Sunday, January 14, 2007

Engineering Consent


I watched Adam Curtis' The Power of Nightmares (PON) over a year ago and quickly discovered his earlier documentary, The Century of the Self. In the COS, Curtis explores the ways in which shifting notions of the self, influenced by Freud and his later critics, offered governments and business new tools to manipulate society and the masses. At the center of the story is Edward Bernays, Freud's nephew and the father of public relations. Rather than argue the merits of indivdual products and appeal to people's rational mind, Bernays and his sucessors learned to use the lessons of Freud regarding the unconscious and irrational mind to sell soap, war and cars.
Although incredibly powerful and persuasive when seen independently, what is remarkable about the documentaries are the ways in which COS lays the foundation for PON, reinforces the argument and showing its frightening implications for our world today. As Robert Koehler writes,
the commodifying of the self prepares the soil for the politics of self fostered by everything from depoliticized post-Lefties to Reaganite Randians, which in turn in The Power of Nightmares, provides both neo-conservatives and Islamist thinkers like Sayed Kotb material for their case that there's nothing scarier than a fat, happy, and soulless West that lives for a trip to the mall.

You can watch both series on www.archive.org. Here is a link to an excellent interview with Adam Curtis about the series.

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