August 15, 2005
The Power of Nightmares (bottom up)
Finally got around to watching The Power of Nightmares, or more accurately the final installment of the three part series. This BBC documentary is something of a fetish object among American Leftists, spoken about in hushed reverent tones as an object that will unveil the hidden truths. "Have you seen the Power of Nightmares? You must see the the Power of Nightmares". The object itself circulates via transcript and torrent, a little googling and you too can be an initiate...
Criticism often says as much about the critic themselves as it does about their target. Director Adam Curtis also directed a four hour documentary on Freud and his followers, so he surely must be aware of that fact. So is the autocratic tone of this film a deliberate maneuver or an unintentional slip on Curtis' part? This is a movie about politicians manipulating facts, but Curtis seems intent on mimicking them. Rather then raising questions it dictates an alternative history. Its clearly a successful tactic, but for me at least it deftly undercuts the purpose of the film. Is Curtis deliberately copping the style? Unconsciously aping it? Or is projecting his own paranoia and monomania onto his targets? Regardless of the truth, it makes the film a bit hard to take seriously, both Curtis and his targets want to tell stories without questions, when in reality the facts at hand are rather uncertain.
The most powerful and effective parts of the documentary where simply the clips of Bush and Rumsfeld selling the war. That they grossly distorted the facts shouldn't come as any surprise to just about anyone who has followed the story in any detail, but watching them in action with a few years of hindsight is quite revealing. These are characters who understand the power of authority and how to put it on television, and the left it seems has no counterpart, with perhaps the exception of director Curtis himself. During this build up the left was busy, working the web, trying to be bottom up, protesting in the streets. Some old ineffective tactics, some new ineffective tactics. Even with online fundraising a new effective tactic. But all the while the right kept pushing the tried and true, get on TV and say it with authority.
The more I look at it the more the rhetoric of emergence, "long tails", and "bottom up" begins to resemble a far older idea, divide and conquer. Only this time the dividing is self inflicted, praised even. That not to say I'm here to blanketly dismiss "bottom up", there is far to much unknown, and too much potential, to do anything of the sort. But until these theories come face to face with concept and application of power, they seem doomed to a particular ineffectiveness. In other words, a nightmare.Posted by Abe at August 15, 2005 10:45 AM