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The National Association of educational broadcasters presents Freud and the American consumer one in a series of transcribed programs dealing with some of the discoveries and errors of Sigmund Freud. A series titled Man is not a thing. First you will hear Dr. Eric Fromm psychoanalyst and author as recorded in his study in Cuernavaca Mexico. Then you will meet Robert Nisbet dean of the College of Letters and Science University of California Riverside. Together with Lloyd Ross professor of world religions at the Southern California School of Theology and Dr. Edward Rutan chief psychiatry of the California State Mental hygiene clinic in Riverside. Now here is Erich Fromm as interviewed by John harder in Quanah back in Mexico. That from how do you feel Sigmund Freud might view Madison Avenue and the American advertising agency and there's tremendous machinery we have for the production and consumption of goods where I think I could answer that in a very simple sentence he would just run away horrified.
And yet it's a very strange thing that Madison Avenue if you use that as a symbol for modern mass manipulation in many ways claims to be based on fraud. And I should like to say a few words about the claims which it makes explicitly or implicitly. First of all is Madison Avenue no more than advertising is based on one economic principle which indeed is very important for the functioning of our economy. And that is of unlimited and unrestricted consumption. What we do what we are taught to do what we are custom to do is to consume as much as we can and not to pay as we go but sometimes the people pay before we go. Now that is often connected with something in which Freud was quite misunderstood. Freud was misunderstood with regard to his theory of sex. What Freud really showed was that if
sex is repressed and frustrated beyond a certain point and you roses can develop from this where that is theoretically and clinically correct or not is off the point right now. But that was his idea. But the way he has been misunderstood was as if any kind of frustration in CICS or anything else could do damage to people. And so what many parents and even teachers learn from Freud was that the greatest danger is to frustrate little Johnny if he wants or he better have it. If he wants it he better have it. And of course this is a principle which is the basis for modern advertising in mass manipulation. To teach men that he should have no frustrations. He should have no conflicts that he should never postpone an enjoyment for tomorrow if he could have it today. And in this way a mis understood Freud with regard to 6
has been used by a tendency which is deeply ingrained in our whole economic system namely the tendency of no frustration no conflict and unlimited and restricted consumption. Why May there not be a technology for the creation of anxiety here which then can be resolved by the buying of things. I'm thinking of the term psychological obsolescence this is a new piece of Madison Avenue slang. This is to create the impression of obsolescence in a perfectly good article which still does the job but now it is either out of fashion out of style or something. Yes that's quite true actually. People are out only for the new because they have forgotten very important quality which our grandfather still had namely to enjoy something by itself for itself in its essence of really living with something. What we do today is to buy something and the
real pleasure is the buying of the new thing. I think many people if they were honest about their concept of heaven would say it's something like a big department store in which you can buy anything you like in which you have the money to buy it and perhaps always a little bit more than you need. Actually I would say a generation of sucklings. Aim is to drink in drinks and books and shawls and lectures and to remain consumers not only in the economic sphere but in all other spheres intellectual sphere in the artistic sphere. Always to be passive always to cause to consume and not to participate and not to create. And that is exactly the opposite of what Freud's picture of man and what he or she really is. But actually we started this is only one aspect of how Freud is used and wrongly used in the modern so-called
social research or whatever names of AIDS research years motivation research now in the motivation research now in the last few years has discovered Freud and uses as I see it a rather primitive way. Some of Freud's sexual theories too were discover how one could manipulate the customer better or from another standpoint worse perhaps. Actually So one finds out what may attract a man to drink beer or to smoke a cigarette against another. But the essential difference in contradiction to Freud is that Freud tried to find out the reality of men while motivational research tries to find out his fantasy in order to manipulate the fantasy rather than to help men to arrive at an awareness of what is real in himself and in the world outside. And I would say even if the so-called motivation research uses the one of the other Freud in symbol it has nothing
to do with Freud's great discoveries because it is by its very nature and by its very aimed concerned with fantasy and illusion and money pollution. Why Freud was concerned with the reality. Seeing the reality in not manipulating man but to enable him to see and judge and respond by himself. How long do you feel that this kind of manipulation could continue though. Creation in some cases creation of innovation and then the operation of the acceptance of the solution and the predicting of behavior on the basis of a threat to the state and frankly I do not think it can last for ever because man is just not made to be a thing. What we see today to America is in an enormous number of neurosis. Now some person sings he comes to a second analyst because his marriage is unhappy or he's dissatisfied with his job. But if one studies there's a little more deeply one finds that the real reason for all this is a
sense of emptiness of life that he's living in the midst of plenty without joy that his life friends out of his hands like sand that he knows having all the plenty he ought to enjoy life and he doesn't. And this creates in men a deep sense not only of frustration but of despair. There are many ways of escaping from this despair but deep down men cannot and we really have an increasing number of nervous breakdowns an increasing number of the pressures unless we seize to believe that man is what he is not namely a thing. I think unless we put men back in the saddle and make our social life a means to the end of his own folly. Unless we do that we shall end with a generation of ever more impoverished human beings with more things with more things and will less joy with
less reason. And indeed with the danger of falling for dictatorships which relieved men from the sense of responsibility and make him a complete automaton you have heard Dr Eric Fromm psychoanalyst and author as recorded in his study in Cuernavaca Mexico. Now to continue our discussion of Freud and the consumer will switch to Studio C at San Bernardino Valley College where we're joined in Robert knows but how the University of California Riverside Professor Floyd Ross at the Southern California School of Theology and Dr. Edward Rhoden chief psychiatry list of the riverside state mental hygiene clinic. They know us but as our moderator. Well gentlemen I think the remarks we have just heard from Dr. from. Remind us in very vivid fashion indeed that we're living in an age that is probably unprecedented in one respect at least. And I'm referring to they share abundance and ingenious diversity of their
consumer goods all around us. It's this planet you consumer goods that has led more than one sociologist to refer to the emergence of a kind of consumer mentality in the United States at the present time. I'm not sure that this is restricted to the United States but I think everybody would have to agree that it exists in largest scope and most intensely in the United States. Dr. Roden. Yes Dina's but the consumer mentality based on an economy of abundance may be one facet of the response of Americans as consumers. But Dr. Frum has indicated that they need to consume and may also be related to some kind of a distortion of Freud's ideas which lead leads us to the conclusion that we must not frustrate
ourselves and the abundant economy then provides us with goods which by which we hope to prove to ourselves that we are not frustrated we can continue to feed ourselves through the abundance of material things perhaps to overcome some sense of deprivation and that we have about the non material goods. Professor Ross. And isn't it true that while we are being manipulated by those who want us to consume more and more. We are innocents involved in our own manipulation in terms that is already referred to here namely we're victimized by our own wants and our irrational desires and needs which we haven't stopped really looking at. Well wait a minute I break in here for a moment and be a layman at least at this juncture. What do you mean when you say we may be victimized by our desires for things that we don't really want. Isn't it possible that
the addition of a second car the purchase of very fine looking electric skillet. Or the acquisition of an air conditioner for one's kitchen. Are these things that possibly people really do want. I think any one of these things or all of them together can serve truly human values and goals and I think they can serve a meaningful place in our lives. But I have the feeling that in many cases. We do not stop to ask ourselves whether this is something which will contribute to a meaningful personal existence. We simply feel impelled our compound or both to buy this because we have been swayed by the slogans and the advertisement. In other words the individual who really kind of forward only a small make or a low priced car becomes persuaded that his social prestige or is psychological and
hence Mint will be greatly benefited if he goes several notches above what he can afford. There is something of the quality of needing to own needing to possess which lies behind this consumption of goods too. From talked about the taking in quality the Aquitaine quality of our consumption and this is a kind of passive taking in that's strangely reminiscent of the feeding of the newborn infant. There isn't anything that is given out in turn. It's simply a satisfaction of some kind of internal craving and it is almost as though the adult American must continue to feed himself with food or with drink or with another car or with entertainment to sit back passively and take in from the world in this very instant Teil manner and of course one of the questions which I as a psychiatrist ask about this is what prompts this
kind of mass regression. What prompts this kind of behavior in which a whole society tends to return to an infant Teil oral stage. And I wonder just wonder whether this could be related for the entire mass for the entire group to such factors as the economic depression through which many of us have recently gone and some need to acquire now a storehouse perhaps to make up for lost time. Perhaps just to be sure in the event of future crisis. I wonder too how much the female revolution itself the emancipation of the female with its tendency perhaps to reduce the impact of the female as mother in the home has led to some basic deprivations in individuals which they then try to satisfy through this acquisition of material goods. I just wonder about these things. Well I'm much impressed by your reference to the depression. Because I think anyone
who is now in adulthood. Even those who are considerably older than merely young adults will probably not forget for a long time the psychological experience of the depression of the 1930s. There are so many people in this country who have very acute Memories indeed of what it meant not to have enough not merely to go without but not to have enough to go through an era at the present time where wages are high and profits are high and where there is genuine abundance I think probably you're quite right Dr. Ruth that this in itself as a memory is a historical factor that is operating to stimulate buying beyond what would probably be the case had we not lived through that period of depression. PROFESSOR ROSS And yet as a maturing person and possibly mature persons. We need to learn not to be tormented by these memories of the past and we certainly need to look around is that some of the members of the
younger generation and raise the question again. Why is it that so many of us seem to feel that we must satisfy our wants the minute they arise. And of course we live in a culture which has learned to stimulate our wants know and you might well want to answer to that Professor Ross might be the share success of a campaign to make installment buying respectable in the United States that goes back of course 25 or 30 years but I suppose most of us can remember at least to our parents when there was a good deal is made at the thought of installment purchasing. By now I think that is regarded as a respectable way to live and a great many people in our society frankly use it as a means of saving. It's an expensive way to save what you consider interest charges but nevertheless it is one way of forced saving. And this too has a kind of passive quality to it doesn't it. It seems to me that we find this not only in the acquisition of goods but in the acquisition of
ideas as well. There is a kind of consumption of mental health ideas. People are clamoring for answers about normalcy. People not going through any great efforts to develop maturity or to really work on. There are relationships but one thing to be told. Sitting back passively wanting to be made normal or mentally healthy or whatever it is that they're seeking. May I ask this about a half a century ago in a very brilliant American economist and sociologist Thorston Vettel in advance the idea of what he called conspicuous consumption. And it was his contention that a great many Americans bought things not because they needed them are going to have any earthly use for them but because it was a bad judge so to speak of their social success. Do you find I much I would be interested in knowing whether you two gentlemen
feel that there is anything at the present time that is comparable to conspicuous consumption. Oh I think this is certainly true at one level I think that there is much of the status baggage that is involved in what one owns. Again I think this is true about the ownership of if not ideas at least the ownership of some kind of experience. I have been through such and such an experience I have been psychoanalyzed and this is a kind of status badge too in some circles. I am interested in mental health functions Consequently I am a mature person. It represents a kind of a badge of status perhaps in some ways intellectual status. I have the AB degree or the Peer Gynt Yes. PROFESSOR ROSS Can I go back to a comment that Dr. Ruth made a little while ago regarding the infant level of our responses in connection with this matter of
consumption. Can we say that there's a great deal of lack of self discipline in ourselves and in our culture in that we want to be ministered unto passively mother gives us all we want and we don't have to pay for it. Certainly not on the present day installment plan. It's more or less painless. We hadn't learned that in growing up there have to be choices and there have to be postponements in the satisfaction of some wants because there are larger wants that need to be satisfied in the longer run. Yes what the seller has of course taken advantage of our helplessness in this particular manner and has made it very easy for us to take in without having to do so responsibly too easily is one aspect of Doc from the remarks that I would like to go back to and that is is the contention that passive A-T spectator ism nonparticipation
characterize the American consumer at the present time. But I wonder if Dr Frum is aware of the rather large dimensions of the do it yourself movement in the United States at the present time. I had thought of that also. When you realize for example what they share a volume of paint sold by paint factories is not to the professional painters but to homeowners who are doing their own painting. And this is true of wallpaper and there has been a small eddy in the prosperity of this economic system in the tool industry for example. I wonder if the do it yourself movement isn't something that we might not have foreseen even two decades ago. Well I'm not sure that I could guess even at this point what the do it yourself movement caters to what particular need of the individual it does cater to. Unless it is an attempt to
say to the individual you are in fact an independent being you can exist in the society as an individual alone and to yourself. And yet this is certainly not true even of the do it yourself and I think more and more people are finding that do it yourself represents a good hobby attent. But when they want to dun they call somebody in. Is it perhaps one symptom however that some people are at least vaguely sensing that they'd like to get out of this vicious circle they have been caught in. It may be a vague response to be sure. Well of course there is. There is one obvious answer and that is that if you can do any of your own plumbing or any of your own painting you save a good deal of money. But that isn't the side that strikes me at the moment but I am most impressed by is the sheer respectability of the do it yourself movement in American society at the present time. I'd like to try to relate this to something a doctor from referred to the sense of emptiness that haunts the lives of many people in our time.
I'm wondering if this doesn't relate also to the over investment in our wants and the over consumption at the beck and call of the trades. Namely too many people are working only for the paycheck that comes at the end of the week. You don't really find meaning in the job they're doing and so they try to find meaning through the things that the paycheck will buy. It seems to me this is one of the most tragic things that happens in a society that becomes increasingly depersonalized are mechanised in its means of production and its means of consumption. Is this related also to the need of the individual to be creative. A need which is not satisfied by and large in the relationships on the job for example and with most relationships in the community. Since I cannot create something myself maybe I can make an effort or gesture toward this and the do it yourself function. I think that has a lot to do with it. Maybe also I can substitute for what I cannot create by at least acquiring a good deal of goods which
represents creation even though it isn't my creation. Quite apart from the depersonalize ation of modern life the bigness of organization they anonymity. I think a great many of us find our So increasingly in positions that we in situations I should say that we cannot resolve instantly and cleanly and we're left with a certain frustration as a result. Now if after a day in the office facing administrative problems which I have not been able to resolve in any clean cut fashion I can go home and pick up some tools and go to a workbench and devise a nice cabinet or finish a nice cabinet that evening. I have it seems to me satisfied what is certainly one of the most fundamental drives in the human system and that is that I have tangible evidence of your own creation Exactly. I think one point that Freud perhaps didn't emphasize as much as he should or at least that we can use that much is man needs sexual
relationship. Even deeper perhaps is his need to be creatively related in many ways which includes a creative sexual relationship. What man needs even in his consumption physical goods or in his consumption same sex wants is a certain quality of relatedness and we've tended to settle for a certain quantity of relationships or quantity of goods or quantity of experiences erotic or otherwise. That's right. American industry you know learned a great deal during the Second World War when there was such a crucial shortage of skilled labor in the United States at that time it was necessary to bring by the hundreds of thousands people from rural areas who had never before been subjected to the industrial discipline and they fall and in many instances the assembly line debate almost wholly intolerable because of the atomization the fragmentation of the work process at the assembly line involved. And so what many industrial engineers
concluded was that the productive process had to be geared somehow with human relationships so that individuals could work in terms of groups and more important so they could see a process through to completion. And the assembly line production produces also an anonymity of the individual. He loses his sense of individuality when he works as just another cog in this machine. And might it not also be then that the individual in order to restore some sense of his own individuality to give up some of his anonymity needs to acquire symbols which he can present as being himself even though in the end these symbols are all alike everybody has the same kinds of possessions and symbols. And don't we need to remind ourselves that man is more than a bundle of wants
passively to be exploited by those who have something to sound. Man is a creature who seeks to transcend himself looks for a larger and larger purpose and who seeks a sense of direction. And so long as we try to satisfy our deeper human needs through the fragment of our wants it seems to me we're bound to be haunted by this sense of emptiness the doctor from referred to as a sense of vocation as that term used to be used where man is called to do that which his potentialities are built for and he finds himself in this fulfillment of his potentialities and this way I think there's more chance that we will become mature creative persons. I think you're quite right. If there is a healthy tendency. In American economy at the present time it is the tendency toward placing the technological
process once again in a matrix of human relationships. But until that is done I think we're going to find ourselves confronted at every hand with a phenomenon mass boredom apathy weariness and fatigue that come from monotony. And I think it is in this sense that doctor from ZZ words are so prophetic in a way that if we regard each human being as composed an equal part of producer and consumer. So long as they produce or that is in each of us is frustrated. It is the consumer in him who through the whole supermarket mentality the conception the doctor from referred to heaven as a department store is going to try to find a means of compensating for the frustrations all they produce are. But I think once again we have reached a stopping point
and I want to thank you Professor Floyd Ross of the Southern California School of Theology and you Dr. Edward Rutan chief psychiatrist of the riverside state mental hygiene clinic. You have been listening to Freud and the American consumers. One in a series of transcribed programs concerned with the discoveries and errors of Sigmund Freud. A series titled Man is not a thing. First you heard Dr. Eric from psychoanalyst and author who's interviewed in his study in Cuernavaca Mexico then to Studio C at San Bernardino Valley College where we heard from Robert Nisbet dean of the College of Letters and Science University of California Riverside. Together with Lloyd Ross professor of world religion Southern California School of Theology and Dr. Edward Rutan chief psychiatry east of the California State Mental hygiene clinic in Riverside. These programs were produced and edited by John harder for the community education division of San Bernardino Valley College and were developed under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters.
Man is not a thing
Freud and the American consumer
Producing Organization
San Bernardino Valley College
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program, "Freud and the American Consumer," looks at how Freud's theories relate to the habits of American consumers.
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This series presents a discussion of the discoveries and errors of Sigmund Freud and his impact on the American family, politics and religion.
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Editor: Harding, Bob
Interviewer: Walker, Fred
Producer: Harter, John
Producing Organization: San Bernardino Valley College
Speaker: Fromm, Erich, 1900-1980
Speaker: Nisbet, Robert A.
Speaker: Ross, Floyd Hiatt
Speaker: Rudin, Edward
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 58-22-7 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:09
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Chicago: “Man is not a thing; Freud and the American consumer,” 1958-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 9, 2022,
MLA: “Man is not a thing; Freud and the American consumer.” 1958-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 9, 2022. <>.
APA: Man is not a thing; Freud and the American consumer. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from