Adam Curtis on image, reality & suicide bombing

Adam Curtis is a documentary filmmaker for the BBC who uses archival footage to remind viewers of forgotten facts and to make connections that others wouldn’t see.

This documentary does not quite add up to a connected whole, but within it is a fascinating history of the evolution of suicide bombing, starting with the attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1982, the Iran-Iraq war, Palestinian terrorism, the 9-11 attacks and Islamic State (ISIS) terrorism.

Along with it is a history of American and British deception and self-deception in their policies toward Syria and Libya.

Suicide bombing, according to Curtis, as a military tactic by Syria’s ruler Hafiz al-Assad to offset American military power in his region.  Now it is used by ISIS to sow sectarian strife in Iraq and Syria, and bring down Assad’s son, Bashir al-Assad.

He documents how Muammar Qaddafi was set up by American policy-makers as a scapegoat for the crimes of Hafiz al-Assad because he was a more vulnerable foe.

This film is not the whole story of recent Middle Eastern history.  Curtis appears to think that the American and British governments seriously intended to bring democracy to the Middle East, for example.  But he brings out many fascinating facts, some forgotten and some new (at least to me).

I recommend viewing just those parts of the documentary dealing with Syria, suicide bombing and the Middle East, and fast-forwarding through the rest, which consists of disconnected material about Curtis’s long-term concerns about technological manipulation, technological utopianism and the decline of the democratic process.

Click on HyperNormalization if the YouTube version doesn’t work.  Click on The Century of the Self and All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace for Curtis’s best documentaries about his meta concerns.

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One Response to “Adam Curtis on image, reality & suicide bombing”

  1. Perette Barella Says:

    I mostly agree with your assessment of HyperNormalisation—regarding the Middle East he makes a good case that the history as played out by the governments of the world, may not have been the reality of the situation. For example, he argues that the US and UK decided to pick on Gaddafi because it was a preferable “truth” to Assad and Syria causing problems.

    But, unlike most Curtis documentaries, there’s a fuzzy, intangible argument in there about society at large: we are now all unwittingly immersed in a preferred “truth” calculated by the enterprises of the Internet, in a way similar to the way the US/UK/Gaddafi situation happened. Not because companies are evil or intending to be deceptive, but because we gravitate to search engines and sites that provide subjectively the best answers, which we unconsciously assess as those that tell us what we want to hear.

    If I’m on the website for the Democratic or Republican National Committee, I realize that perspective is biased. But when searching with Google, we don’t expect it. We *perceive* that Google has something like intelligence, picking the best results and presenting them first, but being neutral in its choices. But in reality Google’s algorithm bases its decisions on each specific individual’s previous searches and the results they click on, which ensures the best results applicable to each of us.

    This is how the “search bubble” gets created. And it’s not just Google, it’s all the big sites, appealing to our happiness to keep our attention and retain our business by gathering surfing histories and using that as feedback to tell us things we like to hear.

    I think the parts you suggest skipping are the portions where Curtis is trying to put this together, but runs into trouble making the argument.

    If you want to run an eye-opening experiment: pick something you can buy that has never before been a part of your life. Choose something bizarre for your life: golf, Nascar, hockey, sex toys, incontinence goods, snazzy hubcaps for your ride, parts for a bicycle you don’t own. Spend 15 minutes comparison shopping and reading articles on the topic using Google. Then watch how the ads on the sites you visit regularly change for the next week or two.

    If you want more dystopian technology fears, I suggest the sci-fi anthology series Black Mirror. Available on Netflix streaming, it’s written by Charlie Brooker (NewsWipe, How TV Ruined Your Life, A Touch of Cloth) and speculates on technological possibilities a decade or two out, and how society could evolve to it. It is utterly haunting.

    Like

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