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Century of Self; Happiness Machines by Curtis, Adam

In part one of the BBC television documentary series The century of the self Happiness machines covers the genesis of the theory of psychoanalysis developed by Sigmund Freud in the early twentieth century and its influence on the rise of modern consumerism and political theory. The documentary focuses on the career of Freud's cousin Edward Bernays in the bourgeoning public relations sector and his interpretation of the theory for commercial and political gains. The documentary consists of archival footage accompanied by narration and interviews.

Historical background
After the first World War America had become rich and powerful. Although commercial consumption was flourishing companies also feared that overproduction would stagnate growth, as people would eventually have enough products and simply stop buying. Public relation agencies persuaded them that to prevent this they had to transform how Americans would think about the necessity of products. As America would consequently shift from a needs society to a desire society, men's desires would come to overshadow his needs.

Social interest
The documentary narrows down on a shift in scientific assumptions on the human psyche and social behaviour. The determining factor is asserted to be the realisation by commercial companies that they could manipulate vast groups of individuals for commercial purposes by linking their products to people's unconscious desires and feelings. Thereby essentially persuading people to behave irrationally as they would come believe that irrelevant objects were powerful emotional symbols of how one would want to be perceived by others.

Happiness machines covers the genesis of psychoanalysis in the early twentieth century and asserts that the theory and its interpretation by American public relation agencies stood at the base of the modern consumer society and political theory. Edward Bernays is identified as being essential in this as he was the first to commercially exploit the theory by arguing that if companies could link their products to people's emotional desires and feelings they would be more likely to buy them.

The century of the self
The century of the self is a four part BBC television documentary series written and produced by British television producer and documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis. The series covers the different ways in which Sigmund Freud's theories and those of his critics about the unconscious part of human psyche have been used to further both commercial and political goals, focusing on the United States and Great Britain.

About the filmmaker
Adam Curtis is a renowned British television producer and documentary filmmaker noted for making programmes which often make far reaching claims on grand subjects. The scale of his subject matter and his claims to the undisputable truth of his opinion often give rise to controversy. However, his documentaries always expound clear views on the subject which are structurally well argued. Curtis is known for his extensive use of archival footage and the narration his own documentaries.

Best documentary series, Broadcast awards. Historical film of the year, Longman/History today awards.

Nominated for: Best documentary, Royal television society. Best documentary, Indie awards. Best documentary, Grierson documentary awards. Best documentary, William Coupan Memorial award.

Curtis, Adam
Copyright Holder
56 min.
Year of release

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