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Adam Curtis | 17:31 UK time, Tuesday, 4 October 2011


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:


"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:


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



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.


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.


  • Comment number 1.

    Thanks. Another fantastic piece. Poor Francis Beverage (was that his name?). I've no doubt that something snapped after that film was made and change came as it eventually always does. I hope he cheered up. I pity his seemingly unloved kid most though.

    There was an excellent documentary made in Ireland about people in search of emotional authenticity/certainty:


    Sadly, their search led here:


  • Comment number 2.

    {{{{ ADAM }}}}

    (I kid. I loathe typographical hugs.)

    I wonder if /some/ of the indignation in the papers about the Anna Neagle incident was at the tactics of the show itself. That is, not so much about her shocking (!) display of emotion, but the assumption that people (the "weekly victim") can be ambushed like this for the sake of entertainment.

    And Mr Beveridge--MI5 would have been absolutely horrified to see anyone constrained under the Official Secrets Act to be so publicly laid out. Money problems, unhappiness, loneliness, desperation, a Finnish (!!) wife ... It wouldn't take a talent spotter very long to see that he should be paid a visit, poste-haste (немедленно). Perhaps with a lovely china gramophone as a gift.

  • Comment number 3.

    This is fascinating. I feel that recent outpourings of emotion are more for public display than genuine expressions both on TV and in the "real world". I was horrified at the way the public behaved after the death of Diana, I intensely dislike the current trend of setting up "memorial" facebook pages. It seems to be moving the focus from the deceased to oneself. I am saying all this as someone who was always regarded as being, if anything, over-emotional. Maybe my mistake has always been in displaying genuine rather than expected emotions.

    Ass regards the theory of mimetic desire, I agree, this could be a force used to change things so much for the worse. It has been the reasoning behind adverts for a long time, but its current incarnation is much more subtle and so much more dangerous

  • Comment number 4.

    There are some fascinating clips there. I am seized with a burning desire to know what became of Francis Beveridge. Despite awaiting measurement for his coffin in 1969 he might well still be around now, aged about 86. I'd be astonished if his marriage had lasted, though.

  • Comment number 5.

    The interview with Beveridge is astonishing, what a find!

    Very timely subject for a post this week, what with Amanda Knox back in the press again. Seems clear that, regardless of other evidence, in the eyes of many her major crime was not performing the role of the grieving friend. Judging by her performance at the press conference upon returning home, it seems she has learnt her lesson.

  • Comment number 6.

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

    ...And the BBC broadcasts the tune:


  • Comment number 7.

    'are you crying?' 'no.... I'm allright'
    thanks for this! a great read (and watch)!

  • Comment number 8.

    The Anna Neagle footage is really moving and a little difficult to watch. Watching someone desperately trying not to break down is much more emotional than all the fake blubbing and emoting in the world. Writers and directors would do well to pay attention to this.

  • Comment number 9.

    Forgive me for doing this very anal comment, but in my defence I'm just being authentically myself in wanting to find out these details.

    This is Your Life: Anna Neagle TX 17.2.1958
    Man Alive: The Other Half TX 9.12.1970
    Man Alive dealing with Esalen: might be The Hippy Trail TX 11.11.1970
    Youth club TX not traced
    Fourteen Days in May TX 11.11.1987
    Arena: Saint Genet TX 12.11.1985
    Changing Rooms TX not traced
    Celebrity Mantelpiece: Enoch Powell TX 15.12.1993 (interesting review by Giles Smith in following day's Independent)

  • Comment number 10.

    Peter Thiel ideas link well with Mark Granovetter riot/threshold model and the mathematics of complex/chaotic systems

  • Comment number 11.

    Adam Curtis seems to be pre-occupied with the problem of being a modern Englishman. Should we have a stiff upper lip or not?

    I grew up in a family where we were emotionally repressed. Nobody told the truth and we all deferred to bullying aunts and grandparents just like in The Way of All Flesh.

    I went to a boy's boarding school which gave me lots of emotional highs, but nobody worried much about feelings. When I went to Oxford in the late 80s and saw fellow undergraduates hugging out of courtesy, it struck me as very affected.

    I can relate to Francis Beveridge, he's trying to articulate that he's unhappy. Some never acquire that degree of honesty. They never question their own actions and feelings.

    When the Tories were out of power, I would discuss with a friend about how some characters had 'touched the void' ie like Nebuchadnezzar they had eaten grass - that means they experienced some kind of humiliation (readjustment to reality) that had forced them to reevaluate their ideas and become sensitive individuals. Michael Portillo did, many Conservatives still have not.

    One film that communicated the pain of being an Englishman before the 1960s is The Go-Between. The novel and the film brilliantly evoke English emotional inauthenticity, unresolved problems and conflicts that can damage an individual for their whole life. That last scene where Marian taunts Leo for not getting over his trauma I found terrifying.

    For me Scott Peck's The Road Less Travelled was a turning point. It encouraged me to be honest about feelings and identify 'lies'. It helped me get a handle on why I really disliked the Church of England and the Conservative Party - two things we traditional Englishmen like to find comfort in.

    What's the problem with English institutions? It's their cruelty. Whether it's families, or other social groups.

    Movements like Esalen, est, psychotherapy give individuals the tools to challenge authority. Though as Curtis has pointed out before, some of these 'alternative' movements become just as repressive.

    If you had an emotional problem, you can bet an Anglican vicar won't have a clue how to deal with it. Some people in those environments even dislike the handshake during the peace. If you go to a meeting of the Conservative Party and there is no social vitality whatsoever. It's still all deference and service.

    Curtis likes to study dance. I found a way of overcoming my 'old' Englishness by taking up salsa. I got to cuddle and hug women who I didn't know. It meant nothing, but it gave me confidence. I see a few Mr Beveridges go along, too, and it's a great way to sort out the emotional confusion they're going through (but not very English).

    I'm familiar with New Age thought. And I can talk about my feelings. One way of dealing with them is not to watch any populist TV - the stuff produced by Mr Bazalgette. I don't hug as a rule, but I can look inwards and articulate feelings.

    I like the discussion with the Youth Worker. My favourite psychotherapist is Irvin Yalom who says that we recreate our problems in group dynamics and we can acquire self-knowledge by becoming aware of how we cause those problems.

  • Comment number 12.

    Esalen, or at least the Michael Murphy side of it, also did some outward-looking stuff, particularly in citizen diplomacy with the Soviet Union. And they pioneered that interplanetary hug, the spacebridge. Here's a video from the Soviet side of the first one in 1982:


    (try not to let the editing or music give you seizures)

  • Comment number 13.

    Wonderful piece. Poor Francis Beveridge - now there's a man who really needs a hug.

  • Comment number 14.

    "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."

    This is completely wrong Adam. And it's criminal because what he actually says is gold.

    So much to say about this subject, fascinating....to be continued....

  • Comment number 15.

    Save some hugs for Francis, his daughter & (inevitable?) grand kids. I wonder what happened to the saddest family I have ever seen?

  • Comment number 16.

    There is an insincere, Maudlin quality to most of this "expression" of feelings. I can assume it's worse here in America, with its' obsession with celebrity. Reality TV. has given us scripted conflict as a sort of reaction to it (although they have their Hugs as well).

    We live in a therapeutic society that encourages you to "open up" and express yourself; your past traumas, what hurts you, what angers you, What scares you.
    I think in this kind of climate The people who can exploit the feelings of others for their own personal gain come into their own.

  • Comment number 17.

    I daresay Mr. Beveridge was the earliest signal of the coming of Jeremy Kyle. People on the telly telling the world how miserable and helpless they are.

    It's interesting, in relation to the Americanisation of the British hug, that back around 1955, as commercial TV beckoned and the BBC stranglehold loosened, there are articles in the TV press of the day lamenting how the Americans allow open emotionalism on their television broadcasts and this will trickle into British homes unless we are all vigilant. I get the impression though that nobody was pretending that British people did not have emotions, but rather that public display of them was unseemly because they should be something that took place in private.

    It struck me that this BBC/middle-class concern is pinpointed in Orwell's 1984, where the Proles are visualised as louche and free (in their ignorance) but Winston Smith and his girl-friend are all repression and striving to emote in private without Big Brother seeing them. That last seems rather ironic in view of reality TV nowadays.

  • Comment number 18.

    I think The historian/social critic Christopher Lasch had a term for it:


    You see it more with shows like "I Survived"; where people talk about crimes and accidents they were victims of and survived. The elevation of the "victim" is definitely a part of it (imo).

  • Comment number 19.

    That's another thought provoking and insightful piece Adam. I like the (almost) diagnostic approach to social phenomena that you present. But it seems like half of the story. You identify so many inconsistencies, ironies and sinister underlays, but would you reject consideration of their remedies or solutions? I suspect that could become quite political, or guilty of the back and forth ideas-narrative of the people/movements you portray. It's an unsettled circumstance to be in where you know all the problems and why they exist, but short of repeatedly doing the opposite, have no idea how to respond to them.

  • Comment number 20.

    Adam, you are bang ON point here with the Thiel reference. I urge you to keep digging. He embodies a very wide range of themes you are already interested in. I eagerly await more on this from you.

    Meantime, the reality-tv/drama genre deserves a mention. The mildly improvised real life, 'penetrating insight' is a textbook definition Giraud's series of memes to imitate:
    The only way is Essex
    The only way is chelsea

    Also, the orchestrated emotional circus that is powers x factor is incredible.

  • Comment number 21.

    Adam Curtis, will you mentor me?

  • Comment number 22.

    PS: Genet was my favorite! He questioned why they, in the norm, weren't brave enough to take his place - bigger question than the sound guy (or anyone in that room) was prepared to answer in my opinion. I agree with Adam, the sound guy had no clue what to say.

  • Comment number 23.

    Adam, as usual an excellent piece of publication. And also thought on the very same thing when watching all the reactions on Steve Job's passing.

    By the way, that topic could be also a subject to study, as I believe it created an almost religion-like phenomenon with a powerful semi-god-like character, Steve, in its center. Though there have been iconic consumer goods in the past, I believe Apple's case is different, and something new.

  • Comment number 24.

    Please, PLEASE, let us know what happened to Francis Beveridge and his family.

  • Comment number 25.

    'I think when you do it everyday you lose any objective feeling for what you're doing. i'm sure lots of the things we do seem very stupid to people, but we take them for granted because we're sort of involved in our own little world. The great majority of people because they're slightly in awe of the system, and of the film and television process, will go along with whatever you say and will even be flattered that you're asking. But anyone who can see beyond that is perhaps not taken in by it.'

    Well done Duncan

  • Comment number 26.

    ... Duncan has since been eking a living on social security, supplemented by the occasional undeclared, cash-in-hand, Disco functions... Birthdays and Bar Mitzvahs.

  • Comment number 27.

    It would be helpful to note here that Esalen disbanded because it was a cult. Along with the Jim Jones People's Temple (which, from the first comment above seems to have been tried in Columbia at "Atlantis" as well) and many other middle class experiments based on group therapy break down the individual. Once broken, what is left?

    I'm reminded of Adam's films on brain experimentation and surgery. If that is the point, it is well taken as a caution.

    Writing from the US I have mentioned often that I consider that the two people who have destroyed American society are Mr. Rodgers and Garrison Keillor. The self esteem trope given by Fred Rodgers which has become the foundation of American education and the "above average" salute to the old hippie audience of Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" is the American version of The Hug.

  • Comment number 28.

    I can clearly recall "14 days in May" even though it was shown just once, 25 years ago. I don't know if this is germane, but I can clearly remember the executee and his family sitting together and singing "Always" by Atlantic Starr. It was beautiful, like a choir singing in harmony. Its a crap song, mushy and pointless, but I was moved by this rendition of it.

  • Comment number 29.

    If we look from the spiritual perspective, no feeling is really real since it's a by-product of the deceiving mind. Emotions support the workings of the mind. “Daydreaming and discursive thoughts are not enough,” Chogyam Trungpa explains. “Those alone would be too boring. The dualistic trick would wear too thin. So we tend to create waves of emotions which go up and down: passion, aggression, ignorance, pride – all kinds of emotions”.

    Though, becoming aware, discovering, expressing and... feeling the feelings is an important step in the self-knowledge process. Ignoring or repressing feelings doesn't work, so I am grateful to Esalen when it helps such discovery process.

    When feelings are appropriated by the media, they are acted out and over-expressed. Feelings become "I should feel that", not much different from "I shouldn't feel that" of the previous decades. An affirmative repression rather than a negative one. Basically, when feelings are appropriated by the media, they become fake as the situationists already discovered almost 60 years ago.

  • Comment number 30.

    But we need emotions and feelings for a basic act of decision making - people with damaged areas of brains responsible for emotions, can't make the simplest of decisions, as Antonio Damasio shows in "Descartes' Error". This doesn't mean that reason is less important than feelings, but that we should end the dualism of reason and emotions to enhance positive effects of both and reduce their potential harm. Damasio argues that with an insight what the manipulation of (ab)normal feelings can introduce in the process of planning and deciding, we can better protect reason.

    Thank you for this archaeology of hugs and I can't wait for the third installment of TINA.

  • Comment number 31.

    'I think when you do it everyday you lose any objective feeling for what you're doing. i'm sure lots of the things we do seem very stupid to people, but we take them for granted because we're sort of involved in our own little world. The great "majority of people because they're slightly in awe of the system, and of the film and television process, will go along with whatever you say and will even be flattered that you're asking. But anyone who can see beyond that is perhaps not taken in by it.'

    Well done Duncan"

    isn't that the point thou he has no expression of any feeling as it where and what is happening when he is asked in the moment to express something he can only analyse the situation

    do you have anything to say to that?

    erm no not at the moment.....

    he states he has not emotional response and goes onto explain how bogus it it all is...

  • Comment number 32.

    Thank you theartteacher2 for the transscript - I am not a native British. I also cannot condemn Duncan for failing to respond emotionally. To me his words show that he is quite aware of the circumstances that Genet is pointing at. I am especially fond of his mentioning the price of talking on television, something that makes me consistently wonder, when I see, hear people, given the chance to say something meaningful in the media, cant stop uttering trivialities, repeating stories of yore... Not so Duncan, thats for sure.

  • Comment number 33.

    I regret using the phrase 'authentic individual' in a post previously but would repeat something, which is although Thatcher said 'there is no society' it's truer to say that there are no individuals.

    There is a prospect of a free and creative expression of the 'self' for people, it's just that in reality the self is largely a composite of the world we've experienced, and of the influence of groups that we don't determine our membership of by 'choice' in the liberal sense. We have unique viewpoints but ones which share a enormous amount with others, that's what needs to be recognised. Authenticity isn't just emotional either. In the same way as the rigged 'market' today undermines real risk-taking, this fake 'individualism' undermines real authenticy, and encourages base gratification and isolation - against people's innate tendencies and undetermined potential. This is a central myth, this separation of self and society and there is authenticity is recognising the limits of autonomous individual action.

  • Comment number 34.

    The problem with 'hugs' and they are a sidelining of the possibility of people connecting in a more significant way. Some of what Ad shows here is a spectacle of emotion that taps into people's empathy and inclination to come together, but to a slightly indulgent end. I think there might be an irony is us sitting here watching videos of people and judging their 'authenticity' but there you go.

    This story of individualism is the one kinda told in the third part of Trap. But if people are 'driven' to imitate each other, innately, then it might explain the irony of what we have now - an individualism that we largely express in the same ways, like buying stuff (what we actually buy is arbitrary), on listening to the same music, watching the same things, dressing the same, within certain groups. It's a common and collective expression of individuality. There's has to be an acknowledgement of the individual experience, and the collective, but the way both of these are frequently comminicated now are representations, just symbols.

  • Comment number 35.

    what were the conditions and ideas that lead to the rise of Nazi Germany? It's complicated, of course. But if you try and answer that seriously then you get a sense of the inherent flaws of; markets; a pervading transactional way of living; competing centralised blocs of private power; of rationalisation; and in part, of liberalism. There was insecurity and diminishing pride, leading to the adoption of an extreme authoritarian version of German Romanticism that gave their people meaning, and certainty, and belonging, and identity. In this sense the great irony may be that the society that was built in the West in response to the horrors of the early century, may be some sense be the type against which fascism and communism was a reaction. If you're always supposed to maximise utility then perhaps marching is a relief.

  • Comment number 36.

    Re: Genet. He's recognises this power in his situation and has a go at it, albeit in quite a French way. He actually goes totally over the top. Of course it may not be that he doesn't have emotions, but might feel by revealing them in accordance with the expectations of the set-up, that's he wouldn't be sincere, he would be commodifying himself. It doesn't have to be for money, what's important is that it's a transactional action, something for something, it's a conditional exchange. It's also worth noting that his last line echoes something the civil servant says. In this regard, and in the broader point of the piece, the mention of 'Lotus-Eaters' might be significant, but I might be over-interpreting. Any English Lit students here?

  • Comment number 37.

    Also, I like this from another French bloke -

    "I don't believe there can be a society without relations of power, if you
    understand them as a means by which individuals try to conduct, to
    determine the behavior of others. The problem is not of trying to dissolve
    them in the utopia of a perfectly transparent communication,
    but to give one's self the rules of law, the techniques of management,
    and also the ethics, the ethos, the practice of self, which would allow
    these games of power to be played with a minimum of domination."

  • Comment number 38.

    My father died a few weeks before Princess Diana, and I got good view of how people used the idea of grief to come closer to each other, to share a common language through their reaction. I was told by one woman that I couldn't understand how she felt when I reacted honestly and neutrally to her 'grief'; this was true, however she was using that minor truth to prioritise herself, to gain the center stage socially because she had expressed herself more vehemently than I. The simple comprehensibility of that outpouring showed the links of a large community, who had felt unnecessary and side-stage in society, but who were not going to allow people to dismiss their emotions in the future - by making sure they felt justified in dismissing others' emotions, so could convince themselves that they were not just being loud, and so use that loudness to prioritise themselves, to gain confidence. Many people have made a lot of money from that demographic, who cannot be cured because there is no sickness, but also cannot be failed, for the same reason.

    My brother killed himself when I was 17 and again, I have never been able to deal with it in a way that is found to be accessible socially. People who project anger and hurt have to do it in a certain way for it to be attractive, 'photogenic'; those who have genuinely suffered grief usually cannot impress and gain with it socially. Dealing with it is an emotional commitment that cannot be easily signalled.

    I wouldn't say that society has moved on from the time of Badger's social club in its ability to genuinely engage with others real emotions. Now, people just have a simplistic vocabulary (verbal and physical) that they have been told is correct, and they do punish and exclude those who do not engage with it, no matter that such are the ones that really need the help. I'm reminded of church congregations who would always help each other, because they know that no member would embarrass another: if they did, they would not be emotionally right for the congregation, and so would have been weeded out socially, and could be still if necessary.

    People want black-and-white emotions, simply fixed so that you can feel that you know someone, and that there will be no emotional surprises. Complexity is not admired in a large body, as homogeneity is the fundamental requirement; the emotionality in these films is a way of trying to get rid of such complexity. The complex ones should stay out of the way of the societal juggernaut, as has always been the case; in recent times it has veered to try and pick up and include alternative types, to include them in the hug and the warm fuzziness so that they will not be spiky and the power of the community to heal can be valourised. Even the characters who were vilified by our forebears as outside the pale - homosexuals, beats, punks etc. - can be included now, so powerful is the self-belief of this method. Money applied with heart has dissolved the boundaries and brought us all together, and anyone who disagrees is a troublemaker and inauthentic - these groups of individuals who came together due to a shared feeling of exclusion from society, are now groups which has been identified by society and can be talked about and understood by others around the watercooler, and anyone who does not fit in is not an outsider - because the outsiders have been felt to have been brought into the main group - but nothing, and worthless (economically and emotionally). Of course, this is how it was when the outsiders of the 20th Century were living, only in retrospect are they grouped together and named and valourised.

    I think the scene in Oliver Twist, when Oliver asks "Please Sir, can I have some more," is a key one in British society - those who step out of the excluded and poverty-struck masses and identify themselves in their misery are respected and brought into the fold, and helped. The others are worthless, felt to have no get-up-and-go, no will to identity; the medium being the massage, we want a society of stars!

    From the sidelines, I have to say that a community is a group that shares common interests, and the aim of social norms has been to allow the maximum of people to congregate without disagreement. The consensus must always move forward, like a shark, and so the most enthusiastic drives this. I have noticed that people increasingly use the word 'you' rather than 'I' or perhaps 'one' to describe their actions and feelings, as in "You go to Iraq and kill someone, and you've got to live with it." To which my response would be, that I would not go to Iraq etc., but I can feel the speaker trying to pull me into the experience of their life. Apparently, we are all mourning the passing of Steve Jobs - for myself, I am sorry that a human being has died, but I feel not a drop of grief, I do not miss personally a man I did not know. But this does not create a community feeling, so the emotionally aggressive and acquisitive expression gains prominence, as it tries to create an army whose unity is emotional; as you say, very like the totalitarianism of the 20th Century. It's just learnt how not to be bad like they did; it's learnt the words and not the meaning, however - it will find a new way of destroying and justifying it without a trace of shame.

  • Comment number 39.

    Brilliant Woroton... now you will be assimilated to the BORG; for criticism maybe a mechanism for acceptance: due to rationalising the problem, making it appear less urgent, thereby reducing the need for action amongst independent thinking people.

    Meanwhile the lumpen, who are not requested to hug, are induced through examples in shows like Jerry Springer, Oprah, Jeremy Kyle, etc., to act with immediacy and thoughtless reaction, in synchronized hysteria to the drumbeat of the script writers.

    Remember when audiences didn't hoot, and when canned laughter was a queer American import, to induce the correct reaction? It seems to me that the efforts of control are being as divided as there are discernible divisions between the thinking class, who are being systematically taught to get in touch with their inner spoilt brat; and the lumpen, who by virtue of not challenging the orthodoxy, become the storm troopers of choice by the intolerant Marxist-Feminist bureaucracy.


  • Comment number 40.

    StenkaRazin wrote:
    Brilliant Woroton... now you will be assimilated to the BORG; for criticism maybe a mechanism for acceptance: due to rationalising the problem, making it appear less urgent, thereby reducing the need for action amongst independent thinking people.

    If you can only act on impulse, you will create as bad a world as those who are currently running things to satisfy their impulses. I don't wish to replace a bad system with a bad system, and so thought is necessary, even if it makes the rebelling less enjoyable for those who can only talk of systems not people.

  • Comment number 41.

    Thinking is fine Woroton, even required; but it is not sufficient in itself. There are evolutionary reasons why we get angry, part of which is to spur us to action.

    The problem we face is that thinking people are being led to inaction, by the 'happy clappy' advocates, whilst the mouth breathers are being shown what to hate, in accord with Marxist-Feminist prejudices.

  • Comment number 42.

    Thought does not preclude either anger or action. I act in a way that is not comprehensible to those who use Star Trek or happy-clapping to interpret the world, and divide its people into useful/unnecessary columns. I don't prefer your no-need-to-think-choice to their no-need-to-think-choice, and will have to leave you to play Star Wars with them, with the noble aim of creating a world filled with those who breathe through their noses. An ideology truly wins when it forces an opposite reaction onto the world, and perpetuates its paradigm of madness and unreality so that people cannot live their own, real lives but must labour for another's dream.

  • Comment number 43.

    Anything coming on the blog about Libya Adam?

  • Comment number 44.

    "In a work consecrated to the moral treatment of madness and published in 1840, a French psychiatrist, Louren, tells of the manner in which he treated one of his patients – treated and of course, as you may imagine, cured.
    One morning he placed Mr A., his patient, in a shower-room. He makes him recount in detail his delirium.
    ‘But all that,’ said the doctor, ‘is nothing but madness. Promise me not to believe in it any more.’
    The patient hesitates, then promises.
    ‘That is not enough,’ replies the doctor. ‘You have already made me similar promises and you haven’t kept them,’ And he turns on the cold shower above the patient’s head.
    ‘Yes, yes! I am mad!’ the patient cries. The shower is turned off; the interrogation is resumed.
    ‘Yes. I recognise that I am mad,’ the patient repeats. ‘But,’ he adds, ‘I recognise it because you are forcing me to do so.’ Another shower. ‘Well, well,’ says Mr A., ‘I admit it. I am mad, and all that was nothing but madness.’"

    About the Beginning of the Hermaneutics of the Self. Two lectures at Darmouth University, by Michel Foucault in 1980.


  • Comment number 45.

    Then there was Gilbert Harding, a TV personality of the 1950's, known to be rather rude in the David Starky sense on high brow quiz shows. Really, a lonely and repressed Homosexual (which was still illegal then).
    On the seminal Face To Face interviews, Harding broke down, full of self loathing and mourning the death of his motheer.
    He died not long afterwards.

    Peter Bazalgette. An ancestor of his was behind the building of the great London sewage network, taking c**p out of people's homes, today's Mr Bazalgette does the opposite, electronically.

  • Comment number 46.

    Milton Friedman on the soteriological role that Greed plays in Capitalist political-economy:


  • Comment number 47.

    "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."

    I agree with the general sentiment. However, no need to hyperbolise. "Completely taken over"??

  • Comment number 48.

    yes, straws in the wind... But the bale is clearly coming in sight these days, ridden by a guy looking pretty Chinese :-). Thanks M. Curtis for another lovely tale, I'm a long-time fan and propagandist of your works.

    Your story reminds me of the century of the self, and the ill-conceived perception that individuals actually exist beyond their statistical definition. However an individual is not a man but a lonely man. Big difference: as the few real-life examples of Robinson Crusoés seem to indicate, a man let alone more than 6 months on an desert island turns completely psychotic, with no sense of individual boundaries left. Me, the island, same same. Do you know an Argentinian psychatrist and philosopher called Miguel Benasayag? A bit on the bragging side but the author of a 1998 book called "Le mythe de l'individu" that could interest you. He has this great image to describe the psychological attitude of the modern individual: the "position du mirador" (watchtower position), consisting in a fantasy of pure externality, in quest of the perfect rationality and consistence. An interesting dead end: absolute freedom through absolute control...

    What the two examples of Beveridge and Powell show is that expressing "true feelings" has not much to do with something inside that would be in need of wild liberation (even if wildness has its merits, but that's another discussion) and a lot to do with a conquest, a deed of creation and beauty: the ability to pierce through the every day reach words of deeper resonance, the ability to reach poetic concision and power to convey emotions... When a rhyme turns much more powerful than a hug, indeed. But I would join the preceding comment by Mrcrckt: the avalanche of hugs and tears shown on TV might be something that media use to have their audience regress to anal age, massaging it for it to swallow advertisement better, but enlarging this to the rest of society sounds excessive.

    One note on Girard: his works are indeed compelling, particularly his two masterpieces, "Mensonge romantique et vérité romanesque" and "La violence et le sacré" (I don't know the English translations for these titles, sorry). But you need to get the bigger picture: the mimetic desire theory (actually I'm convinced it is more than a theory) exposed in his first book leads to what is presented in his second: that the potential rivalry created by mimetic desire creates potential violence in all human groups, and that this can only lead to the self-destruction of the group unless an innocent victim is sacrificed to channel this violence out of it (the scapegoat theory). The more innocent the sacrificed victim, the better, as it channels more violence out (it sounds a bit gross but that's the rough idea). And then Girard unleashes the third stage of the rocket: Christianity is mankind's only hope, because Christ was the most innocent victim of them all, a call to leave the dead end of mimetic desire and rivalry that can only lead us all to destruction (Girard became a Roman Catholic when writing his first book). Girard's latest writings are rather apocalyptic, and obsessively repeating his arguments (see fi https://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2009/07/christianity-will-be-victorious-but-only-in-defeat ), echoing a bit this interview of Hayek you posted in the first issue of TINA: the world is wrong, all is wrong, but I'm right and history will prove me right. Hm... Looking forward to the third opus, et merci beaucoup pour votre travail.

  • Comment number 49.

    Thanks Adam for presenting a clip from the documentary 14 days in May. I remember watching it with my father as a young boy and being absolutely traumatised by it. I realised then that capital punishment was completely wrong and I still feel exactly the same way. There were certain scenes from that documentary that have stayed with me all my life though I had no idea what the documentary was called until you posted it on your blog, so thank you very much for that.

    I also feel very strange about hugging these days, some hugs are absolutely natural and feel like a very honest way to express emotion. I think though that the situation in Britain is a little bit confused these days and I'm never sure whether to shake hands, hug or to kiss people when I meet them, I often feel like I get it wrong and end up feeling quite embarrassed. I don't like the thought of wasting hugs or kisses on people that I don't really know and may not care about, I think that they should be reserved for those you love or for situations when it feels really appropriate.

  • Comment number 50.

    Great minds think alike. I used the same piece about Jean Genet to make the same point in a little hommage I made for you and posted up on YouTube in March 2009. I think I broke one or two copyrights...The link is https://youtu.be/hT98wHtWT8c. Could you peruse and let me know if I am ready to come and work with you in the BBC Archives yet?

  • Comment number 51.

    I found this very interesting. During the 1980s and 90s I feel that there was a distinct change in the way that power was exercised over the individual as the counselling and training culture took hold. I saw dominant individuals wield the power of demanding "authenticity" from weaker ones. This power was used to satisfy the primal satisfaction obviously gained from bullying to a more insidious kind of sexual abuse that can be difficult to describe rationally. As people were increasingly being supervised in the workplace based on subjective criteria such as "ability to work in a team," I feel that the power of organisations was increasingly being used to reach in to the inner, emotional world of the individual and as this kind of "openess" is promoted as being normal very widely in society the individual has little defence against it.

  • Comment number 52.

    @ lordav: Come on over to the Dream On post where we have been having a conversation about Dmitry Orlov at about Comment 39 or 40 and just follow the comments from then on. I think you will be very interested in what Orlov says about coping in a failing economy and society.


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