Monday, February 15, 2021

Adam Curtis and the Oozlum Bird, by Sackerson

 I've just frittered away seven hours or so watching Adam Curtis' latest six-part video essay 'Can't Get You Out Of My Head' (available on BBC iPlayer, also on Youtube for non-UK residents: .)

It tries to cover a lot of ground - mass movements, resistance to elites, whether humans can be manipulated and so on. But I think it stretches too far, generalises terribly and ends up with no definite conclusion, disappearing up itself like the Oozlum Bird

It gives us lots of interesting snippets, and looks as though it's making coherent sense because Curtis uses his familar tricks - strange dissociative music, lively footage of frightening events and so on. I think a corrective would be to publish the transcripts so we could spot the use of emotive language, insecurely founded assertions, questionable linkages.

Just for example, I pluck a couple of dubious statements and references from the fifth episode - I'm sure others could find more, throughout the series:

1. Curtis appears to suggest that the Brexiteers voted Out from some nostalgia for lost Empire. I have never heard anybody here, let alone a Brexiteer, state that they wanted to recolonise India and so on. On the other hand Curtis says nothing of the malign domestic socio-economic effects of our EU membership and globalisation generally, which in my view would go much further to explain ordinary people's frustration with the cosy cross-party pro-internationalism setup in Westminster.

2. Curtis quite rightly talks about the evils of the opium trade which Britain foisted on China; but in referring to the flood of silver this raised and returned to Britain, he fails to make mention of another trade that was a major factor: tea, payment for which the Chinese government insisted had to be in silver only, thus causing a monetary problem for Britain.

I'm not sure what the transcripts, presented as an Oxbridge undergraduate essay, would score from the dons. Sooner or later we must recognise that the 'flight from language' or the use of audio-visuals to override the critical faculty, has its limitations and pernicious tendencies.


A K Haart said...


"It gives us lots of interesting snippets"

And once we notice this technique it can be remarkably annoying. Many written essays are like this though. A transcript ought to reveal the weakness of the technique, but maybe it would merely come across as the bare bones of a written essay similar to many we see all the time. A comparison would be interesting though.

Sackerson said...

Beta plus query plus, perhaps. Thanks for your comment, AKH.

James Higham said...

"Curtis appears to suggest that the Brexiteers voted Out from some nostalgia for lost Empire."

I think that's all we need to know about him.