Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Catching Up Mid-March

This was taken in beautiful Paris, somewhere near Luxembourg Palace, ooh la la :)

Whew, Wednesday already!! This week has been as intense as the last, but in the best of ways :) On Monday I taught a vocabulary lesson (all about describing people) and today I taught a 45 minute reading lesson. Both were really fun and I'm immensely grateful to have such friendly, eager, lovely students to teach! It kind of eases you into it...I can only imagine how much harder it would be if the first people I tried to teach weren't very eager or responsive.

Next week I'll be teach two 1-hour long lessons and I have to choose them myself from a book I just got. I think I'm ready to try it but of course it's a bit daunting!

The film I watched last Saturday is called 'Century of the Self'. Here's a little blurb:

'This documentary shows how we have been guided towards the belief that we should all have what we want, as well as what we need.

The Era of Modernism, where we have all been entrenched in the 20th Century, has been about how the standard of living of the masses could be increased, solving a myriad of social, political, philosophical, and material problems for the governments of our time.

a) Social unrest is decreased when the population is well fed. and
b) Business is good when people spend disposable income on more goods and services than they actually need.

Then government feels more secure in its role of administrating what they politely refer to as “mass democracy”.

This film shows how the cycle of invention, production, and consumption has been enhanced in the 20th century by the discovery of how psychological processes can be manipulated to increase our desire for more, and more, and more goods and services than we need.

In this analysis Sigmund Freud, and his nephew Edward Bernays figure prominently as agents of change who made American capitalism shift into high gear, creating the consumer society we are living with today.'

I've always been interested in psychology, especially when it comes to explaining group behaviour, so this was an intriguing film to watch. Some parts that really stuck out included how people's subconscious drives were tapped into and exploited during Hitler's time (surprisingly, the focus was on people's need to love and to feel loved). Another huge issue was how due to increased production of goods as a result of the industrial revolution, companies needed a way to make people keep buying things, even when they already had all that they needed. While in previous times people based their purchases on factors such as good quality, durability, their need for the item, etc., suddenly products became something that you had an irrational desire for. How did companies achieve this? They hired psychologists to figure out how to make people want these things. The answer seems pretty obvious - to link the product with people's emotions. It wasn't the thing itself that mattered, but what it symbolized. For example, they got women to smoke by linking cigarettes with power and independence (plus, this was at a time when men had a lot more agency than women).

Yikes, this is getting long. I just have to mention one more theme. In the 50s, psychoanalysis became really popular and fashionable. At the time, psychoanalysts believed that people would be happy if they could just follow social norms and conform as much as possible. This segment of the film was really disturbing. This was the time when people were given electroshock "therapy" and lobotomies. Even if they weren't subjected to that, they tried to perform the whole happy suburban nuclear family routine, which left so many people depressed and miserable and, ironically, the very opposite of happy and mentally healthy. There was a great clip of Arthur Miller at this point, and I have to sure his quote with you:

‘My argument with so much of psychoanalysis, is the preconception that suffering is a mistake, or a sign of weakness, or a sign even of illness. When in fact, possibly the greatest truths we know, have come out of people’s suffering. The problem is not to undo suffering, or to wipe it off the face of the earth, but to make it inform our lives, instead of trying to “cure” ourselves of it constantly, and avoid it, and avoid anything but that lobotomized sense of what they call “happiness”. There’s too much of an attempt, it seems to me, to think in terms of controlling man, rather than freeing him – of defining him, rather than letting him go! It’s part of the whole ideology of this age, which is power-mad!’

I absolutely love this quote!

Sorry for the length of this post - there was a lot to fit in :)



  1. Darn! I just left you a big long comment and then accidentally closed the window! lol.

    What I said was basically:

    That photo is beautiful! So much going on :)

    That sounds like a really interesting film. It reminds me a lot of some of the stuff I learned in my undergrad in Communications Studies. The idea that companies produced in excess and then convinced consumers to want their "unnecessary" products is not a new one, although I've never heard it discussed in relation to psychoanalysis. I find the emergence of psychoanalysis and the lasting impact it has had on our society totally fascinating.

    Where did you see the film? I'd be curious to check it out if possible! :)

  2. Aww - sorry about the lost insights...that's the trouble with digital insubstantial technology, nothing to get your hands on really.

    I also find the effects of psychoanalysis and its acceptance quite intriguing. Have you ever watched the show Mad Men? It takes place in New York in the Fifties and features an advertising firm as the main location, it explores quite a few of these themes and the writing is superb.

    Since I saw this film at a small community film festival, they just showed a DVD of it. It's a BBC production so maybe you could get it at the library? There's so much interesting stuff to see, hooray :)

  3. Your pictures are always gorgeous! Have you taken a photography class?

    That film sounds really interesting. I haven't taken much psychology, but I do remember the Milligram (sp?) experiment, where subjects actually inflicted serious "pain" on other "subjects" because a person of authority told them to. It's similar to how Hitler was able to "convince" people to commit unspeakable horror during the Holocaust.

    I like that quote. We should never strive to wipe out suffering, or to conform. Life is full of richness, and that includes both the good and the bad.

  4. Thanks Jessie, I think it's more a case of some places being so breathtakingly beautiful that even an amateur (non) photographer like me can do them no wrong :)

    I've heard of that experiment, it's quite disturbing!

    And I wholeheartedly agree with you - every experience in life is such a treasure and I hope that we can learn to feel our emotions fully and to live authentically rather than striving to conform to empty, soul killing societal norms and expectations.

    And on that note, have a fantastic weekend :)

  5. I haven't seen Mad Men. Another one to add to the list!

  6. Sweet - look what I just found:

    I guess that is one of the pros to this digital technology! hehe :)

  7. Haha Darryn, you are too funny! :P

    And Lucy, I've taken many pictures of gorgeous places, and they sure don't look like they come from a postcard like many of you do ;)