24 May 2011

ALL WATCHED OVER BY MACHINES OF LOVING GRACE (Dir. Adam Curtis, 2011, UK) - Episode 1 : Love and Power

Adam Curtis has returned with a new documentary series on the impact of machines on the human condition, society and market economics. Titled like a belated Radiohead Album ‘All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace’ is another witty and brilliantly ideological polemic on the elite’s duplicitous cajoling of the helpless, pacified masses – namely us for their own interests. You might ask yourself – is this another Chomsky inspired critique of power? So what if it is. The first episode titled ‘Love and Power’ begins with the collective rationalism of Ayn Rand – an American radical thinker and writer who foresaw the notion that selfish individualism would one day take hold of society. Curtis argues that Rand’s thoughts and particularly her influential 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged underpins much of the ideological ethics of American individualism best symbolised in the technological revolution spearheaded by the Silicon Valley crowd in the nineties. Similarly like The Trap (2007), Curtis juxtaposes much of his archive footage to American film scores producing a political montage that is anchored largely by a fatalistic voice over offering a sustained, compelling and nightmarish alternate reality in which the determinants of market economics are the yardstick by which politicians and governments are judged.

It’s hard not to be convinced by the argument that a technological enslavement is underway and that the so called democratisation of the media is in fact yet another illusion, distraction and universal falsehood. Curtis argues that individuals around the world communicating through the new electronic worldwide global village are in fact not liberating themselves from all former restraints but commodifying their personal interests – this is evident in the truth that even the banal now has a value on the worldwide web. This might seem like an old argument – that machines ultimately alienate individuals and inadvertently rob them of the freedom they seek through sub conscious enslavement. Curtis links such a proposition to the grand Utopian ideal that computers and the web would let everyone live out their desires thus enhancing democracy as a universal aspiration. All of this is a falsehood. Even Alan Greenspan’s ideological imperative of computers bringing stability to the markets is respectively undermined by the uncontrollable and unpredictable nature of the human condition – in this case it is love (an altruistic impulse) that suggests machines are merely an enhancement not an evolutionary solution to hegemonic greed, control and enslavement. It all makes for invaluable viewing. Roll on Episode 2 next week...

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