and All Watched Over, By Machines of Loving Grace…

A 1945 filmstrip briefing for the reconstruction of Germany.

A Picture of NeoNazi 'Ultras' fighting Riot Police in the Ukraine reminds me of this prescient Adam Curtis segment - first about Artificial Intelligence (Drones and Data Mining) and then about National/Historical memories coming into play.

Ukraine is again divided by two visions of Modern Europe - one looking to Berlin; the other to Moscow.

Modernism, Technocracy and Atomic Power

1962 - The delusions and fears of intelligence agencies presented as an imminent and real threat. Selling people dreams and nightmares while the real decisions are made behind closed doors.

"When I was a little kid in the BBC, when I was just starting, I literally cut together some of Mrs. Thatcher’s speeches with “I Wanna Be Me” by the Sex Pistols, and a lot of my so-called friends wouldn’t talk to me for a long time. There’s a whole generation just a little bit older than me who loved punk, but I’ve never understood it. I mean, it was fun, but basically Mrs. Thatcher was on the coattails of something bigger, she wasn’t the leader of it, and punk was just another manifestation of it. It was the desire to be a free individual, not constrained, not controlled. Which ain’t far away from a libertarian market view of the world. Punks don’t like that."

Adam Curtis

You do not just serve your genes. You are possessed by the ghosts of your forebears. Their memes infect us and shape the world. You are a light source and a reflection.

  • Man 1: Do you think we can do anything about it?
  • Man 2: Well, why not? If we can work together now to look after the lives of the people here I don't see why we couldn't work together afterwards to clear up the mess; and help build a better world in which these things can't possibly happen.
  • Narrator: The Qualities we've learned from comradeship and common suffering are not going to be wasted after this War. It is out of experiences like ours that the New World will be built.
"Look, television never really changes things. It either reinforces things that are just there anyway or it reinforces things that are in the back of people’s minds that those in power haven’t recognized. Television is a reinforcing medium. It’s really used by those in power to reinforce ideas, but it’s not a revolutionary medium, it’s not a revealing medium. It really isn’t. In The Power of Nightmares, people knew that already—I was just saying, well, it’s sort of true. I was reinforcing that and giving them confidence, I think. It’s just the weaseliness of our academics and our “terror experts” that were stopping it from emerging."

— Adam Curtis

So the British invented what they called “Air Control”. It was the first use of aerial bombing to put down a civilian uprising - and it was promoted as both a humanitarian and a moral way of keeping control. The bombers would be clean and precise, hitting only the buildings and fuel stores of the unruly tribes.

The first large-scale bombing was in November 1923 in the Samawah district on the Euphrates. It was against defiant tribes from the Bani Huchaim confederation. A British Special Services officer called John Glubb had done a reconnaissance and worked out who he thought were the sheikhs who led the tribes.

It is interesting seeing more critiques of Adam Curtis as a result of his show - this one seemed positive about his work but came away from the show feeling visually impressed but without any new ideas. The show was sort of just a skimming of previous works, drawing a bit from Pandora’s Box and his blog.

I’d say the most interesting stuff came from this post about Russia in the 1990’s. Especially about how Putin and Surkov have produced Staged Democracy.

This review was more harsh; the critic is an artist and seems familiar with the important ideas of post-modernity and spectacle. But he should look at Curtis’ rallying call to learn from history - to look at technology, power, and narrative.

Our current society has a goldfish memory - reporters and politicians only make simple, and usually flattering, comparisons to history. If the public had a more substantial grasp of the 20th Century they could demand leaders with more to offer; turning away from our current prospects of unimaginative, managed stagnation.

All of Mr.Curtis’ work is recommended

There was a time before photography when manufacturing portraits was a major art with personal rivalries.

The same could be said of books - but the printing press and mass literacy changed that equation. Then the media of sound & video emerged and now they too are becoming ubiquitously recorded.

Now digital images have completely changed these equations - with the Internet and a PC a person can do the work of a secretarial staff of 1913.

I think that was one of the broad themes Adam Curtis has been working on - the confusion of a new signal to noise ratio. We don’t know how to react and we delegate as much decision making and work as possible. Instead of finding a signal in the noise we have the contractor mentality - we pay someone else to do it for us.