freud's theory based on Psychoanalysis plays a vital role in our lives. Importantly, in the world we live in today, which is more of kind a consumerist. Whereas, demands for the people are created unnecessarily to keep them happy, in result gaining control over their emotions. Moreover, it's true that America is not created by Democracy, but by the rise of Industrialization. However, Capitalism and democracy should work hand in hand according to Bernays; Freud's Nephew, whereas Freud hated people, and always wanted them to be controlled.

    Conclusively, one should accept this change as a civilization in human history, and the rise of capitalism; creating happiness machines.

  23. Hi All,

    Thanks for all the interesting points you have raised!


  24. Adam curtis tries to prove how those in power have used Freud’s theories to try and ‘control the crowds’. Curtis here focuses on Sigmund Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays, which is referred to as the “father of the the public relations industry”. Bernays was the first to use Freud’s theories to manipulate the masses. Bernays argued that such manipulation was necessary in a democratic society. Bernays had no difficulty making his theory a working part of American life. In the film, this is seen through Bernays showing American corporations how to make people want things they didn’t even need by ‘systematically linking mass-produced goods to their unconscious desires’.