From movies to sitcoms to advertising, his legacy permeates our popular culture.
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Dali's work revolved around the exploration of dreams and their symbols. Movies, arguably the collective dreams of today's culture, have traded heavily in dream imagery over the years, according to Glen Gabbard, author of "Psychiatry and the Cinema."Skip to next paragraph
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"Dream imagery is part of the way we tell stories in our culture," says Dr. Gabbard, a professor at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kan.
Madison Avenue has understood and mined the power of dreams. What Freud did in exploring issues such as neuroses, sublimation, and hidden desires, says show curator Roth, was to create a model for advertisers to cash in on people's deeper motivations. And while the average modern American, raised on irony and post-Freudian repudiations of the past, might think himself too hip to be taken in, Roth says "buyer beware."
Ad campaigns from the overtly sexual (Calvin Klein's perfume, "Desire") to the humorous (Got Milk?) appeal to so-called latent desires and motivations.
Freud, Thompson adds, was interested in helping people function better as human beings. Advertisers want to use psychology to move consumers to action, mostly, he says, to buy things they don't even know they want - and probably won't want when they get them home.
One of Freud's most valuable contributions is the rebuttal he generated from thoughtful critics of his theories.
"Freud has to be killed off every year or two," Gabbard says. "There is a basic feeling of anathema to the idea that we are unconsciously controlled. People hate the idea that they aren't in control of their lives."
"He opened doors and windows into interesting topics and interpretive frameworks," says magician Eugene Burger, who takes his act around the globe. The theme of Mr. Burger's show is the power of dreams, and how their interpretation can be used to healing effect. "For [our] time, he's just a symbol of that [inquiry], nothing more."
In many ways, Freud's work was as much a function of its time, essentially a Victorian Europe. His real contribution was in opening up new avenues of thought.
As with many of the issues Freud investigated, dream interpretation is as old as Western civilization itself. But he managed to pull many strands together at a time when the concept of self-examination was "in the air," exhibition curator Roth says. "He brought together certain concepts and gave narrative energy to a group of things that dealt with the notion that our automatic actions, the things we do without thinking, the stuff that doesn't seem to have any intention behind it, these are the things that carry enormous amounts of meaning." It is our secrets, he says, the things we keep hidden from ourselves, that turn out to be the most important.
Many of Freud's themes, deeply imbedded in popular culture, serve to remind us that there are unconscious forces acting beyond our awareness that make us behave in certain ways. Gabbard suggests that while Freud may be wrong about many things, the destructive events throughout human history remind us of the importance of examining our motives, either as individuals or as a whole.
These examinations serve as a counterbalance to a peculiarly American desire to shake off the past. "The basic American theme is the joyous destruction of history," says media professor Thompson. "The way to the future is to annihilate the past." The carnage of this century alone suggests history has a few lessons left to teach. "Freud could've made the argument, 'If only I could've gotten Hitler on my couch, World War II would never have happened,' " Thompson says.
Whether the psychoanalyst could've changed the course of history is beside the point, he adds. What's important are the enduring questions Freud posed to our culture.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society