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Adam Curtis | 14:53 UK time, Thursday, 28 April 2011

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  • Comment number 1.

    Sweet! I take it that that's the final title then? A bit long, but cool nonetheless. For anyone who doesn't get the reference, see here:


  • Comment number 2.

    If this is supposed to get my excited, then you have succeeded Mr Curtis.

  • Comment number 3.

    The Medium for the Message

  • Comment number 4.

    Al Gore is a bad Apple

  • Comment number 5.

    When you say "novelists" don't you mean "children's author"?

  • Comment number 6.

    any chance of a date for this?

  • Comment number 7.

    Yes please.

  • Comment number 8.

    Looks excellent, looks intriguing and looks like the natural successor to 'It Felt Like a Kiss'. Is it intended to be streamed here on the blog?

  • Comment number 9.

    When oh When oh When?

  • Comment number 10.

    Mr. Curtis, tear down this Rand!

  • Comment number 11.

    This may be the most important random footage of the 21st century regarding Ayn Rand that exists in any digital archive.


  • Comment number 12.

    Hope this will be available to watch in the U.S. somehow. If not please bring it to the True/False Film Festival next year.

  • Comment number 13.

    I literally can't wait. I'm going to break into the BBC headquarters and get a copy of the films whilst they're all distracted by some wedding or something that's happening.

    Pop Quiz - musical connection between this and The Trap?

  • Comment number 14.

    Its on BBC2 kids, Chill.

  • Comment number 15.

    And another thing: Adam, would you mind if I stole your awesome documentary title for something I'm working on? :p

  • Comment number 16.

    I'm an recent ex-pat no living in LA. Do you programs (see what i did there) go out on BBC America?

  • Comment number 17.

    What's the song playing on this... anyone?

  • Comment number 18.

    Phil, the track is... Aua by Stereo Total, from the album Monikini.

    Technosnob, you're going to need to go on uknova or work out a vpn solution to get the Adam Curtis stuff in the US.

  • Comment number 19.

    I dare say that, rightly or wrongly, there are many individualists that I very much admire. On the basis that a few people are clearly against Ayn Rand, though I haven't read Atlas Shrugged, I found The Fountainhead at least to be very enjoyable. I think she picked up on something. Maybe Atlas Shrugged is a different ball game. I look forward to her analysis...

  • Comment number 20.

    Rand isn't such an individualist as she makes out. Her central philosophy is the idea of rational ethics rather than our own built in sensibilities, whims and choices. She is of course a romantic idealist (or a conformist new money aristocrat), and thus followers of Rand are exactly that, followers.

    The reason why Rand became so popular for her elitism (an ironic contradiction) is that her writings are so accessible to the masses. There is no real scholarship going on, only propaganda dressed as fiction.

    And as davesocrates says, The Fountainhead is actually well-written piece of neo-modern fiction. The characters may be absurdly non-human, but it has it's own charm and fascination all the same. Atlas Shrugged is a little bit more absurd and filled with odd monologues.

    Individualism is really a rebellion against conformity or hierarchical society. That is why anarchists and socialists have so much in common, and yet somewhat paradoxically opposite philosophies.

    I would love to see a new kind of egalitarianism spring up from the left, no longer ideologically motivated, but based in scientific knowledge and naturalism. That would bring the rebellious and cynical individuals in closer alignment with the more community orientated.

    In a sense, this is what is happening now in the atheist or secular movement. It's not ideological, and it would be great if the left saw us as allies rather than absurdly aligning with Islam.

  • Comment number 21.

    @ Fugger; themountaintop; drturding,

    I've been looking for a copy of 'Atlas Shrugged' in the Isle of Wight libraries; yet despite the books reputation as a significant point of view, there are no copies in the inventory.

    At least the Nazis had the honesty of burning books they disapproved of; whilst the Marxist-Feminists that run our public services, simply make things disappear from the inventory.

    Let us hope Google doesn't renege on its motto: "Never be evil." Otherwise all that the state doesn't approve of, will disappear from the search database.

    And if Google wont do evil, then the state can always turn off the internet:


  • Comment number 22.

    Please let us know in advance when it will be broadcast. My TV is switched off more or less permanently, but I make an exception for high quality programming.

  • Comment number 23.

    If this follows the kind of themes I think it will, it's something that's long overdue for the Curtis treatment. I look forward to seeing this one.

  • Comment number 24.

    @ Soft Bulletin

    That's the one -- cheers!

    @ Everyone who expresses an interest in Rand's 'philosophy'

    Really! People... Rand's philosophy is ridiculously shallow -- as are the characters (characatures?) in her so-called novels. I always thought these folks had it right: [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

    @ Adam Curtis and everyone else

    I see that your/his work is continuing to follow the direction laid down by economic historian Philip Mirowski (who appeared in The Trap). Mirowski's work is not particularly well-known, but I think more people should develop an interest in it. I get the strong impression that this is where Curtis is drawing his inspiration these days...

    Start here (WARNING: THIS IS A PDF FILE): https://www.fep.up.pt/docentes/joao/material/machine_dreams.pdf

  • Comment number 25.

    @StenkaRazin, that's what you get for living in the Tory stronghold like the IoW. Come over to Lib Dem dominated Portsmouth, we have it in the library here, plus a documentary on DVD about her, though someone's pinched the library's copy of The Fountainhead (that's objectivists for you, thieving selfish so-and-sos.)

  • Comment number 26.

    Curious about the URL held up on a bit of card - the site is long gone but it's available via the internet archive.

    Not sure what to make of it mind you:

  • Comment number 27.


    This might give a clue to the identity of the man behind the web address


    Arthur C. Clarke

  • Comment number 28.

    I re-viewed PT 3 of The Power of Nightmares today in the light of recent news...

    I've always viewed this series as your most sentient piece of work...and the one most difficult to grapple with in a critical way because it is so well framed, articulated and argued.

    This is the best reference I could find to something that happened prior to Obama's inauguration...hopefully it will pass the moderator's gateway...The Meeting of the Presidents.


    One wonders what the topics of conversation might have been...

    I wonder where we are now left in terms of how neccesary illusions become reality and whether we haven't missed something much bigger in real reality now.

    As Psychology points out so well Without a Face You Don't Know What you're Looking At.....I think that has been the point all along and now I have to go off and write the damn book.....I think that is probably my crit of the Power of Nightmares. That Mythology is all about creating a face. That politic is all about face. That is why there are current concerns about the imagery of death.

    I think you missed a trick Adam. But I think you kind of got the message over...

    Thanks Adam and all who contribute to this wonderful blog.....

  • Comment number 29.

    I read your column in the Guardian today Adam, and was a tad disappointed. I think you make several simplifications that end up doing the very things you supposedly abhor. Just want to make a few points:

    - Did the West "really" need another simplified story about the world to sustain itself after communism? I think the picture is much more fractured than that.

    - All these arguments about overarching stories make it sounds as if we're living in Plato's Cave, glimpsing the vague shadows of Islamo-fascism and neo-liberalism on the cave walls. It is tremendously cynical about people's capacity to understand the world as it is, where the mob is "hardwired" to believe such and such while only a few brave men (like you) see the actual truth behind the lies/distortion. Maybe that's not what you mean but it's how it comes across.

    - Methinks you're using a modified form of the Marxist idea of "false consciousness". Is this always appropriate? There's also a conception of the "cult of invisibility", where an intellectual tradition, such as, say, neo-conservatism, is hidden from view until it makes itself know in the world in a spectacular way. I've been following another blog about the history of science, and there's some good discussion of the rhetorical use of "theodicy" by historians and STS scholars:


    - You say "It allowed revolutionary Islamism, which throughout the 1990s had been failing dramatically to get the Arab people to rise up and follow its vision..". Really? Where did that happen? Maybe I'm simplifying, but I don't think the Arab people suddenly rose up at the behest of the Islamists. When the West invaded certain countries some groups fought back, but insurgencies hardly count as reovlutions IMHO. What are you referring to?

    - You also say "The Europeans still cling to it..". What to the "war on terror" idea of the world? Our politicians may have many faults, but their recent intervention in Lybia is IMHO not one of them. And whatever you may think about the merits of that enterprise, I don't think it's been justified in terms of counter terrorism activities. The Europeans are IMHO on the same ground as the Americans, which in your argument would mean they have also rejected that old vision. I may be wrong, but I don't think you provide evidence for that particular bit of the argument.

    - "The truth is that the stories are always constructed by those who have the power." Is it? Talk about a downer :). I think the point I would make here is that government is made of many different branches, all of which are not engaged in producing grandiose fantasies for public consumption. Some politicians, along with their allies in the media, surely engaged in that kind of rhetoric, but not everyone did. Some people criticized them, and some clung to the idea of "blood for oil", and the ones over there believed something else entirely...see what I mean?

    - Also, overall I think the column is not very well written, it is just trying to do too much and ends up patronising the reader. You're sort of condemning certain uses of rhetoric by engaging in rhetorical shortcuts yourself...

    Anyway, that's what I thought and I though you and people here should know. I'm sympathetic to what you have to say, and I think you're broadly right in what you're saying, but I think you have to structure your argument in a better way to avoid simplistic thinking. Some commentators, many on twitter, were not so kind, and a certain columnist from a certain national newspaper dubbed you the "Leni Riefenstahl of comfortable leftism", which amused me.

  • Comment number 30.


    Good find! It appears to be one of those classically weird sites you see all over the place. A strange mix between scientific (pseudo-scientific?) theory and ideology (note the 'libertarian vs. statism section).

    You get this blend more than you'd think on the internet. It usually ends with plans drawn up for a perpetual motion machine (see: the cold fusion stuff on that site) together with a blueprint for utopia.

    Can you say crank? I can... crank...

  • Comment number 31.

    Footage of the new series plus an interview with Adam in the Guardian:


  • Comment number 32.

    I think Juan raises some interesting points. Adam Curtis wants to tell us a story, and stories actually do simplify the realities of the world. That doesn't mean all stories are false, but I do sense that a bit of Marxist sentimentalism might be clouding Adam's mind when he's constructing stories to explain why we're now trapped inside machines.

    E.M. Forster wrote a short story over a century ago called The Machine Stops, predicting the internet and the resultant enslavement of humanity. And so the story is not a new one at all. But I do think we're overlooking the reason why we choose to escape the world into the abstract, and it's not about power, it's about the human condition itself.

  • Comment number 33.

    The benefits of machinery, automation and integration are supposed to lead to the utopian possibility of leisure... Well, that's never going to happen.

    There's a great film about Detroit (Requiem for) that explains the social consequences of certain economic and political actions (Fordism and neo-liberalism). Naomi Klein is good on the willful destruction of this kind of capitalism. JK Galbraith explained all this years ago.

    The machine is never benign... although it's not a terminator style robot. World bond markets are out-of-control and unstoppable (just ask Greece and Ireland). We're at war with the machine - a machine made up of millions of simple calculators making billions of calculations every second. It's unstoppable...
    We should beware the internet of things. It will be war with the fridge, and the light bulb. That war can never be won.
    I've posted about all this on my blog called pamphleteer.

  • Comment number 34.

    Ok, I've quickly reread the article and realized I misunderstood something Adam said. The fourth point I make about Adam's argument asks what evidence there is for Islamist inspired revolutions in recent years. However, this is not the point Adam makes and here's the full sentence:


    "It allowed revolutionary Islamism, which throughout the 1990s had been failing dramatically to get the Arab people to rise up and follow its vision, to regain its authority."

    The last clause, after the second comma, clinches it. The Islamists DID fail to get the people to rise up in the 90's, but the new wave of terrorist attacks allowed them to, as Adam says, regain some authority through fear. So apologies to Adam for that misrepresentation of what he said. I write too hastily sometimes...

    @Egbert. Yes, Adam simplies things for narrative continuity, he does that in all his movies. I think the article goes too far in that regard though, it condenses 30 to 40 years of complex intellectual and social history into one 600 odd word article. I think Adam's films work if you keep two things in mind:

    - They don't explain everything that ever is and ever was. So in "The Century of the Self", for example, you learn about a certain historical path leading to present circumstances. It doesn't however encapsulate everything that makes up the present, it's just a specific intellectual history being told to explain certain aspects of our reality. That's it.

    -Adam's work is part of an ongoing project, so it makes sense to see his work as a whole. The constant berating of politicians for their lack of vision and use of fear as a substitute is never really explained in "The Power of Nightmares". It, however, makes sense if you take into account "The Century of the Self" and "The Trap".

  • Comment number 35.


    What concerns me is if Adam's work is becoming a pastiche of his earlier works in an attempt to 'explain things' losing his own narrative 'power' in doing so. So the themes become more dominant as symbols with no underlying conscious narrative.

    This may be a result of what I see as a growing nihilism of left intellectuals. With such nihilism, the only power left is to shock and frighten, jumping into the Platonic cave dressed as a terrorist clown and shouting boo!

    I know Rand was a monster, but she's was also human. As was Skinner, as was Stalin, as was Nixon, as was Osama Bin Laden. They fascinate us because we want to understand how they can be both human and monster. We want to know their story. Stories make us sympathize, but we must not overly sympathize, we must still acknowledge that they had choices, and the choices they made were to act against their human side, against humanity.

    That is still the narrative we're interested in. Let's not lose sight that we're all human, and that requires some dignity, else we too become the monster, the clown, shredding away our humanity until nothing is left.

  • Comment number 36.

    Adam, as usual your work is beyond insightful, and so cutting edge, that it causes actual pain, to observe current events unfolding. As I look at Politicians and Media coverage today, I now think: " Is this real, or are these just desperate Actors trying out for a part, in the next Adam Curtis Film ". What's even more painful to watch, is that although the Actors even have a ready made script for them, they fumble about the Stage, continually forgetting their lines.
    Something I would love to see, from you, is a film on the whole Gene Sharp Revolution methodology, and it's impact on World events. Starting with the Colored Revolutions in Europe, there has been this strange mix of applied theory, and under-the-radar sponsorship from various private and public entities. I think this would be a fascinating subject to explore. Many regards for work well done.

  • Comment number 37.

    In case anyone missed the link posted above to the extended "trailer", do check it out. It's vintage Curtis - fantastic found footage, great cuts, and amazing music!
    I'm very excited about seeing the show.

  • Comment number 38.

    How odd, a journalist being reported by another journalist?

  • Comment number 39.

    I just wanted to say I have loved all the documentaries you have ever made and I was thrilled to hear about your new documentary - "All Watched Over By Machines". I am a big fan and I just wish they would run your films repeatedly at 6 or 7pm on a Saturday night on all channels, I know you will understand what I mean by this. In relation to the title of your new series I think you should try looking at :-


    A good portion of it was inspired by you and celebrates some of your ideas and thinking. This was written by a person as described in your last film - The Trap - a lonely robot that in this case almost changed the world!

    The truth about the future impact machines will have on both global society and economic systems as a whole, will I believe be more far reaching than anybody can truly predict. I think I speak for all of your fans when I say it's great that you will soon be back on our screens enlightening us all once again, please keep up your good works you are an inspiration and a breath of fresh air to many.

    I posted this in the goodies and baddies blog by accident first time around, it was meant for here (sorry)

  • Comment number 40.

    Really looking forward to this new documentary!

    I really hope there is some reference to Linux/GNU and the ridiculous patenting legislation in these documentaries. I've grown up with the internet and spent a lot of time crippiling my academic prospects trying to convince humanities teachers who don't care why it is important.


  • Comment number 41.

    I can't recall the last time I gained so much wisdom and insight... from a comment list! So many sparkly gems of delightful intellect that it is impossible to credit and thank you guys individually, but I reckon you know who you are. The diverse and numerous external / related links mean I have completely disregarded at least an hours work in the open tabs of several other applications, currently awaiting my attention on my own Machine of Loving Grace.

    Lastly, I'd like to concur with everyone regarding the consistently eye-opening nature of the documentaries Adam gifts us with, and profess my unwavering support for this latest adventure. Many thanks Adam – your work is continually stimulating and vital in a world brim full of the incipient and exploitative.

  • Comment number 42.

    I was still thinking about All Watched Over this morning after viewing last night, so went on to Guardian comments on the TV review site to add my appreciation. God Adam Curtis, your documentaries are stimulating. I knew about Greenspan's early interest in Ayn Rand. This of course, says something about the man and his decision making processes. Even though he abandoned his first comment about irrational exuberance in the market, later, he used the same phrase to explain the credit crunch of 2008 onwards. It did not answer. Fascinating stuff about Stiglitz and his assessment of the Asian economic crisis of the 90s not reaching the President-who was preoccupied anyway on the kind of story that fits into the commodification of human experience theme linked to computers (and television). It was the 'Quants' of course at JP Morgan who developed CDOs and Swaps and a tool for assessing their risk- which ultimately failed, rather than computers. But yes, without computers, the idea would not have reached such a scale of investment, nor would the financial time bomb that was being created been so hidden from view. I love the way you start with a premis and jump-like six degrees of separation to encompass major world events in relatively short moves but with a quantum leap of imaginative intelligence. Anti-altruism has been (and is even now) the marker of modern capitalism revealed in the behaviours of its proponents. Had difficulty with what the computer game consensus really meant. That systems, even human systems of game playing might level things out? I think what is interesting about all of it is just how little the creators of systems and machines in Silicon Valley or Finance can actually predict and control the monsters they create. Stiglitz is the man who I am interested in when it comes to solutiuons. Look forward to the next chapter.

  • Comment number 43.


  • Comment number 44.

    I'm R.U. Sirius, former EIC of Mondo 2000, trying to make contact with Adam Curtis about a possible interview dealing with the TV program. There doesn't seem to be contact info anywhere on the site.

    R.U. Sirius = Sirioso@Yahoo.com

    Hope to hear back.


  • Comment number 45.

    Much appreciated Tourmanmarlow.

  • Comment number 46.

    @44 omg a blast from the past - that brings back some memories

    Great work Adam, whatever next...

  • Comment number 47.

    Loved the ending line (on the second film) about most of us feeling powerless etc in light of this new global ideology, we are all just components in a machine subservient to the will of biggest bullies. I think the link to the ebook above (heaven or hell it's your choice) - takes a similar approach - I quote " We are all standardized graded economically and ideologically controlled off the shelf rent a products for the elite to use" very well put.

  • Comment number 48.

    Hi Adam
    Another interesting programme, Nietzsche wrote in the 1880's about the 'Will to Power' that was another thing that never got included in the master computer programme, the people in the commune found out about that the hard way.
    Sarah Bakewell has also written a very good book on Montaigne. One Question and Twenty attempts at an answer.

  • Comment number 49.

    Adam makes some very good points with some very well researched and enlightening material. However blaming the machine is a dumb as blaming a badly trained dog. At the moment computers are just a tool programmed with the same selfish fallibilities and models of the ruling elite. Be it Alan Greenspan and the ecconomy, Jimmy Wales and Wikipedia. Power corrupts absolutely as every reader of Animal Farm knows, shit always rises to the top. Its the selfish gene. Ironically a single super-intelligent machine would probaby be a better altruistic master.

  • Comment number 50.

    So much really good material and connections. Such a pity that Adam - like many on the Left - still subscribes (against all the evidence) to the preposterous official conspiracy story of 9/11. No, Adam, it wasn't carried out by "political Islam". There isn't a single scrap of evidence that any Muslims, or even Arabs, were involved. And the FBI admitted 5 years ago that it had no evidence to link Osama to 9/11. Please get up to speed on this. Look at the facts on the three collapses (WTC1, 2 & 7 - especially 7): all controlled demolitions. 1500+ professional architects and engineers say the official story defies the laws of physics. The FBI has also conceded that the alleged phone calls from the allegedly hijacked planes didn't happen i.e. they were faked. The inside job of 9/11 is the elephant in the room you don't want to see. It's also still the biggest story and the key to ending the neocon nightmare.

  • Comment number 51.

    Fascinating programmes but am I the only one to detect a bit of bias? Characters and ideas with which we are meant to disagree are typically introduced with a whacky back-story and shots of mad hippies, etc, whereas others are introduced in a far more respectful way as the "voice of reason". There also seems to be a bit of reliance on using the lunatic fringe of, say, the ecology movement to discredit some vitally important ideas.

    My main gripe was with the presentation of the "Limits to Growth" study. Jay Forrester explained very clearly what this was all about - it was just a computer model of resource depletion that showed that if we carried on with 'business as usual' we were going to run out of resources sooner or later. Not the rather sinister sounding "cybernetic vision" in which humans are reduced to mechanical parts of a machine that Curtis presents.

    Adam Curtis then goes on to equate this to advocating a "static society", or to "insisting that we must no longer try to change the world". He implied that a steady state economy involves some kind of grand lunatic idea of controlling the entire world in a huge, imperialist management system, rather than simply trying to live within our means on a finite planet. And he wrongly said that when the limits to growth idea fell out of favour it spelt the end of systems dynamics. On the contrary, systems dynamics models are still being used today to model the links between social, economic and environmental factors - see the recent UNEP Green Economy study for example.

    No model is perfect, and all models involve simplification, but that does not mean they cannot be of any use to us. In this case, they can help us to realise that unlimited economic growth will destroy the resources on which our economy is based.

    A steady state economy is simply one in which we adapt to "development" rather than "growth". It is a dynamic equilibrium - not a static state. It will require far more active policies for poverty elimination, as we will have to stop relying on "trickle down", and it will require ongoing technical innovation to secure improvements in quality of life. More change, not less.

  • Comment number 52.

    Having watched all of Adam's superb output over the years, he seems keen on using and reusing old footage of IBM machines whirring, often with a doomy, creepy sound over the top, inferring the cold and/or malevolent nature of the company. Clearly Adam is he's not afraid of ruffling a few corporate feathers, so i'm just wondering why he's not yet explored, or even touched on, in any of his films, the pivotal IBM support, via their German subsidiary Dehomag, for the Nazi's in rounding up all the people they wanted rounding up, as lavishly detailed in this book https://tinyurl.com/6zgosx2 ? Could this be too hot a potato for even Adam Curtis to touch on ? IBM did post a statement here https://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/1388.wss after the book came out, but the whole subject seems ripe for some kind of documentary film coverage.

  • Comment number 53.

    Human rights lawyers in UK & Pakistan are seeking the arrest of the Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) former legal director for approving drone strikes that killed hundreds of people. Machines killed hundreds of people!
    John Rizzo, who served as the acting general counsel for the agency, has admitted approving drone attacks inside Pakistan, beginning in 2004.
    In February, Rizzo, who left the CIA more than a year ago, told Newsweek magazine he agreed to a LIST of people to be targeted by drone strikes, which started under the Bush administration. Rizzo said: "It's basically a hit list. The Predator is the weapon of choice, but it could also be someone putting a bullet in your head."
    The # of attacks has quadrupled under the administration of US President Barack Obama. The estimate is about 2,500 people were killed in attacks on targets in Pakistan since 2004.
    Arrest warrant : "There has clearly been a crime committed here." Clive Stafford Smith said. He is British human rights lawyer who is leading the effort to seek a warrant for Rizzo, said. "The issue here is whether the United States is willing to flaunt international law. One of the purposes of doing this is because there is no sense in the United States of how catastrophic this whole process is."
    US government lawyers argue that drone strikes are conducted on a "solid legal basis", however, Stafford Smith said there has to be a war going on in order for any of these strikes to be legal. "Outside a combat zone the US has no possible, plausible legal basis to conduct these drone strikes. They simply get away with it.
    "I challenge anyone to go to the families of those innocent victims in the [Afghanistan-Pakistan] border regions and say: 'It's legal to bomb your homes and kill your children'. It's obviously not."
    In May 2010, the CIA was granted approval by the US government to expand drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal regions in a move to step up military operations against Taliban & al-Qaeda fighters (all @ 40-50 al-Qaeda fighters!). Federal lawyers backed the measures on grounds of self-defence to counter threats these fighters pose to US troops in neighbouring Afghanistan and the US as a whole. Please ell me how?
    The US announced that targets would include low-level combatants, even if their identities were not known. How an you kill someone when the identity is not known?
    Obama had previously said drone strikes were necessary to "take out high-level terrorist targets". Is he talking about the ones that cannot be identified?


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