Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Adam Curtis and the Power of Themes

Conspiracy theories resonate when you read them because they make sense. They appeal to a natural desire to arrange the world in some kind of pattern, to derive order from the chaotic array of ideas that one is presented with every day. When nations or the politicians who run them behave in a manner that we experience as dangerous and hurtful it is easy to believe that a secret order is behind things, that a cabal exists and seeks to move the larger world to suit its own needs, regardless of your own, individual life.

Consider instead that maybe this is the opposite of what is occurring. That maybe the powerful elements in our society are actually doing their best, promoting your greatest interests using the grand levers that are before them as leaders of governments, nations and societies. Maybe also it is not the politicians themselves who scheme but instead cultural arbiters who have the real influence - philosophers, scientists and artists - each laboring and devising new ways to view human society and speaking openly to an audience of the open-minded.

Next consider that our present world is the direct result of these efforts to create a more ordered society, a better adjusted culture and a happier individual. This is the world of Adam Curtis.

Adam Curtis is a BBC Documentarian. Since the mid-1990's he has worked to illustrate how our modern society has resulted from deliberate efforts and their largely unanticipated consequences. He uses arching themes, archival footage and historical patterns to illuminate the way in which ideas have been hatched by creative individual thinkers and then adapted by political and business leaders to create not just the societies we live in but also the people themselves, their views on potential and the limits on their awareness of alternatives.

Familiarity with the ideas explored b Adam Curtis is essential in understanding the recent history of the world you inhabit and the intellectual framework in which your own views on it happen to exist. Guaranteed to enlighten and entertain.

The best place to start is with 2002's The Century of the Self, an exploration of how the ideas of Sigmund Freud were adapted by his nephew to found the Public Relations industry:

The Century of the Self
(four parts)

The most recent major release is 2007's The Trap and is a three-part exploration of our concept of political freedom and the philosophical underpinnings used to increase it by our recent political leaders. It is available online here:

The Trap
(three parts)

Another essential work is 2004's The Power of Nightmares which is an exploration of the shared foundation of Neo-Conservative ideology as well as modern fundamentalist Islam.

The Power of Nightmares
(three parts)

Editor's note: The Illogical Contraption Posse (ICP for short) would like to take a moment to welcome back The Heckler, whose endearing bitterness and sarcasm has been absent from these hallowed pages for over 8 months. As it turns out, he wasn't actually "gone" at all, but merely locked inside the janitor's closet here at ICHQ, perfectly content absorbing the works of David Icke and constructing pipe bombs out of toilet paper rolls, sewing kits, and laundry detergent. Who knew?


cdg said...

I saw the 'Power of Nightmares' back-to-back with 'Darwin's Nightmare'. Total bummer of an evening.

Helm said...

Yes, great thinker, invaluable commentary, useful for all thinking beings.

Charles T Heckler said...

Anyone who doesn't skip a beat as they refer to Margaret Thatcher as a radical is someone you should be listening to.

Steven said...

Bertrand Russell (Freud's nephew) wrote extensively on how to control/influence the masses. His ideas were taken to heart by the advertising industry, among others. Philosophers, artists, etc, have their influence on culture, but real political power ultimately derives from the control of money. This has been known since the invention of money.

Conspiracy theories (true or not) represent a threat to State power. Libertarian thinker Murray Rothbard wrote about them on occasion.

Charles T Heckler said...

I think knowing about things like this will make a person more likely to believe in conspiracy.