Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Century of the Self

This BBC series is very powerful and really makes you question your niche in Western consumerist, desires-based culture. It’s long, however, so Fight Club will deliver the same message in a more entertaining package. If you’re interested in the history of how our culture became this way, however, keep reading.

The film is a documentary on the studies of Sigmund Freud and its applications by his nephew, Edward Bernays, to create PR and mass consumerism by appealing to humans’ irrational desires. Yes, irrational. Bernays used Freud’s theories to drive America from a needs culture to desires in the 1920’s, allowing humans to identify themselves with products and advertisements. For example, Bernays started the trend of female smoking by appealing to a woman’s desires for freedom and individuality. Female smoking sky-rocketed as a result and Bernays realized he had discovered a way to control the masses. Later, he staged a fake media company to create Communist-ties propaganda against the President of Guatemala (Arbenz), who was speaking out against the political vice United Fruits (now Chiquita) had over the governments of Central America through the production of bananas. As a result, President Arbenz was overthrown in a coup and Bernays successfully duped Americans and Guatemalans into believing Arbenz had Soviet ties, when in fact he had none.

Now go figure why certain countries despise the US. By threatening our so-called liberty with an irrational fear of Communist rule, Bernays achieved his political and business agendas to create more wealth at the expense of Guatemalans’ chance at economic independence from the US. So how much can you trust the media and politicians whose agendas are wealth and power?

The film even dives into the roots of representative democracy, which we believe to be the ultimate means of freedom and liberty. But is this conventional wisdom correct? Bernays master-minded techniques to appeal to our over-arching selfish desires by creating a system which we believe we have complete freedom over, when in fact it meets others’ agendas by convincing us we have the upper hand through a false sense of security. So what happened to us over the past 90 years? Granted, it’s not directly our fault. We were born into a very keenly devised marketing campaign which tailors to our desires. The average American watches 120 hours of television a month, or 5 full days. The human mind doesn’t stand a chance against a barrage of advertisements and media driven fears in that quantity.

What we fail to do is dig deeper to discover our real needs and identities by simply accepting the status quo. The same techniques Bernays used to dupe us into a false sense of true democratic liberty and Communist threat still pervades today through media, television and consumerist ideals. We identify ourselves with new purchases, which we believe expresses our personalities and uniqueness because we personally identify with advertisements, when in fact, the person driving next to you in the same car also has the same outfit, same phone, same sunglasses. Business / political agendas are met and we believe our personal ones are too, but are they? It creates drones with a narrow self-fulfilling interest, not unique individuals with an outward looking focus. It leads to an all-consuming self who fools him/herself into believing that by having monetary desires met, often times at the expense of our health, democracy is at its best. But is it? Happiness is still on the decline here despite more advancements and products to fit every niche of our desires. Question whose agenda created this culture and how we continue to contribute to it. To believe in it and defend it fully is to plead ignorance.

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