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Century of Self; the Engineering of Consent by Curtis, Adam

Part two of the BBC documentary series The century of the self and explores the ways in which Sigmund Freud's theories on the subconscious were used in post-Second World War America to control the masses. The documentary focuses on the theories by Anna Freud and Ernest Dichter who were convinced that the masses were fundamentally irrational. It was their assumption that trough psychoanalyses an individual could understand and ultimately control the dangerous irrational desires lurking in the unconscious.

Historical background
The documentary explains how control through psychoanalysis lies in research performed on traumatized Second World War soldiers. Psychoanalysts were convinced that the mental breakdowns of these soldiers were not the direct result of their experiences in the war, but that it had only triggered repressed childhood traumas. Behind this lay the fundamental idea of Anna Freud that if people were encouraged to conform to the accepted patterns of social life, their ego would be able to control the dangerous forces within the unconscious.

Social interest
After the Second World War, people had a radically different view on the inner-workings of the human psyche. The scientific consensus was that humans were fundamentally irrational and that they could therefore not be trusted. Psychoanalysts believed that external factors could be implemented to strengthen the human personality. Commercial products could both guide inner desires and give people a feeling of common identity. The identification with these products was perceived to have a therapeutic value.

The initially benevolent intentions of psychoanalysts to strengthen core democratic values changed for the worse when they were implemented for commercial and political exploitation. The elite considered it necessary to create conditions which would produce individuals who would behave as good consumers and conform to democratic society. Conversely, contemporary social critics argued that inner-emotional drives were not inherently violent or evil; it was society that made them dangerous through repression and distortion.

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
58 min.
Year of release

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