The Century of the Self
At the height of the war against the ‘Axis powers’ of Germany and Japan this statement by U.S. Vice President Wallace was published in The New York Times (April 9, 1944):
“The really dangerous American fascists,” Wallace wrote, “are not those who are hooked up directly or indirectly with the Axis. The FBI has its finger on those. The dangerous American fascist is the man who wants to do in the United States in an American way what Hitler did in Germany in a Prussian way. The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power.”
(Vice President Wallace was using the classic definition of the word “fascist” - the definition Mussolini had in mind when he claimed to have invented the word. It was actually Italian philosopher Giovanni Gentile who wrote the entry in the Encyclopedia Italiana that said: “Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.” Mussolini, however, affixed his name to the entry, and claimed credit for it.)
Adam Curtis’ (author of The Power of Nightmares and The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom?) acclaimed BBC Four series, The Century of the Self, reveals how Sigmund Freud's theory of the subconscious has been successfully deployed over the past century as an instrument of consumer manipulation and social control. It details the untold history of the origins of public relations and advertising in the 20th Century and shows how governments and companies have used the teachings of Sigmund Freud and his nephew Edward Bernays to control and manipulate the masses through use of public relations, advertising and propaganda.
Edward Bernays believed that people were motivated more by irrational urges than by rational thoughts, and therefore democracy was not a matter of allowing people to choose for themselves between a range of different policies, rather they had to be guided towards the 'correct' choice by an elite composed of people in command of the theory. People just like Edward Bernays and Hitler's propagandist Joseph Goebbels, who drew on Bernays' techniques to inspire the masses of the Third Reich. Unfortunately, the Western democracies are included in this group in addition to totalitarian states like Nazi Germany, as the film demonstrates by looking at the public-relations machines behind the campaigns of Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair ('Public Relations' being the phrase Bernays used instead of the word propaganda at a time when the word propaganda was negatively associated with communists and nazis)
Below is the first of the four-part series.
I agree with one commentator who concluded that the only answer is eternal vigilance and the constant exposure of the means, methods and personnel of manipulation. This series certainly fulfills that need.
The complete series can be viewed and/or downloaded from the Internet Archive
To those interested in the film and the subject, I'd recommend reading the Information Liberation review/commentary at this link, which provides a necessary perspective as well as additional research links on the subject.
Another documentary that deals with the same subject is PsyWar, which explores the evolution of propaganda and public relations in the United States, with an emphasis on the elitist theory of democracy and the relationship between war, propaganda and class.
PsyWar has been described as a deep, richly illustrated study of the nature and history of propaganda, featuring some of the world’s most insightful critics, it exposes the propaganda system, providing crucial background and insight into the control of information and thought.