The Century of the Self

The Untold History of Controlling the Masses Through the Manipulation of Unconscious Desires. Award-winning BBC Documentary, 2002; Current working link.

The Self

Wikipedia: Description of Documentary
The "self" is a recent invention. It arose out of the confluence of many cultural trends, not least, the invention of media. This remarkable BBC four-part series tackles this very heady subject with great intelligence and imagination. It manages to successfully visualize something ghostly abstract, yet one that is at our core (our selves!). Like a good psychology class, after this series you feel you understand yourself a bit better. But even within academic circles the birth of the self remains a fringe idea.

British director, Adam Curtis examines the rise of the all-consuming self. To many in both politics and business, the triumph of the self is the ultimate expression of democracy, where power has finally moved to the people. Certainly the people may feel they are in charge, but are they really? The acclaimed BBC series, The Century of the Self, tells the untold and sometimes controversial story of the growth of the mass-consumer society in Britain and the United States. How was the all-consuming self created, by whom, and in whose interests?

VirginaSlims.jpgTorches of Freedom

Part One has a remarkable discussion of how in the 1920s a campaign was launched to convince women smoking was a symbol of women's independence. Please come to class prepared to discuss this.

Watching the Video

There are four parts to this documentary. Each is about an hour. The original links on YouTube have been taken down and the working links seem to disappear and change quite often.

Watch Video

Highlights: Century of the Self
World War I, Propaganda becomes PR (Part I 6:15)
Persuading Women to Smoke (Part I, 10.22)
Creating the American "Consumer" (Part I, 16:00)
Democracy as Consumption (Part I, 30:00)
Betty Crocker Focus Group (Part II, 21.54)
United Fruit in Guatemala (Part II, 32.57) Fear of communism as a political tool.
The Late Sixties/Human Potential Movement (Part III, 26.24); EST (Part III, 31.30)
Ronald Reagan (Part III, 47.00) Get the government off the back of the people.
Focus Groups (Part III, 53.00)
Clinton Presidential Campaign (Part IV, 28.17-44.00)

Engineered Consent

The Engineering of Consent is an essay by Edward Bernays first published in 1947. He defines "engineering consent" as the art of manipulating people; specifically, the American public, who are described as "fundamentally irrational people... who could not be trusted." It maintained that entire populations, which were undisciplined or lacking in intellectual or definite moral principles, were vulnerable to unconscious influence and thus susceptible to want things that they do not need. This was achieved by linking those products and ideas to their unconscious desires.


Eating Popcorn at the Movies: Effective Antidote to Advertisements

newsweek-cover-we-are-all-socialists-revised-for-accuracy3.jpgWhat is Propaganda?

The word propaganda is from the Latin for propagate, to grow or spread. Information deliberately spread to hurt or help a person, organization, business or cause. It depends on testimonials and endorsement (a formal statement of approval), framing (use of bias, that is picking and choosing the facts you present and those you ignore or hide); and the Bandwagon technique, which says, everyone is doing it or everyone feels this way.

• Bandwagon Technique

• Pinpointing the Enemy

• Name Calling

• Glittering Generalities

Propaganda is not an easy thing to define. It relies on abstract ideas and their influence on human emotion. It uses carefully selected words and pictures to make the viewer or reader think in a certain way. Propaganda is often used in politics and especially during war to influence public opinion.


Transfer, also known as association, is a technique that involves projecting the positive or negative qualities of one person, entity, object, or value onto another to make the second more acceptable or to discredit it. It evokes an emotional response, which stimulates the target to identify with recognized authorities. Often highly visual, this technique often utilizes symbols (e.g. swastikas) superimposed over other visual images (e.g. logos). These symbols may be used in place of words.
The Institute for Propaganda Analysis
Propaganda: The Power of Transfer

Jackson Browne, Lives in the Balance

"A protest song is a song associated with a movement for social change, and hence part of the broader category of topical songs (or songs connected to current events). It may be folk, classical, or commercial in genre. Among social movements that have an associated body of songs are the abolition movement, women's suffrage, the labor movement, civil rights, and the anti-war movement. Protest songs are frequently situational, having been associated with a social movement through context. "Goodnight Irene," for example, acquired the aura of a protest song because it was written by Lead Belly, a black convict and social outcast, although on its face it is a love song. Or they may be abstract, expressing, in more general terms, opposition to injustice and support for peace, or free thought, but audiences usually know what is being referred to." — From Wikipedia:


The animation below was taken from a Walt Disney cartoon released in 1943 under the title, Education for Death: The Making of the Nazi.Disney was under government contract to produce 32 animated propaganda shorts between 1941-1945. He was hired to increase American support for World War II. In Education for Death, a young German boy is exposed to Nazi culture from infancy, then educated by Nazis. Hardened into a Hitler youth who no longer values of life, the boy grows up to be an obedient Nazi soldier. The cartoon was re-released in 2004 on the DVD, Walt Disney Treasures: On the Front Lines, a compilation of Disney's wartime shorts. Here another one of Disney's shorts. This one on why Americans should pay their taxes to help with the war effort.

Some More Resources

Media Matters, Political Propaganda
Programming a Nation: Documentary on Media (2011)
Keith Olbermann—"Vast Right Wing Conspiracy?"
Wikipedia: Public Relations
Wikipedia: Propaganda
Frank Luntz, Republican Pollster
Frank Luntz vs President Obama
Thinking or Reacting?