21 April 2015

How Not to Inform: Oh Dear!

Adam Curtis is a British documentary maker.

At the end of 2014, he produced an 11 minute segment for the British humorist and commentator Charlie Brooker's program Newswipe.

Here is that clip. Go ahead and watch it. I will wait for you.

If you do not have 11 minutes (or if you are like me and prefer words to images) here is what Adam Curtis says.
So much of the news this year has been hopeless, depressing, and above all, confusing. To which the only response is to say, "oh dear."

What this film is going to suggest is that that defeatist response has become a central part of a new system of political control.
He introduces Putin's adviser Stanislav Surkov, a post-modern artist, whose goal is to confuse people's perception of reality to ensure that they do not understand what is happening.
Surkov turned Russian politics into a bewildering, constantly changing piece of theater. He sponsored all kinds of groups, from neo-Nazi skinheads to liberal human rights groups. He even backed parties that were opposed to President Putin.

But the key thing was, that Surkov then let it be known that this was what he was doing, which meant that no one was sure what was real or fake. As one journalist put it: "It is a strategy of power that keeps any opposition constantly confused."
Curtis then questions whether something similar is taking place in British news media. There are so many issues without a clear outcome or even a causal framework.
British troops have come home from Afghanistan, but nobody seems to know whether it was a victory or whether it was a defeat. 
Aging disk jockeys are prosecuted for crimes they committed decades ago, while practically no one in the City of London is prosecuted for the endless financial crimes that have been revealed there. 
In Syria, we are told that President Assad is the evil enemy, but then his enemies turn out to be even more evil than him, so we bomb them, and by doing that, we help keep Assad in power. 
[George Osborne] tells us proudly that the economy is growing, but at the same time, wages are going down. 
He says he is reducing the deficit, but then it is revealed that the deficit is going up.
He then turns to Quantitative Easing and how it was used to siphon off billions from low income people to be transferred to the 1 percenters.
The government is insisting on taking billions of Pounds out of the economy through its austerity program, yet at the very same time it is pumping billion of Pounds into the economy through Quantitative Easing, the equivalent of 24,000 Pounds for every family in Britain.
But it gets even more confusing, because the Bank of England has admitted that those billions of Pounds are not going where they are supposed to. A vast majority of that money has actually found its way into the hands of the wealthiest five percent in Britain. It has been described as the biggest transfer of wealth to the rich in recent documented history.

It could be a huge scandal, comparable to the greedy oligarchs in Russia. A ruthless elite, siphoning off billions in public money. But nobody seems to know.
In short, news is designed to make it impossible for us to understand anything.
It sums up the strange mood of our time, where nothing really makes any coherent sense. We live with a constant vaudeville of contradictory stories that makes it impossible for any real opposition to emerge, because they can't counter it with any coherent narrative of their own.

And it means that we as individuals become ever more powerless, unable to challenge anything, because we live a state of confusion and uncertainty. To which the response is: Oh dear. But that is what they want you to say.

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