Brian Micklethwait of this blog has linked to a series of nice take-downs of the work of the “documentary” maker, Adam Curtis. I link to one rather nice video at that man’s expense. One of Curtis’ recent efforts was about Alan Greenspan and the dangers of giant computers or something. He’s a sort of posh conspiracy theorist for people who would otherwise scoff at the sort of guy who rants that Man never really landed on the Moon, Jews bombed the WTC, etc.
It is arguable that the whole phenomenon of the “documentary” as an impartial piece of good journalism has been more or less hammered in recent years. After all, we have had the various efforts of Michael Moore, which, like Curtis’s efforts, are not really designed to inform or ask difficult questions, but a form of propaganda, and a form that plays well to the smug complacency of fashionable opinion. But let’s be fair, even a programme which said things with which I agreed, such as this Channel 4 Martin Durkin one about explosive government debt, used techniques to pull on our heartstrings, although I thought in that programme, it did make an argument – an extremely good one. With the Curtis stuff, it is more like taking a sort of drug.
Maybe the whole idea of a non-biased documentary needs to be junked. Perhaps the honest truth is that these programmes don’t really lend themselves to a sort of “on the one hand and on the other” sort of fairness; in truth, a guiding narrative, with a punchline at the end, is what makes these things work. But then this is clearly advocacy journalism and a form that does not square with it being paid for by a state-privileged broadcast network such as the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Then again, the whole idea of a broadcaster financed via a tax needs to be ditched, so that Curtis will have to make such rubbish without my having to pay for it. I wonder if Curtis wants to do one of his documentaries on the idea of governments using state broadcasters to shape opinion? No, I did not think so.