The century of the self

My favourite documentary ever.

This 4-part broadcast shows how the whole “manipulation of the masses” concept was created and developed by Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, and applied to different fields such as business or politics.

This post will be focused on my impressions and thoughts on the documentary.

Find the links below!

The century of the self

20th century. What have you been told about it? Does your understanding of this time period go beyond history books? Mine didn’t. Until I watched this documentary. Suddenly, everything – from social behavior to current business practices – fitted.

In this documentary, Adam Curtis approaches a whole century from a totally different perspective. Most of experiences, desires or thoughts we –as customers– face nowadays have their origin in persuasion techniques conducted by the so-called “people from above”, to guide society in a specific way.

The real causes of these phenomena are deeper than initially thought. From the study of human behavior to manipulation of the masses, “people from above” have been able to shape recent history and determine the western way of life to some extent. This documentary allows the viewer to reshape what has been told about the 20th century and to complete the missing parts of the puzzle. It sheds light on the actual social scenario and the impact of manipulation.

The documentary points out the extent to which business activities are affected by environment. In that sense, it stresses how companies could make profit thanks to conceptions such as sexism, or how deepening into people’s insecurities can lead to profitable practices.

Insecurities have played a key role in the recent story of business and marketing. Through deepening into people’s fears and/or self-doubts, marketers established new consumption habits to sell mass production goods during this time period.

Adam Curtis’ approach emphasizes the importance of subconscious in human behavior and, more specifically, in consumer behavior. From psychoanalysis to the creation of needs out of desires, the two first parts of the 4-hour documentary provide a deep insight into consumer behaviour. Of special interest is the “need” of people to fit in a specific group of society, perhaps linked to the need of marketers to tailor their products to specific groups of people depending on their desires. The higher the degree of specification, the easier it would be to sell goods to the desired group.

It is interesting how the term “influencer” has arisen recently referring to those who have enough perceived power to influence buying behavior to attract consumers to specific products. However, after watching this documentary, one could think that the most important influencers were present during the past century, and shaped the lifestyle of millions of people, and future generations.

I find this documentary extremely interesting and valuable, especially for business or society-related topics lovers. It deepens into the underlying patterns of our lifestyle, and makes the viewers realize to what extent population is exposed to manipulation.

The following question was asked in class: should I – as an international business student– just be fascinated, or should I care? Well, should we appreciate the detailed techniques or strategies that are specifically designed to persuade and influence human behavior, or should we be the generation that develops new equally efficient methods to achieve desired outcomes? Now, we are aware of the consequences of our actions. It is time to care.






Published by Clara

I'm a Spanish student, currently following an International business and innovation program in the Netherlands.

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