In Part 3 of The Living Dead, his series exploring the elite’s selective rewriting of history, Adam Curtis explores Margaret Thatcher’s dramatic reprisal of Britain’s “glorious golden age.” According to Curtis, Thatcher rose to power thorough detailed study and imitation of Winston Churchill’s speeches and rhetoric. In this respect, she was very different from most “perception management” artists in that she really believed she was going to restore Britain to its former power and glory.
Curtis suggests that Churchill was also convinced he was going to restore Britain to its eighteenth century imperial magnificence and became really depressed when he failed to do so.
The documentary offers quite a convincing analysis of the “messianic vision” that facilitated the rise to power of both Churchill and Thatcher. In Thatcher’s case, it was based on her romanticized childhood reading of history and incorporated a substantial amount of fantasy. This vision, strongly enforced in Britain’s private schools and military academies, emphasizes morality, discipline, patriotism, tradition, hierarchy, idealization of the monarchy, and respect for authority. Although this intensely hierarchical system only benefits a tiny minority of British society, its romantic pageantry is often extremely effective in winning middle and working class votes.
The Living Dead is an early Adam Curtis documentary regarding collective perception control techniques ruling elites use to retain power. It specifically addresses the technique of re-creating national history to ensure that populations selectively recall positive historical eras while suppressing all memory of negative events. Only Parts 1 and 3 are available in full on YouTube (Part 2 “You Have Used Me as a Fish Long Enough” is available but the audio is too distorted to be intelligible). Tomorrow I’ll post Part 3, about Margaret Thatcher channeling Winston Churchill’s messianic vision.
In Part 1, Curtis focuses on the Nuremberg war crimes trials of 1945-46. He maintains these trials were the first major propaganda assault against any historical memory of atrocities and war crimes the US and Britain committed during World War II (see British and American War Crimes During World War II).
In the US, the official determination to re-frame World War II as the “just war” would prove very troubling for individual veterans who had witnessed American atrocities (Kurt Vonnegut writes about it in Slaughterhouse Five and Joseph Heller in Catch 22).
The resulting disconnect between official accounts and their lived experiences often resulted in intense feelings of apprehension, hopelessness, isolation and fear of impending disaster. (It sure did in my father.)
The film features an excerpt from a secret film the US army made about a program designed to help veterans “forget” their troubling memories.
Pandora’s Box is Curtis’s first documentary (at least that I can find on YouTube) about the history of perception management, mass indoctrination and collective thought control. His films, a treasure trove of the hidden history that is censored in our schools, offer a unique perspective on the role of government and media in manipulating the way we view ourselves and our relationship with society and the ruling elite.
First appearing on BBC television in 1992, the six-part series explores the collusion between engineers, corporate oligarchs and the public relations industry to hoodwink the industrialized world into believing science and technology would solve all the world’s problems. It was a process that granted a dangerous amount of power to pseudo-rational engineer/technocrats – who in many instances proved far less rational than the general population.
As Curtis demonstrates in Part 1, a parallel process occurred in the non-capitalist Soviet Union under Stalin.
Part 1 The Engineer’s Plot – concerns the powerful impetus to electrify and industrialize the Soviet Union after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. Lenin, who believed industrialization was vital to the success of Communism, was famous for the dictum: “Communism is Soviet power plus electrification.”
Part 2 To the Brink of Eternity – concerns the development of Game Theory at the Rand Corporation (a right wing think tank closely allied with the Pentagon and US intelligence) and whiz kids like Kennedy’s Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara who nearly led us into a global nuclear holocaust. Clips depicting McNamara’s use of Game Theory to manage the Vietnam War are particularly comical.
Part 3 The League of Gentleman – concerns the capture of British economic policy by Milton Friedman’s pseudo-scientific monetarism under Margaret Thatcher. This would result in the total decimation of Britain’s manufacturing base and skilled workforce (and economy).
Part 4 Goodbye Mrs Ant – concerns the glorification of the chemical industry after World War II, resulting in the total contamination of the environment (and our bloodstreams) with DDT and similar synthetic pesticides. Curtis also traces the backlash against this environmental destruction that started with Rachel Carson’s 1962 Silent Spring and culminated with the birth of the ecology movement at the University of Wisconsin in 1968.
Part 5 Black Power – concerns the destructive myth perpetuated by Wall Street and the World Bank that massive technology projects would magically solve the problem of third world poverty. Curtis specifically examines the massive Volvo damn project the World Bank funded for Ghana (and Kaiser Aluminum) in 1960. And how shameless exploitation by Kaiser (and the collapse in the world cocoa price) left the country worse off than ever.
Part 6 A is for Atom – concerns the massive snow job the nuclear power industry did on the US, British and Russian public in promoting nuclear energy as a totally safe and cheap form of virtually unlimited energy. According to Curtis, nuclear engineers knew as early as 1958 that nuclear power was far more expensive than other energy sources – and would require massive government subsidies. They also knew by the early sixties that standard safeguard features were unreliable in preventing nuclear accidents. When they pointed this out to the Atomic Energy Commission, the government bureaucrats decided too much money had been invested in nuclear power to admit they were wrong.
“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery – none but ourselves can free our minds” – Bob Marley Redemption Song
PsyWar: the Real Battlefield is the Mind
Directed by Scott Noble (2010)
PsyWar is about the fundamental role of propaganda in a political system that pretends to guarantee “democracy” in a society that simultaneously promotes extreme wealth inequality.
It begins with an examination of the vital role propaganda plays in war time, with a special focus on the 2003 US invasion of Iraq and World War I. It then explores the morphing of the World War I propaganda machine into the modern public relations industry.
The film moves on to the concept of “polyarchy,” which the filmmakers maintain is the most accurate description of government in the industrial north. In a polyarchy, power is closely guarded by a wealthy elite and the population remains passive except for periodic elections in which they vote for the elites of their choice. When a tiny minority controls nearly all the wealth, “democratic” elections are only possible if the majority is systematically controlled with psychological propaganda.
Big breakthroughs in transportation and communication technology at the end of the 19th century caused a major crisis for polyarchy, as they fed the rise of popular resistance movements (eg the populist and progressive movement, International Workers of the World and militant labor movements). The response to this crisis was the public relations industry.
The Rendon Group and Perception Management
The documentary introduces us to the Rendon Group, the private “perception management” company the Bush administration paid to manage propaganda leading up to the US invasion of Iraq. Immediately after 911, the CIA paid the Rendon Group $23 million to generate anti-Iraq propaganda. They also paid them to manage “public perception” during the US bombing of Afghanistan.
The Dirty Secret Behind the US Constitution
PsyWar devotes nearly 15 minutes to the secret framing of the US Constitution by a group of rich landholders and merchants to overturn the Articles of Confederation and protect their wealth from the “tyranny of the majority.” It contrasts the system of direct democracy of the Iroquois Federation (on which the Articles of Confederation were based), where all members of society (including women) had direct input into policy decisions.
The Crisis of Capitalism
According to PsyWar the modern public relations machine performs two vital functions in maintaining the stability of our current capitalist system. The first addresses chronic overproduction. One of the main flaws of capitalism is that once a population’s basic needs are met, the need for continuing production ceases. Our ruling elite could have addressed overproduction by reducing work hours and increasing wages (as they have recently done in Sweden*), but this would have hurt profits. Instead, under the guidance of Edward Bernays (known as the father of public relations) they ramped up consumption by bombarding the masses with pro-consumption propaganda deliberately playing on their psychological insecurities.
The second major role played by modern public relations is to “manufacture consent” of the governed to their overall powerlessness and passivity. Manufacturing consent is a term coined by journalist (and former government intelligence/propaganda agent) Walter Lippmann. It was Lippman’s view that the majority of Americans are meddlesome outsiders who are totally incompetent to govern themselves.