Wednesday, 16 October 2013


Looking at capitalism with a Freudian and anti-capitalist stand point.


  • Analyse the rise of the US consumerism.
  • Discuss the links between consumerism and our unconscious desires.
  • Sigmund Freud
  • Edmund Bernays 
  • Consumerism as social control
The content is largely taken from two sources:
Century of Self : Adam Curtis (2002)
No Logo : Naomi Curtis (1999)

Sigmund Freud (1856 - 1939)
  • New Theory of human nature
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Hidden primitive sexual forces and animal instincts which need controlling
  • Interpretation of Dreams (1899)
  • The unconscious (1915)
  • The Ego and the Id (1915)
  • Beyond the Principle (1920)
  • Civilisation & its Discontents (1930)

The mind is broken into three parts : The ego, the ID, the social component. Freud's model of personality structure shows the majority of our actions and desires are hidden and we only understand the tip of the iceberg. 

  • Fundamental tension between civilisation and the individual.
  • Human instincts incompatible with the well being community.
  • The pleasure principle.
The repression of human desires is controlled by society's rules and stipulations. This means that human beings will always be unhappy or incomplete. If we can satiate our primitive desires in a socially acceptable way we will be momentarily happy and complete, even docile. 

For Freud the first world war was a testament to his theories. He thought we should not be surprised by the war and this showed humanity feating on its violent desires. A release of this violent desire on mass scale which showed Freud the darkest side of humanity. 

Edward Bernays (1891 - 1995)

Press Agent
Employed by the public information during WW1.
Set up the council of public relations.
He applied the teachings of his uncle to the industry of big business or PR. 
He believed if you can link a thing to these un satiated and unsatisfied instincts you can create a false need for the product. 

His big change was that in the 20's it was socially unacceptable for women to smoke. The way he achieved this was by using a huge easter day parade as a platform to show off beautiful new young ladies (debutants) who at an organised moment they all lit up cigarettes. They were all photographed smoking and Edward Bernays fed them the story they were suffragettes and it was a protest against women's oppression in society. He described them as torches of freedom and they became symbols of freedom, sex appeal and rebellion.

He also explored product placement. celebrity endorsement,and the use of pseudo scientific reports. These gave products a weight and grander - more doctors smoke camels than any other cigarette.

The celebrities he used, he also represented. These also gave an increasing level of the celebrity. 


Things are bought not because they are things, but because they are satisfying some desire or need in our lives. This also ties in with the industrial advances and how mass production was becoming wide spread.  

Fordism shows the introduction of the production line. A society was produced which suddenly has so much 'stuff' in it. Productivity was increasing and as were profits and from this wages. Society was producing loads, and people profited in their wages meaning people had more to spend.

This also signals the emergence of the BRAND.
With so many products on the market distinguishing one for the other suddenly becomes essential. Characters were used and brands established.

Aunt Jemima's Pancake Flour - 
At first the product didn't sell and focus groups were set up. The women said they wouldn't use the product as they felt it was cheating and they were failing in their role as a wife. From this the product was changed so that an egg was cracked into the mixture, and this satisfied the women's need to feel like they were cooking still.

Oldsmobile - 

Sells the knowledge you are in control. Of where you are going, of your destiny, of women. You can go where you want to go and have a new freedom. This is something which has continued in car advertisements. 

Advertising changes from a society based on needs to a society based on desires

 (1959 chanel advert)

Fridge Freezer - A fridge encourages someone to buy more food, which is often wasted and therefore costs you more. But this gives security and the feeling you are providing for your family. 

Housewives were used particularly in this period. Hoovers marketed as giving you free time by being faster.

Hidden Marketing Needs:
  • Selling emotional security
  • selling reassurance of worth
  • selling ego gratification
  • selling creative outlets
  • selling love objects
  • selling sense of power 

'Blow in her face and she'll follow you anywhere' 
Ego gratification and an instinctual need for love. 

The idea that satisfying our desires will make us happy here takes effect. People are sold the ideas that buying these things that are 'satisfying' their desires and people become happy and therefore docile even though they are selling more money.

Walter Lippmann

A new elite is needed to manage the bewildered herd
If the herd can be fed than they are easily controllable and called this process 'manufacturing consent' 
He felt policiticans didnt know how to controll us but big businesses did with their understanding of our desires. And politicians should use these businesses to help them. 

At the same time russia has over thrown the government and have established a communist society. Americans saw this as a huge threat and wanted a system of social control to suppress any feelings of uprise in America. communism would cause unrests and destroy money making and power bases. They believed if people could be kept happy then they wouldn't want to uprise. 

America keeps growing and growing until the Wall Street Crash. 
This leads to the great depression and huge unemployment.

Roosevelt comes to power and creates the 'New Deal' 
He creates a benefit system with earlier retirement and pensions. 
This swaps a scheme of big business for benefits, a new form of government campaign. 

The Worlds Fair - New York 1940

Edward Bernays pushed the fair which was a giant exhibition about showing off american culture. Ultimately it was a giant advertisement for big businesses. It was all about futuristic building and industry that could be yours if you support big businesses. It spreads the idea that you can only be free if you start spending.
A society based on the illusion if freedom from buying things. 
To what extent are our lives free?