A Film about how all of us have become Richard Nixon.
February 10, 2010 1:08 PM   Subscribe

A film about how all of us have become Richard Nixon. From Adam Curtis.

From last evening's Newswipe on BBC Four. More here.
posted by feelinglistless (42 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
I have to admit that every time I get on a ground-loaded plane I have the urge to turn around and throw up the fingers.
posted by jeffkramer at 1:16 PM on February 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


It's just not a good idea to eat fingers before you get on a flight.
posted by Astro Zombie at 1:18 PM on February 10, 2010 [11 favorites]


My impression is that the British press is actually a lot more tabloid-y and scare-monger-y then the U.S. press.
posted by delmoi at 1:20 PM on February 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Hey! I am not a crook!

Oh my god...
posted by Salvor Hardin at 1:21 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


We need more Leyroy Jenkinses.
posted by vectr at 1:21 PM on February 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


ROYYYYYY JENKINS!

Sorry.
posted by Joe Beese at 1:21 PM on February 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Aroo!
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 1:21 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's just not a good idea to eat fingers before you get on a flight.

lady fingers they taste just like lady fingers
posted by shakespeherian at 1:22 PM on February 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


Also, this film is somewhat hypocritical, it posits a vast mob of unthinking bourgeoisie controlling society though fear and paranoia.

I also don't know if the rise of investigative journalism that uncovered all of this is really a bad thing. I think it's good for people to understand what their government and elites are actually doing.

The rise of psudoscientific expert opinion, though, is clearly more problematic. But drawing the line from Richard Nixon to women fretting about being to fat is kind of ridiculous. Being "paranoid" about your weight isn't like being paranoid that the CEO of Goldman Sachs is secretly working with Tim Geithner to defraud the American People.
posted by delmoi at 1:27 PM on February 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hmm. I normally like Curtis, especially his style, but I don't see how uncovering a massive amount of corrupt institutions should lead to the conclusion that some overarching conspiracy is behind them.

The fact that many institutions are corrupt speaks to people's natural tendency for engaging in corrupt behavior more than anything.

Shit, now I gotta make sure Occam gets his cut.
posted by defenestration at 1:29 PM on February 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sometimes I post an absolutely brilliant post to a thread on Metafilter and it garners not a single favorite*. At times like this I rest secure, knowing the silent majority agrees with me.


*Like this one.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:38 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Two kind of disparate, kind of related things:

1) The footage that always accompanies Curtis' work is always so meticulously researched and selected - so interesting to watch - that I find myself watching it instead of listening to what he's saying.

2) There's a long tradition in the UK of boring old twats standing in front of the cameras in dusty suits and studios and making TV that would nail you to the floor - and there's something to be said for actually being there in front of the camera.

When I think about these two things at the same time, I start to wonder whether the presentation doesn't obscure some wider failing in these documentaries - that I always watch and always enjoy. Its got something to do with the apocryphal story of Some Notable Somebody scrawling the words "Important if true" onto the inside cover of his Bible.

I guess what I mean is that I'd like to see a bit more of his workings.
posted by Jofus at 1:46 PM on February 10, 2010


This short made me paranoid about becoming paranoid.
posted by Omon Ra at 1:48 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I loved the documentary parts of the century of the self and the actual history of Ed Bernays. But as soon as the guy started drawing conclusions I got thoroughly confused. I had no idea what his point was at the end of it all. The same applies to this video.

The fact that many institutions are corrupt speaks to people's natural tendency for engaging in corrupt behavior more than anything.

Just as much as it speaks for our own society's tendency to corrupt. Nurture/nature debate, etc, etc.
posted by symbollocks at 1:58 PM on February 10, 2010


People want to know if I'm Richard Nixon. Well, I'm not Richard Nixon.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 2:09 PM on February 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm uh, yeah, uh, I'm not a .. crook? (tries to form a jowl and shake it violently)
posted by cavalier at 2:20 PM on February 10, 2010


Nixon: "I remember my body. Flabby, pasty skin, riddled with phlebitis - a good republican body. God, I loved it."

no phlebitis... maybe I'm not Nixon.
posted by inthe80s at 2:36 PM on February 10, 2010


Weird. I watched it before I clicked the 'More Inside', and I was all ready to go, 'That was like if Adam Curtis were delivering a Charlie Brooker monologue,' then I realised that, as a Newswipe piece, that's pretty much exactly what it is. Except Charlie Brooker does his in the spirit of being a curmudgeon who shouldn't be taken entirely seriously - what's odd is how Adam Curtis delivers his deadpan, as if he's presenting us with an absolutely representative digest of politics and journalism over the last 40 years. I don't know, maybe we're supposed to assume his tongue's firmly in his cheek and I'm being a little slow today. I guess in the context of the rest of the show you'd be less likely to take it all at face value.
posted by RokkitNite at 2:45 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I mostly enjoyed this, but I don't like how he claims that academics 'decided' that they would create overblown, poorly reported science scare stories. Ok, the MMR thing maybe. But most of the other examples were not created by academics at all, but by bad science reporters, irresponsibly twisting the words and ideas of academics.
posted by Dreadnought at 2:50 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I agree, RokkitNite... except Charlie Brooker wouldn't have spent 6 minutes calling everyone Nixon. He'd have just said it and left us all time for tea and a sit. Nixon, hrm? Guess that makes you a right Agnew, my friend.
posted by Catblack at 2:52 PM on February 10, 2010


"bad science reporters"

Can we refer to them as 'bad reporters of science' instead?
posted by vectr at 3:05 PM on February 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Just watched the Charlie Brooker bit after the jump and I reckon it does the same sort of thing but much better - rather than shoehorning its thesis into a provocative but ultimately untenable metaphor, it just rattles hell-for-leather through a history in brief, using some brilliant set pieces and Brooker's trademark annoyingly superb commentary to hold it all together. I loved the stuff about British politicians not taking TV seriously in the early days, regarding the camera with the sort of withering amusement one might a musical spacehopper wreathed in fairy lights.
posted by RokkitNite at 3:08 PM on February 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Only I could go to China.
posted by boo_radley at 3:35 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't see how uncovering a massive amount of corrupt institutions should lead to the conclusion that some overarching conspiracy is behind them.

I don't think Adam Curtis does either. Otherwise, he would have said "overarching conspiracy", or something like it.

Curtis' real implication is that there are a million tiny conspiracies.
posted by Chuckles at 3:38 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


You won't have KingEdRa to kick around anymore!
posted by KingEdRa at 3:51 PM on February 10, 2010


Well, Nixon believed it was a conspiracy of east coast liberal elites—there is no cabal!—behind each smaller conspiracy, right? I thought the proposed Nixon-like paranoia we all apparently now suffer is rooted in the belief that all of these smaller instances of corruption are tied together in some significant way. They are out to get us, etc, etc.

Perhaps I misunderstood?
posted by defenestration at 3:51 PM on February 10, 2010


Bound together in a significant way, sure. That still doesn't constitute an overarching conspiracy.

If I have dirt on you, and you have dirt on me, our interests are significantly tied together, but we most certainly aren't working towards a common goal. I mean, it is a similar goal, we are both working towards self aggrandizement. Just that the selves are different entities, so there is no arch over anything...
posted by Chuckles at 3:56 PM on February 10, 2010


delmoi: Also, this film is somewhat hypocritical, it posits a vast mob of unthinking bourgeoisie controlling society though fear and paranoia.
defenestration: ...I don't see how uncovering a massive amount of corrupt institutions should lead to the conclusion that some overarching conspiracy is behind them.
It seems to me the film is making a slightly (but crucially) different point.

The "vast mob of unthinking bourgeoisie" have increasingly cemented their position by publicizing threats (real or imagined) only they can detect and defend us from. They necessarily don't do it because they're part of a conspiracy that is "controlling society," but out of far more mundane careerism and self-interest. In aggregate, the emergent result can seem a lot like a conspiracy even where none exists.

In any case, one effect is that society as a whole is more scared, more stressed, and more worried than we have good reason to be. And it is arguable (and Curtis has argued it repeatedly in his other films) that a frightened society is a more easily controlled society.

That, to me, seems to be the point of many of Curtis' films. It is easy to caricature that as "they're keeping us scared on purpose so that we're easier to control," but I think he's making a simpler and less specific point: "We live in enormous societies that are in a constant state of fear and worry; this is making us susceptible to control. It wasn't always like this." The idea of conspiracy is not excluded, but it isn't necessary either.

And whether or not one agrees with that general thesis, I think, is a separate argument.
posted by Western Infidels at 4:37 PM on February 10, 2010 [13 favorites]


Well said, Western Infidels.
posted by Vindaloo at 4:42 PM on February 10, 2010


Adam Curtis does splendid work. I wish his stuff had been around when I was younger and less fatalistic about the Way of Things.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:44 PM on February 10, 2010


I liked the part where the girl was (presumably) being interviewed by a puppet-wielding "expert" about sexual abuse. Her face was blacked out, so was the "expert's", and so was the puppet's. Very droll.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:19 PM on February 10, 2010


My impression is that the British press is actually a lot more tabloid-y and scare-monger-y then the U.S. press.

Uh, have we already forgotten "Balloon Boy"?
posted by KokuRyu at 9:21 PM on February 10, 2010


Someone should make a movie about how we all of us have become John Maynard Keynes.
posted by neuron at 9:44 PM on February 10, 2010


This is interesting, but it's sort of an odd view of Nixon to me. I mean - I agree that he was a tortured, fearmongering little man, but seeing in him the genesis of a sort of anti-elitist sense that the vested interests of Washington and the US were ruling secretly seems sort of... short-sighted. Perhaps that's what Nixon meant to the UK and to the rest of the world, so I'll grant him that, but in the US at least, the notion that 'we' the 'common people' need to 'kick the fat bastards out' and 'take control of government' - the central plank of the classic anti-establishment politician - goes back pretty far, in modern times at least to Truman and maybe as far back as Andrew Jackson.

Again, I think things were utterly different in the UK, but for us, by the time Nixon came to power, it was quite routine for politicians to believe that a ruling elite with great vested interests had to be displaced to create a true democracy. That's almost a required belief for politicians in the US. I don't think that's necessarily a good thing, but it's a common notion.
posted by koeselitz at 10:10 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


... I meant to say, though:

This is very interesting and thoughtful. Thanks, feelinglistless - I'll be checking out a lot more of Adam Curtis' stuff now.
posted by koeselitz at 10:11 PM on February 10, 2010


One of my favorites, The Century of The Self, is available in four parts starting here on Google Video.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:22 PM on February 10, 2010


We have not become Nixon, rather Nixon mirrored what we had become. That's why he was so successful politically. A new divide appeared in the 1960s during Nixon's tenure - a divide today we call "red vs blue" or "liberal vs conservative" or whatever.

There was a time in the mid 1960s when a liberal consensus was reached, it was thought. Material prosperity lifted most people into the Middle Class and the conflicts of the past about social equality had been won, it was thought. Great Society programs run by the Best and Brightest would run the world. However, not everyone can be the Best and Brightest by definition, there also has to be the Normal and Hardworking, and this "Silent Majority" wanted a say. And so the war began between the Superstar Elites and the Everyman - a war that continues to this day. It's bourgeois internecine warfare. Luckily it's mostly comical and usually doesn't lead to violence, although many died in the 1960's, it's cooled off some, but continues to this day and could heat up again (thanks to inflammatory films by Adam Curtis).
posted by stbalbach at 10:37 PM on February 10, 2010


If you like this stuff, I recommend Nixonland by Perlstein very highly. In fact I think Curtis is ripping some core ideas from Perlstein.
posted by stbalbach at 10:44 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


KokuRyu: “Uh, have we already forgotten "Balloon Boy"?”

I may be wrong, but I don't doubt that most in the UK will agree that the UK tabloid press is in fact much worse than it is in the US, as incredible as that may sound. Tabloid photogs and 'journalists' in the UK are regularly happy to threaten all sorts of underhanded tricks in order to get the story. US tabloids are, on the contrary, characterized mainly by complete stupidity. This may seem a fine distinction sometimes, but I think it's significant.

That's not to say that tabloids in either country are nice at all.
posted by koeselitz at 11:14 PM on February 10, 2010


I saw this in Newswipe, and...

Well, Curtis comes across to me like a video version of Malcolm Gladwell - selectively picking the bits that support his thesis, and not mentioning the stuff that doesn't.

Yes, it's a very ambitious 'big theme' for such a short film, but by saying at the end (in effect) that the media just uses experts in absence of serious investigation completely ignores the MP's Expenses scandal of last year, which was led by newspapers, or specifically the Daily Telegraph.

Having said that, like Gladwell, Curtis is always thought provoking, and I'll always watch his stuff.
posted by DanCall at 1:15 AM on February 11, 2010


Battle not with monsters lest ye become a monster and if you gaze into Nixon, Nixon gazes into you.
posted by Scoo at 4:39 AM on February 11, 2010


Acquisition means life to miserable morals - Hesiod .

I don't believe in conspiracies because I believe this basic truth lies dormant within us all and its flame can always be stoked by those who wish to manipulate - but individuals must give them license to do so. Many times per day I ask myself "what are they trying to acquire" before giving my trust and it has served me well. It keeps me away from things like cable news, bad products and people that will suck the soul from my body.
posted by any major dude at 7:40 AM on February 11, 2010


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