Adam Curtis believes in stories.
They feed the human imagination and they can transform both people and the world for the better. He thinks that for the past 20 years we have been in a political and cultural ditch because we have, unlike in the past, opted to manage the world rather than try to change it. According to Curtis, this malaise is the unintended consequence of several processes: the rise of individualism and its atomization of society; the now entrenched belief that humans are rigid and unchangeable; and the use of the language of economics to think about the world. The managed world we live in is a static world, haunted by the ghosts of its past.
For 20 years Curtis has used long-forgotten BBC archival footage and dazzling pop soundtracks to tell the stories of curious individuals to get his audiences thinking about how systems of power work. For example, SAS-founder David Stirling’s private mercenary force in the Yemen demonstrated the reluctance of Britain’s old guard to relinquish its Empire; geneticist George R. Price’s grisly suicide underpinned Curtis’ case for free will; and Edward Bernays’ use of his uncle Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theories to sell women cigarettes showed post-war America’s culture of consumerism and control.