Ennui, distrust, uncertainty, paralysis…oh, what an insecure, anxiety-fraught world. Everyone living in their heads these days, everyone staring at screens and sharing thoughts or whatever non sequitur comes to mind…flitting from tweet to tweet…watching closely, talking shit and nobody really content (much less happy) about anything. Not really.
What else is new?
As a huge fan of Adam Curtis‘s The Century of the Self and especially The Power of Nightmares, and a bit less of of a fan of Bitter Lake, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace and Hyper-Normalization, I’m finding Curtis’s latest, I Can’t Get You Out Of My Head, somewhere between ambiguously and intermittently fascinating but basically all over the fucking map.
The epic six-part series popped about three weeks ago, and was well reviewed by British critics. It’s all on YouTube right now.
It is HE’s belief that a multi-part doc needs a clean, easily graspable idea that can you hang onto as you watch the various chapters. The Century of the Self (’02) explained how those in power have used the ideas of Sigmund Freud and Edward Bernays “to try and control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy.” The Power of Nightmares (’05) basically said that the anti-western Islamic terrorists and the Bush-era neocon hardliners were almost identical in their purist fervor, and are pretty much cut from the same philosophical cloth.
To say that I Can’t Get You Out of My Head lacks a central idea or theme, or even a sense of building towards one, is putting it mildly. Curtis’s observations as he moves along are brilliant, of course, but when he started talking about Jiang Qing, Lin Piao and the Gang of Four vs. Mao Zedong in episode #3 (“Money Changes Everything“) I began to lose patience.
Here’s a rough splotch job based on Curtis own thoughts in recent interviews: “Everyone lives in their heads these days, and most modern novels are about the internal monologue. Why have we gone from a sense of confidence about self to being unconfident about self? Anxiety, uncertainty, fears about the future. To explain how we got here, the journey that led to it…you have to explain what went on in people’s heads as well as what happened in society as whole. A history of feelings.”
I don’t even think Curtis, mesmerizing as his riffs tend to be, has a good grip on what he’s trying to say. I think he’s just throwing impressions and associations at a wall and hoping some of it sticks.
Official Can’t Get You Out Of My Head summary: “The story of how we got to the strange days we are now experiencing. And why both those in power — and we — find it so difficult to move on and whether modern culture, despite its radicalism, is really just part of the new system of power”. What does that even mean?
Vague feelings of anxiety and fear…something seriously wrong with our lives, a general feeling of emptiness, as if we don’t exist. It’s Twitter’s fault…it really is.