The Century Of The Self

So, having just watched the second episode of Adam Curtis’s documentary ‘The Century Of The Self’, I feel it good to assess the best parts that will relate both to my essay and my FMP.

I watched the show in varying intervals, though since this particular episode was about ‘The Engineering Of Consent, I understood this to be a case much more relevant to psychology and psychoanalysis than to media production. It brought something of a certain nostalgia for me – this was one of the areas of my A-Levels which got me into university in the first place.

This episode was based on the idea of the ID, the EGO, and the SUPEREGO. All three are summarized in Freud’s famous ‘iceberg’ diagram, shown below:

In all essence, the Ego is the dominant part of the conscious mind. When people start to suffer, it is because they are at odds with their ego – this is also the part affected by the outside world and the external stimuli that the individual encounters. Psychoanalysts believed that beneath the ego lay primal, violent urges that could consume people as individuals. After all, we are in in essence mammals, in our most basic and primitive form, derived (arguably) from apes, innately programmed to adapt to a society or not.

The government’s main goal was to keep audiences passive, and the psychoanalysts followed the notion that the the ego becomes passive through conformity. This passivity is shown to be pleasant and desirable, and in business terms, this is the key to a good marketing strategy – to sell the product as making the buyer look more socially accepted / cater to their ego.

These psychological ideals could be used to keep the masses in check, with everyone thinking that by living in this nanny state, that their egos could be catered for enough to make them happy, and whilst they catered to their own egos, the government could go about ruling the country (and to some degree, cater to theirs). All apsect of curating this process are interlinked into that old idea of the ‘American Dream’ – people may be aware that they are being manipulated, but are indifferent to it. The psychological reassurance they get for their egos is fair trade for their own individual trail of thought. To be passive towards the government is to almost be part of western society unto itself. All the people that helped create this type of society did so in the interest of what western civilization stood for.

It’s interesting to see that the idea of using marketing to keep ‘egos’ in check was due largely to the fear that democracy would fall apart if people used their ‘ids’ and their ‘superegos’. As western societies are based on individualism, each ‘id’ would have made true democracy almost impossible. This would have promoted violence and rage against the controlling government, brining those in political power face to face with the primal powers of the masses. These violent unconscious desires were proven to be correct with tests like Milgram’s studies on obedience, and Zimbardo’s ‘Stanford Prison’ experiment.

Funny how the protests in England are supposedly turning that very same way – audiences are less passive and willing to revolt, and in using parts of our brain usually repressed and catered for, our egos become more unpredictable and violent as a result. Perhaps ultimately… more human, and less puppet or robot. But… which is more desirable? Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise.

It also introduced the next episode, where it is acknowledged that the government needs to cater for our ids as well as our egos – namely, they need to give us things to keep our primitive destructive side sated. This would be where the ‘male gaze’ theory comes in, and all that ‘sex sells’ marketing schemes. I met Trevor Beattie once – creator of the ‘Hello Boys’ adverts for Wonderbra. He didn’t have much to say on it – only that the picture of the product itself was risque, so he just added a little ironic joke in there. It was almost aimed at the industry itself… but anyhow, that’s another story.

The point of this episode was to show that psychology is very important in the way the government utilizes the media to control the masses. Psychology is every bit as relevant to media as it is to business. Understanding the audience allows you to cater to them, their needs, and ultimately influence them – no matter how big the control group really is. I should definitely acknowledge this in my final year projects.


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