It's like a ritualised dance - or the surprised kitty.
July 28, 2014 5:24 AM   Subscribe

Every month or so there is a new scandal - mass snooping by the NSA, allegations of price-fixing by giant energy companies, major banks corruptly rigging interest rates, giant modern bureaucracies like Serco and G4S ripping off the taxpayer, children's entertainers from the past charged with sexual abuse.

But these stories never seem to add up to a bigger picture. They are isolated events . And our reaction is always the same - shock and horror, and then it all subsides and we are ready to be shocked and horrified when the next scandal comes along.
Adam Curtis may be the only person who is able to use the ousting of Tamara Mellon from Jimmy Choo, the age of the American muckracking journalist and the light entertainment career of Diana Dors -- amongst other diversions -- to explain the need for a new journalism to investigate the new structural powers ruling us.
posted by MartinWisse (21 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
It's a tough road to walk, though, the road of connecting the dots and illuminating the structures, because that way easily lies the paranoia of imagining that everything is significant and connected in specific ways. A theory that proves too much discredits even what it does prove.

This is the bitter irony of postmodernism: it might be the case that people are as easily exploited in the absence of metanarratives as they are by the presence of them. It could also, just as easily, be the case that helplessness in the face of structural injustice is, itself, just a really pernicious metanarrative that I'm adding to by my own pessimism.
posted by gauche at 6:09 AM on July 28, 2014 [7 favorites]

That aside, fascinating article. Thank you for posting it.
posted by gauche at 6:12 AM on July 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I looked up the Muckraker magazine issue that Curtis mentioned in the piece, and found a PDF that looked pretty normal for a circa-1900s magazine. Not the images featured in the linked article.
posted by The River Ivel at 6:22 AM on July 28, 2014

And a new blog from Adam just this week on surveillance, Boolean logic, and the tedium of 21st century power, amongst other things.
posted by robself at 6:24 AM on July 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

Was the Vanderbilt in the Cooke clip William Kissam? The house appears to be Marble House, but his wikipedia bio says nothing about him going mad or believing himself to be the Prince of Wales. It's a great story, but is it authentic?
posted by bukvich at 6:40 AM on July 28, 2014

It's hard to argue against the need for "new journalism", but where are the journalists going to come from? My local paper is 80-90% recycled content from USA Today and the wire services. Articles are often full of typos. Experienced reporters have been forced into retirement or just laid off. Newspapers are mostly owned by the giant "media" conglomerates they should by all rights be investigating.

Again I ask: From whence cometh the new journalists?
posted by tommasz at 6:42 AM on July 28, 2014

robself: bloody hell, that was good.
posted by Leon at 6:51 AM on July 28, 2014

You know, the effect of the 24 hour news cycle, and the tabloids, is to make sure these stories die quickly. You know these news outlets are owned by some of the wealthiest people in the world.

Oh, wait, did I say effect? I meant "purpose".
posted by eriko at 6:59 AM on July 28, 2014 [6 favorites]

One day Curtis will actually stumble on the secret cabal that runs the world but his message will be ignored because the clip from Sesame Street he shows to expose them will be mislabelled as The Muppets.
posted by fullerine at 7:17 AM on July 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

I looked up the Muckraker magazine issue that Curtis mentioned in the piece, and found a PDF that looked pretty normal for a circa-1900s magazine. Not the images featured in the linked article.

The McClure's Magazine, January 1903 issue can be found here.

The images used in Adam Curtis' blog piece are a collage of these original illustrations with cut up text quotes overlaid on them, a modernist style made famous by Cubists like Georges Braque in the immediate pre-war period, so, ah, it would be a little weird for a magazine from 1903 to be using it, I would think...
posted by PandaMomentum at 7:26 AM on July 28, 2014

The difficulty is that once you sell the structural connections, people have all their outrage at once. From then on, when a new piece of the structure is reported, nobody is outraged anymore because it's just the way things are.

This is the problem the Chesterbelloc had with The Servile State.
posted by michaelh at 7:27 AM on July 28, 2014

Again I ask: From whence cometh the new journalists?

Same place as the old ones.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:45 AM on July 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I found this piece kind of long-winded and banal. It's an inventory of sensational episodes and a call for bringing the diffuse malaise of our time into focus. Bah.
posted by batfish at 7:51 AM on July 28, 2014

The problem is that whenever journalism aspires to something more dispassionate and empirically analytic than the telling of stories, it has to become something else--sociology, political science, cultural criticism, and so on.
posted by clockzero at 8:34 AM on July 28, 2014

Very cool post. I love Adam Curtis' documentaries--the way he can weave a story from disparate elements. They have a sort of fevered-dream quality, while being a sort of socio-psycho-political version of Burke's Connections series.

But I have to confess that the same style didn't translate into print very well for me. Came across as just going on and on.

That said, I've bookmarked his blog!
posted by mondo dentro at 9:06 AM on July 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Very interesting piece, and (although I agree longwindedly) it diagnoses the problem and draws the parallels well.

However, if we're going to take the Gilded Age as our model, then we need to remember that this type of journalism did not exist previously. So rather than asking where the journalists will come from now, we need to search for something entirely different, as yellow journalism was back then, something that is Not Journalism.

Also this type of journalism sort of created the Spanish American War, so maybe we should be a little careful what we wish for.
posted by digitalprimate at 9:08 AM on July 28, 2014

There was a great piece a few months back in the New Yorker which went into quite a bit of detail about McClure's and how it interacted with the political climate in the US just before WW1.
posted by Len at 11:31 AM on July 28, 2014

while being a sort of socio-psycho-political version of Burke's Connections series

Ha, that's funny, I was thinking of Burke's Connections too as I read this--but precisely because I think Burke completely (and infuriatingly) blurs the line between genuine "connection" (i.e., A caused B, or A and B are both examples of the same underlying structure etc.) and merely spurious contiguity.

If there is going to be a new journalism that explains deep structural webs to us, it's certainly not going to be influenced by this kind of word association football.
posted by yoink at 12:38 PM on July 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well Mr Curtis, you've been doing this sort of new journalism for quite some time. Your audience in small and your influence smaller. Doesnt it rather seem like there's not actually much interest in the journalism you want? Why do you think that is?
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 2:05 PM on July 28, 2014

I love Adam Curtis's work, and think it's vitally necessary. It doesn't bother me at all when he stretches to make connections that may be tenuous. A few missing threads don't make a tapestry less impressive to look at, if you just step back a little to take it all in.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:47 PM on July 28, 2014

Or, as Curtis himself says, winking, in this piece linked upthread: "It's wonderfully silly - but he has a point. Bit like documentary films."
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:48 PM on July 28, 2014

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