The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom.

AuthorBlackwater, Bill
PositionTelevision program review

Written and Directed by Adam Curtis

In March 2007, BBC2 screened The Trap, a series of films by Adam Curtis. Curtis had previously won attention for documentary series such as Century of the Self (on the influence of Freud) and The Power of Nightmares (on neconservatives' use of the threat of Al-Qaeda). In The Trap Curtis turned his attention to the post-war political cult of individual freedom, arguing that the theories on which this was based viewed humanity as a collection of atomised and selfish individuals; simultaneously, they held that any other view of society was to be opposed as a hypocritical and dangerous cover for sclerotic statism or totalitarian dictatorship. As our social institutions have been remodelled under the influence of these ideas, Curtis argued, so trust in authority has broken down, society has become more atomised, individuals have begun to feel ever more helpless in a world devoid of beliefs, and the possibilities of politics have been reduced merely to administrating the status quo.

Critics among the bloggerati and elsewhere described The Trap variously as naive, manipulative, over the top, incoherent, and something of a left-wing polemic. It was probably all of these, in varying degrees. More importantly, it was profound, persuasive, rousing, technically dazzling, and right.

The Trap was that rarest of things: an intellectually and culturally significant piece of television. It was not just that it was intellectually serious; although it would have stood out simply for this. Nor just that it was artistically brilliant, in its use of documentary footage and music. It is that this series made a number of important arguments in its own right. Most TV programmes on intellectual subjects merely paraphrase--at snail's pace, lest anyone is left behind--the ideas that other people have written about. While Curtis of course has drawn on the ideas of others, his series broke new ground, and was no less intellectually complex than a written essay. It should not be thought of as another ephemeral piece of television; it is still available to view on the internet, and will no doubt have an ongoing life.

What made Curtis's series significant was the way in which it tagged liberal market democracy, identifying the ideology which supports it as surely as the revolutionary and utopian ideologies it was defined against. This has always been a difficult argument to make, precisely because liberal democracy defines itself as...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT