Monday 2 September 2013, 13:55
Much of the debate about whether to intervene in Syria or not is taking place in a strange ahistorical vacuum. As with so much debate about humanitarian intervention the underlying world view is of a simplified story of bad dictators and good, well intentioned westerners who must somehow intervene to stop him.
But the truth is that America has a very complicated relationship with Syria which stretches back over sixty years.
Back in the 1950s America set out to intervene in Syria, liberate the people from a corrupt elite, and bring about a new democracy. They did this with the best of intentions, but it led to disaster. And out of that disaster the Assad regime rose to power.
America's actions were by no means the only factor that led to the violence and horror. But their unforeseen consequences played an important role in shaping a feverish paranoia in Syria in the late 1950s - which helped Assad, and his Baath Party, come to power.
A while ago I wrote the story of America's strange relationship with Syria and the dark and bloody twists and turns that resulted - from 1947 onwards. I thought it would be good to link to it again because so much of what happened is relevant to today...
Thursday 8 August 2013, 17:31
The recent revelations by the whistleblower Edward Snowden were fascinating. But they - and all the reactions to them - had one enormous assumption at their heart.
That the spies know what they are doing.
It is a belief that has been central to much of the journalism about spying and spies over the past fifty years. That the anonymous figures in the intelligence world have a dark omniscience. That they know what's going on in ways that we don't.
It doesn't matter whether you hate the spies and believe they are corroding democracy, or if you think they are the noble guardians of the state. In both cases the assumption is that the secret agents know more than we do.
But the strange fact is that often when you look into the history of spies what you discover is something very different.
It is not the story of men and women who have a better and deeper understanding of the world than we do. In fact in many cases it is the story of weirdos who have created a completely mad version of the world that they then impose on the rest of us.
I want to tell some stories about MI5 - and the very strange people who worked there. They are often funny, sometimes rather sad - but always very odd.
Wednesday 19 June 2013, 16:00
A LIVE SHOW STARTING IN TWO WEEKS TIME IN MANCHESTER
The show is a collaboration between myself and the brilliant Robert del Naja of Massive Attack.
What links us is not just cutting stuff up - but an interest in trying to change the way people see power and politics in the modern world. To say to them - have you thought of looking at it like this?
We've used film, music, stories and ideas to try and do this - to build a new kind of experience. The best way we can describe it is "a Gilm" - a new way of integrating a gig with a film that has a powerful overall narrative and emotional individual stories.
The show will be a bit of a total experience. You will be surrounded by all kinds of images and sounds. But it is also about ideas. It tells a story about how a new system of power has risen up in the modern world to manage and control us. A rigid and static system that has found in those images and sounds a way of enveloping us in a thin two-dimensional version of the past.
A fake, but enchanting world which we all live in today - but which has also become a new kind of prison that prevents us moving forward into the future.
Along with Massive Attack the show will star two great singers...
Friday 26 April 2013, 15:03
I'm afraid I haven't been posting any stories recently. The reason is that I am in the midst of putting together a live show with Massive Attack. It's a joint production between the BBC and the Manchester Festival.
I've had quite a few requests to put up a film I made a while ago about Mrs Thatcher - called The Attic. It's about how she constructed a fake ghostly version of Britain's past, and then used it to maintain her power. But also how she became possessed and haunted by this vision.
I'm putting it up as a bit of a corrective to the terrifying wonk-fest that took over after Mrs Thatcher...
Tuesday 5 March 2013, 16:07
One of the guiding beliefs of our consuming age is that we are all free and independent individuals. That we can choose to do pretty much what we want, and if we can't then it's bad.
But at the same time, co-existing alongside this, there is a completely different, parallel universe where we all seem meekly to do what those in power tell us to do. Ever since the economic crisis in 2008, millions of people have accepted cuts in all sorts of things - from real wages and living standards to benefits and hospital care - without any real opposition.
The cuts may be right, or they may be stupid ...
Wednesday 30 January 2013, 18:52
The West is worried about the rise of Islamism in Africa. There are two big fears - one is that there is a new international terror network that will come and attack Europe and America. The other is that sneaky Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood will get themselves elected - and then promptly abolish democracy.
But behind these fears is an incredibly simplified - almost fictional - vision of the world. It possesses the minds of many western politicians, journalists and associated think tank "experts". And at its heart is a kind of filter that wipes away anything complex about power...
Thursday 20 December 2012, 15:19
THE POLITICAL USE AND ABUSE OF ANIMALS ON TV
Animals have been a central part of television from the very beginning. But over that time the way animals are portrayed on TV has varied enormously - not just in the way they are filmed, but in the stories they are used to tell the viewers.
And the truth is that the animal programmes are far more about us than they are about the animals. They are really about how we see ourselves. I have always been convinced that animal programmes are one of the most powerful ideological expressions of our time - telling stories that both express and reinforce...
Friday 30 November 2012, 11:21
HOW THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD, HAMAS AND THE ISRAELI RIGHT BECAME CO-DEPENDENTS IN AN ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIP
Last week there was yet another cycle of horrific violence in the Gaza strip. This week there are demonstrations in Cairo driven by fears that the revolution is being hi-jacked by the Islamists. Liberals in the west look on baffled and horrified. What they thought was a glorious revolution in the Arab world is morphing into something they don't understand. While Gaza is like some brutal other planet forever possessed by hi-tech assassinations and bearded aliens dragging corpses around...
Wednesday 14 November 2012, 15:22
I have always been fascinated by the way music can completely change the way you watch film - and how you feel as you watch the images.
For the last year or so I have been collecting all sorts of footage of people dancing that I found in the BBC archives. In all I gathered over two thousand shots culled from all kinds of programmes. I then cut some of them together to music by the wonderful 70s German band Neu.
I think it gives a sense that we are all together in the dance.
I then took exactly the same sequence of images - I haven't altered even a frame - and put them to a montage of some...
Sunday 21 October 2012, 14:32
HOW COLONEL GADDAFI AND THE WESTERN ESTABLISHMENT
TOGETHER CREATED A PANTOMIME WORLD
Things come and go in the news cycle like waves of fever. A year ago Colonel Gaddafi was killed and an avalanche of camera phone footage of his last minutes was played again and again on the news channels. Then it stopped - and Gaddafi disappeared off into the dark.
What remains is all the footage recording Gaddafi's forty year career as a global weirdo. But the closer you look at the footage and what lies behind it - you begin to discover an odd story that casts a rather unflattering light on many of the elites...