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Kabul: City Number One - Part 4
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21:32 15 Jan 2010
Those are some very interesting points you raise. I'll give you my opinions on them - for what they're worth.
(1) Are the techniques of power in modern society more alienating than those used in other historical eras?
Yes, I believe they are. Power has never been pretty - in fact in the past it was far less pretty than today - just ask the poor wretch locked in a debtors prison, or the religious dissident waiting to be hung, drawn and quartered. Back then power was ugly, but it was less pervasive and less refined. When power was excercised it was nothing short of viscious - but it was excercised less.
Power today is far "softer" (most of time - although Guantanamo Bay...), but it is also far more pervasive. As Curtis has shown in many of his documentaries today power is internalised far more than it was in the past. This certainly is quite alienating and I believe it has less to do with "technology" (in the usual sense of that term) and more to with the manner in which we organise ourselves as a society. Technology can go either way - just look at us now, communicating quite honestly over the internet. Technology is a tool and since the dawn of civilisation a hammer could be used either to beat your neighbour's skull in or to help him build a dwelling. Today technology which should be allowing for greater communication is being put to use by those few who hold power in society - this is pretty alienating for the rest of us.
My one line definition of alienation would be: when communication breaks down. This goes all the way from extreme degrees which are psychologically shattering, such as the tortue victim standing naked and bound in front of his interrogaters, to extremely mild manifestations which are just a bit annoying, such as when you run into a government bureuacrat when trying to get planning permission or get transferred to a foreign country when you're trying to make an insurance claim. Today we find ourselves in communication with power structures quite regurlarly (this is where technology and the media comes in) and you can be sure that this doesn't take the shape of "conversation" or "discussion" - it's almost always one-sided. I also think that this is reflected in contemporary society by rising crime rates as well as rising rates of mental illness, among other things - but we won't get into that here.
(2) It seems like a rather silly statement but, what is the difference between any piece of media and propaganda? As we all know Eddie Bernays renamed it "public relations" and it is today all pervasive.
But Curtis' work does bear a strinking resemblance to what used to be called Agitprop (agitation propaganda). I think this is what makes his work so effective. I also think at the end of the day: if you want fairy tales, don't watch Curtis' stuff. If you're genuinely interested in the way society works, watch Curtis' stuff. But I suspect that Curtis' work isn't actually all that alienating - I suspect that people who don't go "what is this nonsense - this couldn't be true, it's a conspiracy theory..." have at some time or other questioned certain aspects of what Curtis investigates.
I remember well the first time I saw one of Curtis' documentaries on television and I think I can speak for the experience many have had: it was like something out of "The Matrix". Personally it had an extremely positive effect (I was quite young at the time). It confirmed some of my long standing suspicions - such as the War on Terror being a farce (the reaction seemed disproportionate when considering, for example, the IRA attacks in the 70s, 80s and 90s). It also encouraged me to question a lot of other things which led me to pursue a career in journalism and politics. My point is that I think the alienation came first - Curtis' work articulated much of what I was already dimly aware of - this led to me pursuing a career. If that is propaganda, we need more of it. Not just at a societal level, but also individually, there's a lot of apathy and cynicism out there - I've met a lot of smart people who go nowhere because they don't really care about anything which leads them often to lead unhappy and unproductive lives.
Anyway that is, as the Yanks say, just my two cents.
21:52 11 Nov 2009
The music used with the slowed down footage of Amin is 'Music For Strings, Percussion and Celestial' by Wendy Carlos... more commonly known as music from the poo-your-pants-scary film, The Shining: These documentaries absolutely use the same techniques as propoganda movies as you say.
But it helps entice us into learning about these issues and coupled with a sceptical mind I think you and alot of other people on here are absolutely fine :)
19:45 11 Nov 2009
Thanks for all of this, Adam - a real treat. You might like this blog post on the the Afghani houses that drug money built:
19:10 9 Nov 2009
i heard he went into exile for a few years and then returned to become a general in the air force
18:43 3 Nov 2009
"what happened to the Marmot?"
Tempted to go for the Big Lebowski quote, but the language is probably too strong.
00:30 31 Oct 2009
what happened to the Marmot?
12:26 30 Oct 2009
Adam, absolutely love the blog. I've read and watched every minute of them.
The jump from ex-Trotsyite to neoconservative is pretty big in my mind. Do you have any names of people who made this peculiar political transformation?
15:15 29 Oct 2009
All of these blog pieces have been utterly compelling, containing spellbinding information and new angles and perspectives..I do hope there are a LOT more to come..
the art teacher
14:56 29 Oct 2009
I've been fascinated by Mr Curtis' work since I saw Power of Nightmares, so I thought I'd go for it and write some of the things I feel about his work, and about the questions it raises.
I've always had some interest in Politics and the way political systems work, but watching that series a few years ago really pushed me to look into the way power works in the world.
I think this fact, and Mr Curtis' work, have good and bad implications. It feels like a great virtue to question the stories we are told by those in power, and I think an understanding of the machinations behind historical events should help us avoid similar abuses in future. But I have ambiguity towards the work and of a certain philosophy it can foster, because it leads to an uncertainty that can leave people rather alienated, or lost, which I guess inevitable side effect of questioning the status quos or accepted versions of events in a society.
I'm out on a limb here really, I have no political or social study background, these are just my thoughts for what they're worth.
A few things I wonder and would love to hear other people's views
1. Are the uses of different techniques to maintain or enforce power by modern governments any different to those used throughout human history really? I mean is there is a greater malfeasance in the way the U.S. uses the tools at it's disposal today, and are it's fairly overt aims of 'full spectrum dominance' different from any previous empires? Or has technology, I'm thinking primarily in terms of communications and the military, simply upped the wider impact and positive or negative influence the actions of governments can have? Moreover, can it heighten the impact of one individual's moral beliefs, ideological persuasion etc?
2. Do people feel Mr Curtis' style of filmmaking adopts the same techniques that propaganda movies use? And if they do does that matter? Some of it reminds me of scratch video, and to me the use of these intricate montages creating associations, with these amazing soundtracks, is pretty intoxicating. I feel everything I've seen by him relates to coercion through a variety of means; fear and propaganda in PON, psychological techniques in TCOTS, and psychiatry, drugs, performance indicators and the free market in The Trap. Where is the line between a persuasive documentary and the techniques it employs, and a propaganda film, if there is one?
I'll leave it there, would like to hear others views.
00:21 29 Oct 2009
Another fascinating addition to the story - I was particularly interested in the links between the revolutionary movement and the influence of the 'New Left'.
Are you intending on crafting blogs about Cities 3, 4, 5 etc. once the Afghan material has been dealt with?
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