Adam Curtis: Cognitive Deterrorization

Adam Curtis claims he doesn’t make documentaries but journalism. Even so his three BBC-produced series offer political analysis in the form of film:

What I do is modern political journalism. So much political journalism is moribund because it simply tries to follow power down the traditional circuits. Power today is travelling much less in the political sphere and much more in the culture generally; in the management culture, in mathematics, in genetics, in science, in psychology. Power deals with people much more directly now. (Link)

Using extensive archive footage and narrating the films himself, Adam Curtis is a Foucault on film, tracing the genealogy of power and knowledge through its twists and turns in the intimate dance of science and politics, with much the same inspiration: “The real basis of my films is that Nietzsche’s ideas have shaped the world we live in, but in totally unpredictable ways.” (Link)

Century of the Self
Traces the political and economic history of psychoanalysis. The main character is Sigmund Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays, inventor of the concept of public relations and, in this, probably the most influential political thinker of the twentieth century.

Part 1:

Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4

The Power of Nightmares (
Tells the parallel stories of the rise, geopolitical convergence and later confrontation of neo-conservatism and radical islamism. Exorcising a ghost haunting current discourses of national security, it is a must see for a sobering account of the geopolitical imagination of the early 21st century.

The Trap
Subtitled “What Happened to our Idea of Freedom?” this series center entirely around the modern concept(s) of freedom and its perturbations in the hands of scientists, philosophers and politicians from the fifties and onwards. Of Curtis’ video essays, this is the broadest in scope and with as broad implications of its conclusions.

Part 1:

Part 2 and Part 3

You can find interviews with Adam Curtis here and here. The following is his latest production: a short spot on the status of modern TV journalism:


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One Response to “Adam Curtis: Cognitive Deterrorization”

  1. JD Says:

    Don’t forget Curtis’ other documentaries, namely The Mayfair Set and Pandora’s Box, both of which are available from the Internet Archive ( or possibly also on YouTube.

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