Who is Adam Curtis? He’s a former BBC producer of ‘That’s Life’ where dogs performed feats of derring-do and pensioners from Bexhill wrote to complain about the price of steak and kidney pie in their local Co-op store. Adam is now working for the BBC in their Current Affairs department. (You can read about his career at the link above.) Apart from his position on the ‘editorial steering committee’ at Popbitch, Adam is also the producer of a series of documentaries on the nature and means of political power since the beginning of the 20th century. Yes, pretty much all of it.
Adam makes documentaries with a distinctive style of presentation: he reels through hours of archive footage to come up with a series of collages to make his point about the ways in which élites in society have transformed political discourse and structures particularly in ‘the West’. He intersperses the use of this collage effect of archive footage (news clips and fatuous representations of consumer capitalism) with interviews of political theorists, industrialists and psychologists he conducts himself.
Adam’s latest series of documentaries entitle The Trap: what happened to our dreams of freedom takes as its subject how western governments set about reconstituting popular and populist notions of ‘freedom’ in democracies to secure the limitations of these freedoms through repressive measures. The ‘unrestrained’ market has replaced the ballot box as the means through which preference can be expressed and all we have to do is free people from class restraints and the market will take care of the rest through individual choice. A nebula of ideas around Berlin’s negative and positive freedoms, Fanon’s revolutionary leading of the masses and the legitimacy of the armed struggle toward individual freedoms is what follows. Heavy stuff and almost worth transcribing for fear of missing a point in the bombardment of images presented. You can watch these 3 one-hour documentaries online at the internet archive or torrent’ing them using something like mininova.
I have many questions about the ideas that Adam Curtis is putting forward. Key among these is ‘what does it means to have freedom in a democracy?’ and ‘how are the collectivities of wishes, desires and needs expressed in complex societal systems?’ I was fascinated by the last episode of The Trap in particular because it leads to all sorts of questions about the ways in which power is wielded here in Ireland.
However, and here is where I’m at a loss, is it important in my life to struggle about big political ideas or about loving those close to me? Writing this sentence just now made me think of Alfonso Cuarón‘s recent Children of Men film…..which probably what made me use Bexhill in the example above.