Archives for October 2011

DREAM ON

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Adam Curtis | 17:23 PM, Sunday, 30 October 2011

 HOW THE LEFT GOT TRAPPED INSIDE THEIR OWN HEADS - AND HOW FAIRIES CAN OPEN THE DOOR TO THE FUTURE

The protest movement that began with Occupy Wall Street is very clear about what it is against - an international capitalism that is cruel, unfair and untenable. But the movement refuses to say what it is for. Much of this refusal comes from a belief that modern capitalist society is extremely skilful at co-opting dissent and that any discussion with the media is the first step in being reabsorbed into 'the system'.

It also has the added benefit of irritating mainstream journalists and commentators.

I want to tell an odd, romantic, but ultimately very sad story that shows where this fear of possession on the left comes from. It is set during last the time that British, European and American students tried to be a vanguard for revolution. It shows how that fear can easily lead to a pessimistic belief that all one's dreams for a better future are just illusions - and how that pessimism then came to paralyse the left in Britain throughout the eighties and nineties.

But the story is not all sad - because I think it shows that the same thing does not have to happen again.

That just as the ideology of modern capitalism is a choice, not a natural reality - so too is the pessimism of the left.

The story begins on the evening of June 11th 1968 in a first floor flat in London. There was a party given by a man called Clive Goodwin who was the editor of a radical newspaper called Black Dwarf. He is one of the central figures in this story.

 

Goodwin's flat was on the Cromwell Road in west London. The next day the BBC were going to record a radio programme called Students in Revolt and they had flown in the leading revolutionary students from all over Europe and America to take part - and Clive had invited them all to a party in this first floor room. It included famous names like Danny Cohn-Bendit the Autonomist revolutionary from the Paris uprising and Rudi Dutschke whose attempted assassination had led to violent riots across Germany.

The flat is now part of The Fraser Suites - "luxury serviced apartments for our corporate clients".

 

All the student revolutionaries at the party saw themselves as part of a new kind of left wing radicalism. They were against the the Soviet Union which they saw as just another kind of totalitarian dictatorship. But the big enemy was the United States and its terrifying power. It was killing thousands of Vietnamese civilians in the name of freedom, while its multinational conglomerates were ruthlessly exploiting and devastating the third world to feed Americans with a constant stream of luxury consumer goods.

This ferocious and destructive consumer-war machine must be overthrown.

Another guest was the left-wing theatre critic Ken Tynan. He wrote in his diary about a moment at the party:

"The barricades were up in Paris: everyone was talking about 'instant revolution': and when Cohn-Bendit held a question and answer session, I made myself immediately unpopular by asking: 'What's your strategy? What is the next step the students will take?' Cohn-Bendit said impatiently 'the whole point of our revolution is that we do not follow plans. It is a spontaneous permanent revolution. We improvise it. It is like jazz.' Everyone applauded and reproved my carping."

But there was a ghost that haunted the party in the room that night - Clive Goodwin's young and beautiful wife who had died tragically less than two years before. She was a revolutionary painter and collagist called Pauline Boty.

 

Pauline Boty and Clive Goodwin had been at the centre of the student movement as it grew in Britain. But the reason Pauline was like a ghost at the party was not just her death, but because she had come from a tradition of revolt that was beginning to disappear from the movement.

Because Pauline had loved America. She wasn't frightened of it, she loved the powerful images at the heart of American culture, and the deep emotions the music and films evoked in her.

Pauline Boty wasn't naive about American power, and she knew those alluring images and sounds could crawl into your brain and shape the way you saw the world, and disguise the underlying exploitation. But she believed that she could possess those images and use her imagination to rework them into something magical, inspiring and liberating.

Here is one of her paintings that expresses that confidence. It's called The Only Blonde in the World. She painted it in 1963.

 

Pauline had gone to study at the Royal College of Art in London in 1958 and had become one of the leaders of a new art movement. Here is the movement described by The Listener magazine in 1962

 

In 1964 the BBC made a film about this movement. It was called Pop Goes the Easel and was directed by Ken Russell.It focussed on four artists but he two stars of the film were Pauline Boty and her best friend Derek Boshier.

Here are two sections about them. First is Boshier - he brilliantly describes how popular images of American power seduce the mind - they start to "infiltrate you at the breakfast table". But one shouldn't be frightened because it is possible to possess those images in turn.

Then there is Pauline Boty - her bit begins with a wonderful piece of film-making - where she is the girl running away.

Ken Russell's production notes for the film say that "the authoritative woman in the wheelchair, should be someone representing authority, hideously formal". While the three girls around her "need to look as though they represent an institution."

And Pauline should play "herself - an art student resenting authority"

The first shots in the film are of all four artists together - they were all friends - the other two are Peter Blake and Peter Phillips. It is beautifully shot, and the song is Goodbye Cruel World by James Darren.

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Then the growing student movement found a political philosopher who would become their inspiration and guide. He was called Herbert Marcuse.

Marcuse was going to have a powerful and very complicated effect on the student revolutionaries. On the one hand his ideas explained the fascination that people like Pauline Boty had for the images of American power - but he also questioned whether it was ever possible to control or transcend them.

Marcuse said that you could never break the spell. That however much you took American culture and played rebelliously with it, you would always remain possessed by it. But this would set in motion a terrible logic within the New Left that would lead to a creeping distrust of all dreams of the future.

Here is Marcuse surrounded by lots of revolutionary students at the "Free University" in Berlin.

 

Marcuse first became famous with a book called Eros and Civilization. In it he reached back to utopian socialist ideas beyond the dead hand of Marxism and communism - to long-forgotten names like Charles Fourier.

Fourier had said that love and sex could be the motors for a truly free society. It was only the coercive mechanisms of "reason" and "duty" that repressed and distorted these desires in human beings.

Marcuse imagined a future in which individuals would be liberated both from the fetters of capitalism and from the repression of their true instincts. It was an optimistic vision - and people like Pauline Boty who truly expressed their desires in art and in love were like creatures in this new world.

But then in 1964 Marcuse became pessimistic. He wrote another book called One Dimensional Man. He had realised, he said, that capitalist society was far more manipulative than he had imagined. It had learnt how to take those desires and feed the masses spurious, addictive pleasures that enslaved them.

This wasn't liberation - it was a dark world of what looked on the surface like an entrancing modern culture in which sex was discussed and portrayed openly, but really it was all cheap gratifications and stupefying pleasures that blotted out true human needs.

Here is Marcuse on television explaining how human beings are enmeshed in this new psycho-technical power structure. Even the grand progressive dreams of the Enlightenment have been appropriated, he says, and used not for liberating human beings but for repression.

Marcuse was part of what was called the Frankfurt School of political philosophy.

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Marcuse gripped the student left because he describe the revolution in a completely new way. The struggle was in your heads as much as in the streets.

Capitalism had seized control of the inner desires and feelings of their workers and were manipulating it at will. It was summed up in a slogan - There is a Policeman Inside All Our Heads. He must be Destroyed.

This meant, Marcuse said, that you couldn't look to the workers to start the revolution - instead it would be led by three groups on the margins.

Number one were the alienated black underclass. Because capitalists didn't bother to manipulate their desires

Number two were the exploited workers of the third world. Ditto.

And number three were the students in the west. Because they had the power to see through the false consciousness.

By the mid 1960s two of the leading members in London of this new rebirth of left wing politics were Pauline Boty and her husband Clive Goodwin.

Clive Goodwin was a working class boy from Kensal Rise in North London. In the 1950s he became an actor - and then he started a magazine about the theatre called Encore, working with people like Vanessa Redgrave and Kenneth Tynan. This took him into the early New Left that was growing up in the publishing world and he soon became an influential figure who helped fuse avant-garde theatre with revolutionary politics.

 

Then Clive became part of the modern media world. He presented a youth programme called That's For Me on ITV which mixed politics and culture. And he received the highest accolade when Ken Russell chose him to act in what was seen as an extraordinary breakthrough film for the BBC - called Dante's Inferno.

It's the story of the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. But Russell self-consciously dramatised it to echo the student revolution that was happening all over the west in the mid-60s. Dante Gabriel Rossetti was played by Oliver Reed, but Ken Russell chose the elite political and cultural avant-garde of London to play the group of "student idealists" gathered around Rossetti. And he asked Clive Goodwin to play John Ruskin.

Here are some extracts - beginning with the start of the film that makes the revolutionary parallels clear, followed by Clive Goodwin appearing as Ruskin. And then Oliver Reed going demented, plus some totally brilliant melodramatic film making. The style is of its time but it is still wonderful. And it wasn't just style, they really did think that this was the way to break through the rigid way people saw the world.

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And then one morning when he was walking with Kenneth Tynan, Clive Goodwin met Pauline Boty. Ten days later they were married.

In a wonderful and brilliant biography of Boty - but as yet unpublished (someone should publish it) - the writer Adam Smith describes how Boty had been in a tragic love affair with a married television producer. Boty wanted to marry her lover but she began to realise that this was never going to happen. Adam Smith has unearthed fantastic material that shows how Boty by this time was emerging as one of the early feminists - writing and presenting sardonic monologues on "that cold, cardigan-clad, sexless ghost known to the world as The English Gentlewoman" for BBC Radio.

But she was also very honestly aware of the ambiguities that emerge when the deep emotions of love and desire get mixed up with trying to be an independent person. Smith has found an interview Boty gave to the writer Nell Dunn for a book called Talking To Women. Pauline describes bluntly why she got married.

"I got married under very extraordinary circumstances, very odd. I mean - I was very heavily involved with someone who was married and I never really quite believed anything he said, even though probably a lot of it might have been true but I never sort of have confidence that people love me. I know people love people at moments you know, and very genuinely - I can't believe that someone can love someone consistently.

One of the awful things about being in a situation with a married man is that you're kind of sitting in your little box of a room waiting for a phone call, and then every now and then they go up to this box and lift the lid and take you out and it's lovely, you know. And I hate that kind of inactive thing. I can't stand it, and it just got to a peak. And then I met Clive and I just got on terribly well with him, we got stoned all the time and I only knew him ten days before and he was the very first man I met who really liked women, for one thing - a terribly rare thing in a man.

I mean he was the first man I could talk to very freely to but I didn't like him at all at first. But he was the first man who made me laugh quite sort of sincerely over the telephone because I'm terrible about the telephone, I don't like the telephone at all"

 

Kenneth Tynan said that Boty was very sharp, very quick and very honest.

And Pauline too became part of the London revolutionary scene. Here is a great bit of her appearing in yet another Ken Russell film - this time the story of the Hungarian composer Bela Bartok. It illustrates Bartok's ballet The Miraculous Mandarin' which was banned throughout Europe in 1919.

Again the revolutionary parallels are made clear. The scene from the Miraculous Mandarin is set in the London of the 1960s intercut with the repression of revolution in Germany and Austria in the 1920s. Pauline plays a prostitute whose job is to lure a man to be beaten and killed by shadowy forces. Corrupted sex and state violence are all part of repression.

The painting you glimpse in the background is one of Boty's, called Colour Me Gone. Good title.

And I think Mr Russell had been watching too much Jean Luc Godard.

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In 1965 Pauline Boty became pregnant. But early in the pregnancy an ante natal check revealed that she had a form of lymphatic cancer.

She was determined not to have an abortion - and continued the pregnancy. One story says that Boty was determined to beat the illness through radiotherapy. Another says that she refused aggressive therapy in order to save her unborn child.

The baby was born in February 1966 and was named Boty Goodwin.

But Pauline's cancer continued to get worse and on July the 1st 1966 she died in the Royal Marsden hospital.

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Exactly a year later Herbert Marcuse gave a speech in Berlin which he entitled "The End of Utopia". He didn't mean, Marcuse said, that utopia was impossible - in fact it was the reverse, human beings now had the technical and scientific means to achieve what had only once been dreamed of. Today it was no longer a utopia - it was a real possibility.

But then he asked the depressing question. Why weren't the masses rising up and seizing the means of achieving this? Marcuse's answer was simple - literally everyone in society was conspiring against it. Or as he put it: 'the total mobilization of existing society against its own potential for liberation'. Which simply meant - everyone's minds had been possessed.

At the end of the lecture a student got up and asked the first question: " To what extent do you see in the English pop movement a positive point of departure for an aesthetic-erotic way of life?"

Marcuse answered: "As you may know, of the many things I am reproached with, I have supposedly asserted that today the movement of student opposition in itself can make the revolution. Far be it from me to assert such a thing. The groups you have mentioned are characteristic of a state of disintegration within the system, which as a mere phenomenon has no revolutionary force whatsoever but which perhaps at some time will be able to play it role in connection with other, much stronger objective forces."

In revolutionary terms this was a big put-down of the student movement. They thought that Marcuse had told them they would be the vanguard - but now he was denying he had ever said such a thing.

A very clever BBC journalist had also spotted the growing absurd direction the student movement was taking as is pursued the ideas it thought it had taken from Marcuse.

He was called James Mossman - and in 1968 he made a brilliant film which used a fly on the wall technique to watch the British student revolutionaries as they tried to liberate the workers from their false consciousness.

It is not nasty, but Mossman turns it into a subtle British comedy. The bit at the occupation of the Hornsey College of Art is just wonderful. While Paris students were rioting and confronting the might of the French state, the British students take over their art college. And without realising it they start to copy the enemy - the women make the tea and run the switchboard while all the men sit round talking to Mossman about 'kicking the police horses' bottoms'.

The film also has shots of the office a new radical newspaper that Clive Goodwin had founded called Black Dwarf.

And the quote from the student at the end about how people have been brainwashed is very funny. "I mean their whole mind is, you know, like a cabbage, they can't do exactly what they want". Marcuse couldn't have put it better

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There was a growing sense of despair among the British revolutionaries. And Marcuse's explanation - that everyone's minds had been possessed - now began to work a curious logic,  because it seemed to make capitalism even more powerful in the minds of the revolutionaries. Capitalism became for them a devilish force that could take any authentic part of human experience and turn it into a tool of psychological manipulation. Nothing was safe - not even what you dreamt of inside your own heads.

The most dramatic and brilliant expression of this growing pessimism came in 1968 with a made-for-TV play on the BBC called "The Year of the Sex Olympics"

It was written by Nigel Kneale who had also written the Quatermass science fiction films. The Year of the Sex Olympics is set in the future in a society where television had become the central means of pacifying the masses by showing them live sex - while the audience watched passively in a drugged state.

But one of the TV elite, Nat, realises that this is bad and decides that he is going to smash through this illusion with real emotions - that will then awaken the masses from their one-dimensional lives. But he hasn't reckoned on the ability of those who run the "media-complex" to take that revolutionary reality and twist it and use it to intensify their control.

Nat suggests a new programme called The Live Life Show. He and a woman who also has seen through the illusion will go to a remote island and live a "real" life. Cameras will watch them 24 hours a day. Nat believes that what the audience see will punch through the manufactured "apathy" and re-energise them.

But soon their child falls ill, then they find there is a psychopath on the island.  The audience watch in their millions - but not in the way Nat hopes.

The play is wonderfully kitsch. Leonard Rossiter plays the devilish "controller" - "no more tensions, just cool". And I particularly like the upmarket TV programme for the more discerning viewer - "Artsex". While the controller's nasty sidekick has some great lines - "They think the show's over, but now it gets super-king".

It is a perfect expression of the paranoia that was beginning to seep into the left at the end of the 1960s - and it also brilliantly prefigures Big Brother by thirty years.

It was originally transmitted in colour - but this is a black and white recording, it is all that remains.

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By the end of the 1960s the independent left wing revolutionaries like Clive Goodwin began to despair. The movement was being taken over by dull, lifeless theoreticians. But there was one hope left for the revolution - it was the marginalised and alienated blacks that Marcuse had said were the other vanguard.

Goodwin turned to writing about charismatic Black Power leaders like Stokely Carmichael and Bobby Seale in his Black Dwarf newspaper. And in Britain a charismatic leader of black radicalism emerged called Michael Malik. He consciously modelled himself on Malcolm X - and set out to challenge  the hypocrisies of white power and expose the inequalities its supremacy was built on.

Michael Malik renamed himself Michael X and became a media star in the late 1960s in Britain. Here he is challenging a very smug representative of  the white establishment on the BBC in 1970.

His organisation was called the Radical Adjustment Action Society - RAAS for short.

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But then suddenly that dream also fell apart - and in a catastrophic and horrific way.

In 1971 it was revealed that Michael X had ordered the murder of a young white student. It was only the beginning of an extraordinary set of revelations - that showed Michael X had used money given to him by white middle class leftists to build what was effectively a gangster empire that ran drugs and killed anyone that got in the way. That his claims of building a revolutionary organisation had been a complete fraud.

A BBC then made a very powerful film that exposed Michael X and how he had conned the revolutionary left in Britain. It is a fantastic piece of journalism and also shines a harsh light onto the strange and rather desperate relationship between the children of the rich middle classes in London and their idol - Michael X - the last hope of true revolution.

The film is a cruel but very accurate expose of their delusions - told in parts like a thriller. I have put up a long extract from it because of all the fantastic twists and turns in the story and the extraordinary range of characters - that even includes Diana Athill, a legendary London literary figure. And it ends with Michael X behaving like a Werner Herzog hero - fleeing into the remote jungle - and we follow his track. It's an amazing forgotten story.

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It was the final nail. The white left-wingers argued that this criminality was the result of capitalist oppression because it distorted and corrupted people like Michael X. But these excuses only served to make capitalism seem even more powerful and unchallengeable.

By now Clive Goodwin had become a successful literary agent - representing playwrights. And in 1973 one of his most famous clients, a playwright called Trevor Griffiths wrote a play called The Party that tore apart the revolutionary dreams of the previous ten years. It caused a sensation when it was put on at the National Theatre.

It is set one night in a flat in 1968 - the set directions are clear that it was modelled on the sort of flat that Clive Goodwin and Pauline Boty had back then - "SW7 somewhere. Big, white, sunny, rather cool. Hockney and Botys".

It takes you back to where this story started - in a flat one night in 1968 on the Cromwell Road and a room full of revolutionaries. But instead of sharing their hope and dreams they are now tearing each other apart. One of them is a publisher called Jeremy who is modelled on Clive Goodwin. Then an old Trotskyite called John Tagg brutally dissects the roots of their pessimism as the projection of their narcissism. The implication is that really their type of psycho-sexual liberation is just another form of oppression.

But then John Tagg turns out to be a brutal and heartless monster. Which means there's no hope at all.

It's clunky, and its very actor-heavy in its stagieness - but it tells you a lot about where the left had ended up. And Tagg's speech - which I have put in, is very powerful.

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In 1977 Clive Goodwin went to Los Angeles with Trevor Griffiths. They were going to see Warren Beatty who wanted to make a film called Reds - about the Russian revolution. The script had been written by Trevor Griffiths.

One evening Goodwin got a terrible headache. He walked into the lobby of the Beverley Wilshire Hotel and began to vomit. The hotel security took him to the men's room where Goodwin passed out. They were convinced he was drunk. He wasn't staying at the hotel so security called the police who came and handcuffed him, dragged him through the lobby and laid him face down on the pavement.

They put him in a police cell - and the next morning they found him dead. He hadn't been drunk, he had suffered a brain haemorrhage.

To many of his friends on the left it showed just how brutal and uncaring a society America really was - underneath the veneer of dreams that his wife Pauline Boty had once been so entranced by.

 

And what had begun as an idealistic reinvention of left wing politics in Britain also ended at the very same time with a distrust of all dreams.

It was the end result of Herbert Marcuse's theories. He had said the capitalist power works by possessing and manipulating the desires inside your own mind. But no-one ever explained how you distinguished between the two kinds of dreams inside your head - the ones that were planted there by evil capitalist fantasy-machines, and the genuine dreams of a new and better future. And if your dreams of a better future failed, and the world didn't change - then maybe they too were just part of the manipulation?

And as the revolutionary aims of that generation failed, a terrible suspicion began to grow. Maybe all dreams of other worlds were just illusions. And that in turn led them to accept the dreary functionalism of the material world and the utilitarianism of modern economics which simply said that dreams were located in material, physical objects that could then, conveniently for capitalism, be sold for vast amounts of money. And people became increasingly obsessed by their own material form - their bodies.

The right thing to do now was not to change society, but change yourself. And not what went on inside your head, but simply your Body Mass Index.

In the early 1990s Pauline Boty's daughter - Boty Goodwin - went to Los Angeles to study art. She was rich because of her mother's estate, but she also felt trapped by her mother's shadow. She started taking heroin, and her studies were disrupted. In 1994 she wrote a letter to her moral tutor:

"I remember the days when keeping thin was a matter of a cup of coffee, a cigarette and a line of coke. I lived off McDonalds and ice cream and kept a steady 120 pounds. Needless to say, not any more. Now I am obsessed. Everywhere I look I see ads from every newsstand. LOOK BETTER NAKED. A SEXY BUTT, SLIM THIGHS, FLAT ABS. WOMEN WHO LOVE SEX AND HOW MEN CAN TELL. Are the two connected? I want to beat up sixteen-year-old girls.

Why is that despite an adoring father, an almost nauseatingly 'politically-correct' upbringing, and a feminist historian godmother, the tyranny of beauty still obsesses me so?"

In November 1995 Boty Goodwin died of a heroin overdose.

The student left in the 1960s had believed that the revolution would start in their heads because that was where capitalist  power exerted its control. But it was a dead end because it led them into a terrible trap - where they became paralysed by the fear of possession.

As a result they became unable to articulate an inspiring vision of the future and came to distrust their own dreams because they were frightened that they would be immediately appropriated. And that is where much of the left still remain - paralysed by a dark pessimism and a fear of the cynicism of the media around them.

To really change the world the left needs to go back to the same utopian socialists that Marcuse rediscovered in the 1950s, and the grand romantic visions of other worlds they put forward.

The one I love most is Charles Fourier who in the 1830s outlined an extraordinary new kind of society based on communities he called Phalanxes.

Here is an image of a Phalanx.

 

Fourier had no truck with the idea of changing people. All the different things inside their heads was just what they were like - and you worked with that extraordinary range of human nature and channelled it to create societies in which everyone played a role suited to their nature. His vision is wonderfully optimistic. Even potential murderers are allowed to work off their psychotic impulses - as butchers.

And at the heart of Fourier's society is the idea of Love - a grand feeling of which sex is just a part. And there were special groups in the Phalanxes whose job was to manage the dynamics of Love. If you had been rejected by someone you loved, a special corps of "fairies" would come immediately and take you away, and cure you of your unhappiness.

Fourier's romantic innocence seems intensely shocking to us today - because it seems so naive and optimistic. But it is their power to shock us in this way that potentially makes these long-forgotten utopian ideas genuinely revolutionary.

You may not believe in fairies, but in today's world it's hard to believe in the infallibility of the laws of free-market economics. So which one would you choose?

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THE CURSE OF TINA PART TWO

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Adam Curtis | 17:31 PM, Tuesday, 4 October 2011

LEARNING TO HUG

Everywhere on television today people hug and burst into tears. It happens in drama a lot - but it has completely taken over factual programmes too. It usually comes at the end when the characters finally realise that they should express their true feelings. And they do this by crying and hugging everyone in sight.

It is part of something much wider in modern society - the belief that one should aim to be "authentic", and the way to do this, to become authentically yourself, is to learn to get in touch with your inner feelings and express them. If you button yourself up, have a stiff upper lip, and control your emotions then you are both inauthentic and somehow damaged as a human being.

Many factual TV programmes have become a central part of this belief system because they demonstrate in an intense and distilled form how to be a truly authentic person - how and when you should express your feelings. They are the modern guide to social etiquette.

I want to tell a brief history of the rise of the Hug on TV and also show some of the strange, odd heroic figures who held out against it.

But I also want to ask whether the TV hug has become oppressive and limiting.

That not only has it become a rigid convention - as rigid as anything in Victorian times - but because it teaches that we should concentrate on our own inner feelings, it also stops us from looking outside ourselves and thinking imaginatively about the society and the world around us.

I want to suggest that the Hug has become a part of the modern problem of not being able to imagine any alternative to the world of today. The Hug is no longer liberating, it is restraining.

 

I want to begin with a moment that shocked the British nation in 1958 when a famous film star, Anna Neagle, burst into tears on live television. It was in the middle of This is Your Life presented by Eamonn Andrews.

This was something that not only did not happen in public on TV, but more than that, should not be allowed to happen on TV. And the newspapers reacted in astonishment and fury. The Daily Mail led with:

THIS ISN'T YOUR LIFE

"Anna Neagle broke down in floods of tears the night before last during the BBC programme entitled This is Your Life. Of all the television programmes this is the most revolting. It was a non-stop exercise in embarrassment wrapped up in unbearable sentiment.

It is about time this maudlin mush was broken up. Then they can all go and have a good cry - in private."

While the Daily Sketch screamed:

IS THIS LIFE?

No! It's a shameful agony. Drop this show at once.

IT HAS REACHED THE STAGE WHERE ITS IMPACT ON THE PUBLIC SEEMS TO BE JUDGED PURELY BY THE AMOUNT OF EMOTION GENERATED BY ITS WEEKLY VICTIM - AND THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH DECENCY, OR WITH HUMAN DIGNITY

 

Here is what they were so shocked by. It begins with the introduction to the programme, followed by the two sections where Anna Neagle breaks down.

It happened because the programme showed a clip from a recent film Neagle had made with an actor called Jack Buchanan. He had been a great friend and had advised her in her career, but he had died the previous year. Neagle is overwhelmed by feeling, and it is very touching.

If you watch you can see that the camera that is doing the close ups is expecting to move down to Anna Neagle's face, but I think is being told by the director not to do this. You can almost feel the panic in the gallery. They cut to the wide shot and hold it for a long time. In an odd way it makes the moment more intense.

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Today it seems weird that people could be so shocked by Anna Neagle's public display of feeling.

But I want to show another, really strange, clip from a documentary in 1970 that makes you realise how easily we too can be shocked today by people who don't display and talk about their feelings in the correct "emotional" way. It makes one realise that we might be just as narrow in our judgements as the newspapers of 1958.

I found it in an episode of the Man Alive series. The film is called "The Other Half" and it is about modern poverty - it focusses on a number of people who are just scraping a living. One of the people filmed is a Ministry of Defence clerk called Francis Beveridge. The film follows him home, watches him playing the violin terribly, and then starts to interview him.

At first the interview is straightforward (even if he does have a rather odd hobby), but then it goes really odd and zooms off in a completely unexpected direction. It is compelling because Mr Beveridge is a man who admits openly and very dramatically that he is cosmically unhappy, but he refuses to do it in conventionally emotional or confessional terms.

It is gripping. It's like watching an alien. Today we would say that he was damaged or a depressive, but that would be to simplify him. Mr Beveridge knows what he says is "the truth" about himself - in other words he is "authentic". But he is not authentic in the right way.

Shocking.

And at the end his wife turns up. And it gets even odder.

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At the very same time as this film was being transmitted, another film crew from the same Man Alive series was in California filming the place that was going to teach the world to hug. And the film they made was the first TV programme to show British audiences how to express their feelings correctly.

They were filming the Esalen Institute - on the Californian coast south of San Francisco.  Esalen is one of the main roots of the modern western sensibility. The ideas and the techniques that were taught there in the 1970s have fundamentally transformed both society and politics as much, or possibly even more, than any right-wing free market theories.

The Institute was founded by a young rich San Franciscan called Michael Murphy. He gathered together a group of radical psychoanalysts and psychotherapists and encouraged them to give classes in their techniques. What united them was the belief that modern society repressed individuals inner feelings.  Because of this the individuals led narrow, dessicated lives and their true feelings were bent and warped.

Esalen taught people how to break out of this prison, how to let their inner feelings out and so become liberated beings. It was a wonderful dream - and thousands of people who had turned away from radical politics in the 1960s came to learn how to change society by changing themselves.

One of the earliest teachers was Bernie Gunther. He is incredibly important in the rise of the Hug. Bernie developed something he called "Sensory Awakening" which involved all kinds of mutual touching and massaging - including the hug. It even included the large group hug which he called the "Gunther Hero Sandwich".

Here is Bernie Gunther at work. It's one of the early moments in which the hug as an approved mode of emotional expression makes its way onto television.

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But the hug was also about the exercise of power.

The Man Alive film follows a therapy group over a week at Esalen. One of them is called Lillian. She is a wonderful person. She is spiky, cynical and funny - and above all original. She has come to Esalen because she broke up with her husband, had an affair with someone else - and now that has failed.

 

Lillian is really good in the film at describing how wonderful she finds it to open herself up and finally express her feelings. But she is also sharp enough to see that in the process she is being sucked into something that wants to transform her. She has a great phrase about going up to the hot baths at Esalen where everyone sat around naked - "I looked down into the snake-pit and all the snakes looked up and said 'Brother'!"

At the end of the week Lillian does what is the correct thing at Esalen. After having been hugged by the group she breaks down, cries, admits she is a bitch - while the group sit watching her approvingly. She even reaches out and hugs another member of the group who she had previously been rather cynical about.

It is a very tender moment. But Lillian, and I think the reporter, also realises that the group are making her into a particular norm in the name of liberation. She is now a feeling person - and feelings are quite blunt things, which means she is becoming rather like everyone else. What is disappearing are the particular and original characteristics that her quick thinking mind gave her.

But she is happier.

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In the early 1970s British television began to spread the idea that accessing and expressing your feelings was a good thing. Most documentaries still just observed people - or used them to make political or social points. But a number of factual programmes became channels for the new psychotheraputic ideas.

I have discovered a wonderful early example. It is film of a group in a youth club who have been called together by their Youth Worker. He is almost evangelical in his desire to get them to talk about heir feelings, and he has decided that the way to do this is to make them describe their feelings about one of the central members of the group - who is called Badger.

Here is Badger

 

And this is the group.

 

It is like a brilliant modern drama - filmed by one camera that moves around the group. It is also very funny because almost all the group are extremely reluctant to take on the new identity that the Youth Worker wants. I particularly like Derek over on the right who at one point mutters in an exasperated way - "What kind of club do you think it would be if everybody was themselves?"

Good question.

But there is one member of the group who enthusiastically embraces the new psychotheraputic ideas. It is the person they are all supposed to be talking about - Badger. He does it brilliantly and the rest are baffled. Derek mutters - "As far as I can see, Badger's different from what he was five minutes ago." But then we find out that Badger has spent more time than the others with the Youth Worker. He has been turned.

But as you watch Badger you are not sure whether he is describing his true feelings or not. There is a creeping sense of someone pretending to have the emotions that are expected of them. And in this way hiding their true feelings even further below the surface.

Or maybe the truth is even more disturbing - that there are lots of things that people live through and experience that they just don't have emotions about.

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But when it is truly authentic the Hug can be immensely powerful on television. It can break through the fakeness of most television and link us to personal experience in a way than no amount of clever editing or dialogue can.

I want to show a part of one of the best documentaries ever shown on British television. It is called Fourteen Days in May. It was made in 1987 by a brilliant director called Paul Hamann. The film tells the story of a convicted rapist and murderer called Edward Earl Johnson on death row in Mississippi - set during the countdown to his execution.

Johnson claims that he is innocent and that his confession was forced out of him. Hamann believes him and he constructs an incredibly powerful film that takes you through the experience, while also mounting a criticism of capital punishment with a clarity that few liberal films have matched.

This is from the last section of the film. At the end there are 17 minutes left before Johnson is killed. Hamann, the director, then does something new in television - he responds to his feelings in a truly authentic way. He behaves in the new, emotional way - but it is sincere.

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The original idea behind Esalen and the bringing of radical psychotherapy into everyday life was revolutionary. The Esalen teachers - like Bernie Gunther who made the Hug, along with tears, a symbol of the movement - believed that if the social constraints were removed and people just expressed their inner feelings then they would be transformed. And so would society.

But what they soon found was that most people had no idea how to do this. They wanted to be shown how to be emotionally expressive. People needed guidelines.

I have found a very odd moment on television in the mid 80s that shows this quite dramatically. It also shows just how complicated the idea of being "authentically yourself" can be.

The BBC decided to make a profile of the radical playwright Jean Genet. After lots of negotiation Genet agreed to a big interview - and came over to London. What then transpired must have been a bit stressful for the film makers, but it is fascinating.

Genet - the radical - is determined to prevent television turning him into the simplified character that an arts profile demands. He starts off monosyllabic, then when the interviewer tries to get him to talk emotionally about his childhood (the therapy perspective), Genet asserts that he has never been close to anyone and is perfectly happy like that.

All the way through Genet is trying to show how television is trying to create a fake version of authenticity. This culminates with him dramatically trying to break through the fakeness. He turns the tables and demands that the crew that is filming him step forward and be authentically themselves.

But one person stands in his way. Duncan, the sound recordist.

The sound recordist's reactions are a key moment in this whole history - because he is authentic, but in the wrong way. By trying to expose the setup of the interview, Genet has expectations of a true authenticity breaking through. But these are then confounded by Duncan's authenticity - which is really real.

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The truth about the sound recordist in the Genet film is that he is completely at sea when he is told to express himself - he doesn't know what to say.

But in the 1990s television began to teach people how to be emotional on camera.  A self-selecting group of real people began to appear on TV and collaborate with the producers to create a new vocabulary of words and gestures that aimed to express their deep and authentic feelings.

It starts with Oprah's show, then spreads to Britain with things like Kilroy. At first it is verbal confessions and tears. But then the Hug begins to emerge.

I think the man that really brought the hug into British television in a big way was the producer Peter Bazalgette. His genius was to spot that the idea of transforming yourself as a person could be intimately linked to transforming the things around you - starting with the rooms in your house.

I think the first real hugs of these kind began in the series Changing Rooms in the mid 90s.

The original revolutionary idea had been that by changing yourself emotionally as a person you would then change society. Bazalgette created an easier and quicker variation. By simply changing the physical  things around you - you could then change your inner feelings and became a better and more expressive human being.

Wallpaper as redemption.

Here are some of these early TV hugs, and the rooms associated with them, from 1996.

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And then the floodgates of hugs and tears opened. But one man stood heroically against the tide - and in a really interesting way.

He was the maverick Tory politician, Enoch Powell. In 1993 Powell agreed to appear on the series. Celebrity Mantlepiece. The set-up was simple, and a classical model of the emotional age. The celebrity showed the objects to the camera and then spoke about the deep memories and feelings they evoked.

Powell subverts this brilliantly. One the one hand he is cold and distant - completely stiff upper lip. His piece about the starfish he discovered on holiday and his father's reaction is just wonderfully timed.

But then, when he gets to the poems by AE Houseman, Powell goes to the other extreme. He becomes intensely emotional - and, because it is so authentically real and personal, it is strange. Somehow in one quiet moment he is more emotional than all the confessions going on around him in TV.

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But nothing was going to stop the rise of the hug. And to celebrate its triumph in television here is a short montage. I've tried to show how intense and wonderful it was as a moment in history - but also how strange, because lots of true and tender moments were mixed up with hundreds of people who one suspects were pretending to have the emotions that were expected of them. Just like Badger did back in 1971.

Maybe it was a lotus-eating moment, a dream allowed at a moment of incredible prosperity in the west. But as you watch everyone hug and cry on television you do get a sense of how much it was a society looking inward - and that was blind to  the giant, dynamic forces of history outside. Or maybe they were hugging because they actively didn't want to see what was happening outside?

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There are straws in the wind of what may come next.

I am very intrigued by a man called Peter Thiel. He is a financier in Silicon Valley who has been behind many startups - above all he was one of the earliest and biggest investors in Facebook.

Thiel is a right-wing Silicon Valley libertarian. But he is also a radical thinker and has become a follower of the philosopher Rene Girard. Girard teaches at Stanford university and he has put forward a theory of what he calls "mimetic desire". This says that the impetus for the behaviour of most individuals in society does not primarily come in an isolated form from within - but through copying the behaviour of others.

At its heart mimetic desire is a fundamental challenge to the age of expressive individualism because it says is that your actions as an individual are copied from others, and that they don't originate simply from within you - they are shaped and given form by what you see other people are doing.

And peoples' desire to imitate each other is potentially a powerful force - especially when things like Facebook can intensify and amplify that desire.

This really interesting territory - it can create movements that can change the world for the better, but it can also be dangerous, because this was the motor for the great mass political and social movements of the first half of the twentieth century - nationalism, communism, fascism and totalitarianism. And they are frightening.

And it raises a question. Maybe the rise of modern individualism in the west after the second world war was not just about personal self-expression and freedom, but also a very good way of burying a frightening other truth about human beings. They are driven by the desire to imitate each other and are therefore vulnerable to political manipulation.

If we can be taught to hug we can just as easily learn to march and chant.

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