Thursday, 6 May 2010


MAY 06 1856-SEPTEMBER 23 1939


If we are to give Adam Curtis' documentary 'The Century of the Self' any credence then the last statement is justified. It claims that, through Freud's nephew Eddie Bernays, 'crowd psychology' and other psychoanalytical ideas were applied to and used in politics and marketing creating what we now refer to as Public Relations.
Curtis supposes that we are much less free than we believe in this respect. We are psychologically manipulated to buy certain products, think in a certain way and 'feel' a certain way about certain government policies. Companies and Governments appeal to our drive to satisfy selfish desires and utilise the kind of 'mob violence' that silently pervades society to instil base emotions like fear which in turn breeds support for certain political actions.One may indeed say that we have been or are constantly brainwashed, nothing more than zombies at our commercial and political masters' bidding.

Aware that some would not have seen Curtis' documentary, that others won't know much about Freud and that I have been limited by time and space to introduce this topic I just want to start a discussion around this topic, that is, 'to what extent are we free agents in society?' Do we allow that the state and big business control even our minds? Certainly it would seem that certain companies, e.g Apple, have a monopoly on desire... what do we think?


  1. Excellent question Fred! Perhaps I am overly optimistic on this one, but I don't like, or agree with, the deterministic view that we are "controlled" by big companies, capitalist system and so on, or should I say this doesn't have to be inevitable. I still believe we have some autonomy, though granted, this might be more limited than I, for one, would like to admit. We can still make choices to conform or stand apart/alone. I am all for the notion of the quest for authenticity in this context--we can aspire to authenticity. "They" only have as much power over us as we allow "them"--limited resistance is possible. Turn off the advert sound, better still don't watch the adverts unless you want to be aware of the manipulations of the system, critique and analyse the media images and messages that surround us. This way, critical distance can fight media manipulation...

  2. We could say though, that its not just official commercials that feed our desire. people are walking billboards and everyone conforms to at least one social identity, even if that identity is the appearance of non acceptance. To bring in Marcuse, capitalism appropriates even dissent and commodifies it into a safe product. Im not necessarily linking your use of 'authenticity' to french existentialism but even that, as a way of life, has been pacified in film as the 'cool lonely, stranger' the odd ball, the drifter. Non-conformity is a conformity of sorts, it still has a brand, a record label, clothing and an attitude that equally requires consumption.
    However that is slightly off the point. We are talking about psycho-control here and I think even commercial drop-outs (if they exist) are affected by mental disciplinary tactics of politics and the media. A well known example of recent years is the switch from the anti-terrorist justification of the afghanistan war to one of women's liberation and general democracy, to which, I warrant, few would want to appear in disagreement.
    Another Adam Curtis documentary called 'the power of nightmares' charts the fictional creation of al qaeda by both the american government and osama bin laden as an international and huge terrorist cell, hiding in every city in the world, ready to strike at any time. Both sides had a stake in exagerating the, in reality, small group to create fear throughout the world so that western governments could justify a 'state of exception' and al qaeda could gain notoriety and influence in the middle east. (Curtis claims that osama bin laden was simply a financier of other groups and that he only adopted the name 'al qaeda' and constituted as a group after one of the projects he funded (09/11) was successful).

  3. Happy b'day Sigmund indeed! Thanks for a great post Fred, and very timely on election day. I think that this is important, while the brainwashing effects of mass market capitalism may seem the bastion of conspiracy theorists, at the same time the success of such an enterprise is how much its ideological effects are rendered invisible. For this reason, it is worth reminding us again and again.

  4. Indeed... I am not a conspiracy theorist myself, and don't think Curtis quite qualifies. He seems to have the evidence to back his claims, though Im sure it would be possible to dispute them. Also, it is quite plausible without thinking in terms of conspiracy theories, both parties would indeed have a stake in this kind of public relations and have the means to do it. I will say this of conspiracy theories, touching on what you said patrick: the best way for a government or anybody to get away with something is to allow wackos to talk about it, thus rendering it silly and unbelievable.

  5. Quite right Fred. Either you know whats going on or you don't! There is an interesting psychology to that. How come conspiracy theorist are always big on paranoia and bad on prediction. You never really here the 911 types predicting something like Enron. The pscyhology seems to reaffirm what it is trying to disavow: that the world is still actually run by big powerful white men. The conspiracy theorists needs that I think to stop going over the edge into entire delusion! Thus, as you say rendering it utterly vacuous.

  6. also happy birthday Maximillien Robespierre, Andreas Baader and Tony Blair. All good contributions to society.

    On conspiracy theories can't they really be seen as being created by essentially scared people. People who are scared of a world in which seemingly unpredictable and unexplainable things just happen and therefore try and make sense of this by inventing either a big man at the top (usually jewish) who is controlling it all or a cabal of evil people (usually jewish)who are, once again, organizing and regulating these seemingly unpredictable and chaotic events. Aren't conspiracy theories really the last refuge of a person scared by the world?

  7. speaking of robespierre and anniversaries. yesterday was the anniversary of the meeting of the estates general in 1789; the beginning of the french revolution.

    I do think that fear certainly has a place in conspiracy theories. Interestingly the emotion that the powers that be try to harness for support often leads to unexpected consequences that, is i say, aid them in the sense that the heat is either taken off them or criticism is rendered ridiculous. Im not sure if the objects of fear are usually jewish though. whilst such anti-semitism is a feature of many conspiracy theories and insurrections (notably the nazis of course)it would be wrong to suggest that it is wide spread. certainly at the moment it seems that most conspiracy theories feature the CIA, big business men, the freemasons (notoriously un-jewish)or the royal family. I think, aside from far right groups in europe and america, the notion of jewish intrigue has almost disappeared.
    Just to leave the conspiracy theory theme for a moment and bring language in.
    I read a book (I think it was called 'unspeak') all about the very careful selection and use of certain words that seem commonplace. Take as an example 'Green Peace'. The genius of this word is evident. To be anti Green Peace is to be anti greenery (nature) and anti peace; who would claim to be either of those things and expect widespread support. One might be anit methods of green peace but rarely against green peace itself. one might as well be anti friends-love, or anti cute animal-happiness. similarly the 'war on terror'. despite the obvious nonsense of declaring war on an abstract noun one could never envisage using the opposite 'peace for terror' of be 'pro-terror.' Robespierre and Trotsky aside of course...

  8. That's a very good point Dom. I think it echoes my earlier point, the desire for predictability in the face is uncertain, the desire to impose order on a chaotic and disordered world. Again I think the nuance is that this is more on the level of the psychological rather than the political.

    Fred. My favorite is mini-nukes. Kinda cute and cuddly like!