Friday, 30 January 2015

"Bitter Lake" - a plea for more sophisticated television

A few nights ago I logged into BBC iPlayer order to watch the latest Adam Curtis documentary "Bitter Lake".

At about 2 hours 20 minutes it is a substantial piece of work, and Curtis decided that it should be only available on iPlayer because he did not want to have to fit it into a standard television-sized slot. The reason is that the documentary, while focusing on the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the recent western involvement in Afghanistan, is more broadly a criticism about how politicians and the media simplify messages.

They do this for various reasons: because the world around us is complex and issues such as Islamic fundamentalism are happening because of many different issues, to obscure actions taken which have contributed to a current crisis, to make it possible to explain what is happening in a few minutes on a news broadcast, for example.

By taking such a long time to present the story Curtis is able to weave together a story which includes an ill-planned irrigation scheme in Helmand province which massively increased the local capacity for producing opium, American complicity with Saudi Arabia in guaranteeing oil supplies in exchange for ignoring what that country did with fundamentalist beliefs, the 2008 financial crisis, the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, the rise of Islamic State in Iraq and many others.

Giving such time makes it possible to explore the complexity which has led to the current crisis in the Middle East, and is quite different to the typical media narrative which is that Islamic fundamentalists are basically evil and that it is the duty of Westerners, as representatives of good, to ride in and destroy them.

Of course, that is the narrative structure of the typical western film, and Curtis makes the point that one of the key moments in the development of the simplification of history was the election of Ronald Reagan, a former actor in western action movies, as US president.

Sadly until we can as a world learn to get to grips with complexity and stop seeing the world as an action film we are condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past, over and over and over.

No comments:

Post a Comment