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Tag Archives: adam curtis

A Better Title for The Trap

Adam Curtis named his 2007 3-part documentary The Trap (although according to Wikipedia, he originally intended to call it “Cold Cold Heart”). Through three hours and many, many engaging sound transitions, Curtis details the history of the second half of 20th century and into the 21st, as told through the lens of game theory.

According to Curtis’ history, today’s political reality can be explained by studying the application of game theory to social theory, economic policy, political philosophy, and political practice.

The problem with the title The Trap is its dynamic, implicating connotation. Trap means springloaded potential energy, something ready to snap, something somebody trips, something that somebody sets for somebody/thing else. It implies a before and after, cause and effect, hunter and hunted. It gives you a clear mental picture and even a sound – snap! “Something’s caught in that trap and I’m not touching it.”

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Trapped- Mental Illness and Computers

In The Trap, we witness how we have followed the carrot of freedom, dangling endlessly in front of us, only to look up at a world that is anything but free.  For me personally, one of the more bleak aspects of the film was the extension of game theory into psychology and the desire to categorize and list all mental health disorders in the same rational ways applied to other areas of life.

I could only imagine this drive having a terrible human impact beyond what is described in the film itself- experimental treatments such as electroshock therapy, lobotomy and more.  As a testament to the problems associated with these treatment, Gordon Brown has recently apologized for the treatment of computer scientist Alan Turing- PM Apology After Turing Petition.

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“Juking the Stats”

The Trap by Adam Curtis is an informative yet very narrow exploration of our current model of freedom and the various forms of social control that we’re subjected to. While the viewer should remain selective about what to retain from the film, one of the less menacing themes is our society’s obsession with numbers as applied to the public sector. While The Trap provides us with countless examples of this obsession, I find the issue of government mandated performance targets to be quite relevant.

The rise of performance targets in Britain took place during the 1990s under Jonathan Major. Based on the premise that public servants weren’t working to their full potential, the government sought to improve society by implementing a system that would provide objective data and therefore increase individual accountability. Read More »

Psychiatry and Pharmaceuticals as “The Trap”

I’ve never considered myself an extremely political person, but Adam Curtis’ The Trap was overall an interesting documentary that had its high and low points. What particularly stood out to me was Curtis’ discussion of psychiatry and pharmaceuticals in the first, but especially the second, parts of the documentary. Other than that, the only other thing that stood out to me in this film was Curtis’ obsession with scores from John Carpenter films (I honestly could not pay attention to the portion of the documentary accompanied by the Halloween theme).

Although I don’t have a specific interest in psychology, I’ve always been skeptical about what I put into my body and am hesitant to even take aspirin. Additionally, one of my close friends works in a psychology lab and is on her way to becoming a clinical psychologist, so this portion of the film really struck me and hearing her “professional” insight on Curtis’ thoughts were interesting. Read More »

The Trap and The Great Depression

According to the Centers for Disease Control, anti-depressants have become the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States. After watching Adam Curtis’ The Trap, it was fascinating to learn where it all began. 

I couldn’t help but parallel the segment of the rise of psychiatry movement, which in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s put into place a checklist of symptoms to determine if someone was “mentally ill” with depression or anxiety, with what we see in our country today. By answering the questions on this checklist created by Dr. Robert Spitzer, consumers were able to discover whether or not they were dealing with “abnormal” emotion and functioning in the way humans were meant to function. It was later realized that this guide took only an objective look at these symptoms. The feelings were never contextualized within the consumer’s life, and normal emotions such as sadness, fear and anxiety were easily medicalized.

While the checklist created by Spitzer is no longer in place, I see a similarity between this and the direct-to-consumer advertising of anti-depressants (and many, many other pharmaceuticals) we are now prestened with, often leading to self-diagnosis. Read More »

Would the Numbers Game Still Exist: The Trap’s Adam Curtis Afraid of Statistics

Adam Curtis’s documentary film The Trap attributes all the ill wills of the world on the supposed Pandora’s Box of Game Theory that was developed as a response to the Cold War. He rails against statistics and quotas used by the government to help regulate modern life. According to Curtis, the British government began using these statistics to allow its citizens to behave in a self serving way.  I argue that because the computer in its nascent form already existed and digital technology was being developed, governments would have utilized statistical models to try and help serve and do what is best for the majority of its citizens.

Game theory was applied—or as the documentary argues misapplied—to human behavior by a well known academic and Hollywood biopic subject John Nash.  Game Theory’s main tenets according to the film are that a given party will act in their own self interest, that their actions will be logical, and that therefore based on situation you can predict behavior.  Adam Curtis goes on to argue that Game Theory paints a pessimistic view of human nature and alludes that this view is incorrect. (He provides no counter argument as to the true nature of people.) Much to the documentarian’s chagrin, John Nash’s ideas about human behavior were subsequently applied to psychology, economics, and government by R.D. Laing. Curtis postulates that Because of the ‘negative’ view of human beings’ nature and the overwhelming pervasiveness of the notion in society, modern people are treated by their governing institutions as living machines. We all supposedly behave in a given pattern, or rather; we all play the game of life. Everyone’s behavior can be predicted by statistics. Adam Curtis goes on to argue that governments set targets and goals determined by statistical modeling to free people from pretending that they care about anything other than their own self interest in work, government or any aspect of life.

After reaching the conclusion that we all play by the numbers, I had to ask myself, why does Adam Curtis marginalize statistics? Read More »

The Trap / Adam Curtis

A BBC documentary series by Adam Curtis. More about it from Wikipedia.

I have embedded all the files here in the blog but in case you have a problem watching or prefer the option to watch it in full-screen, I have also uploaded it to my server, where you can download it as a Quicktime video.

Part I:

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