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Cherishing The Century of Self

‘The Century of Self’ written and produced by ‘Adam Curtis’ is an engaging documentary that talks about the history of Psychology over the years.

What is Psychology? Psyche is nothing but the human soul or mind. Thus, forming the root of the word Psychology which is nothing but the study of the mind. This documentary is divided into four major parts according to the timeline of events that took place around the world. The parts are entitled as follows:

· Part I: The Happiness Machine

· Part II: Engineering of Consent

· Part III: There is a policeman inside all of our heads, he must be destroyed

· Part IV: Eight People Sipping Wine in Kettering

The naming of these parts is done based on how politics and businesses were successful in toying with the minds of people and the society at large during that course of time. Be it through election campaigns, advertising or even in bringing out novice mindful techniques. This documentary questions the choices we make, the factors that influence them and also how well do we behave in society.

Photo by Mostafa Meraji on Unsplash

Psychological surveys, questionnaires, focus groups, ‘lifestyle marketing’, catchy slogans all of it had become a part of the lives of a 1980s individual. What was considered an absurd idea in the late 1920s had now taken the seat of normalcy. Politics was no longer just about leadership but it was also about how well a party could blend in its ideals and philosophies with the everyday products that people used. There is a very attractive quote from the documentary that says, ‘The rich have the power of money and the poor have the power of politics.’ Edward Bernays, the founding father of a brand new occupation that went by the name of ‘Public Relations’ had integrated psychoanalysis with non-living things that supposedly had a great impact worldwide. Although entirely his ideas were not always ethical they did pave a way for the Labour Party’s win in the British Elections.

Trivia from the documentary

Sigmund Freud is believed to have been the founder of Psychoanalysis and the whole concept of an unconscious mind guiding its way to people’s choices and decisions. But many have believed that his nephew Edward Bernays was the one who brought it out in the front and boxed it in a different way. Bernays realized the untapped potential of this subject and integrated it into the corporate world of America.

Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis was also influenced by Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution where he had explicitly mentioned the fact, ‘Survival of the fittest’. In Charles, theory man was seen as an outsider in an animal kingdom where his nature did not match what other animals did. So a man was taken to observation and was believed to have been guided by an eternal soul. Freud’s philosophy was also based on the theme that human beings could control their emotions and their unconscious minds because if that part of human beings came out in public then it would destroy everyone.

‘Century of Self’ presents before us a hidden truth that lies behind the normalcy of our mundane lives. Human wants and desires are infinite in nature. But it is in our control as to what we actually want, what we actually need and what we desire in our life. Yes, we indeed make decisions based on what our emotional and rational parts of our mind tell us, and this is what makes us humans unique from primitive sapiens. Our deepest desires should not be something that can be manipulated easily.

This documentary is proof that some parts of bleak history were staged by very few people on the top of the pyramid. There was little to no thought put into the consequences of the actions undertaken at that time. Wrong ideas, beliefs, morals, unexpected standard of living was perpetuated into the minds of people. This resulted in unethical practices and an entire generation of people with conflicting ideologies and beliefs. Discovering your own identity and own self is not wrong but doing it without thinking about the people who care for you or who love you is something that is to be questioned. All of us have different layers of our own selves that does not mean that to find who we truly are we forget what made us become who we are now. The path to discovering your own self lies in the journey to reach there itself.

Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

We should strive to live in a society where we have the freedom to be our own self without any societal pressures and norms. Diversity is not something that is forced upon but something present within a society naturally. I do agree with the statement that, ‘There is a policeman inside all of our heads and he must be destroyed.’ But there have to be times when policing our actions and thoughts is necessary and cannot be completely ignored. Individualism has to be respected in modern-day society. With the world transitioning rapidly towards a machinery evolution it becomes necessary that we create an inclusive culture where we respect different opinions and identities. One thing that all of us can agree on would be that psychology cannot be separated from our daily lives. Every action that we take has some thought to it, some reason behind it. Psychology tends to answer the ‘WHY’ behind these actions.

I am glad that I was able to watch this documentary and I got to know about the less talked about topics of our history. The fact that this and the upcoming generation is more aware of what‘s happening around them as well as what’s happening inside them makes psychology even more fascinating now. The fact that the emotional connection with the products that I use has become a part of my daily life is not something that I am proud of after watching this documentary. But I am aware of what it means and portrays and that is what makes me satisfied.

The documentary is available on YouTube for free. Here’s the link attached, if you are interested in watching it.



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Bharvi Dani

Bharvi Dani


Economics Enthusiast | Also a vivid reader and listener who loves to write.