All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace Review


Adam Curtis is back with a new documentary series. You know, the guy who made The Power of Nightmares. The documentary series that involved archive footage, detailed analysis and the feeling of your own intelligence being crushed by the speed and authority of his arguments. This time he turns to the utopian and notorious novelist Ayn Rand and the influence of her writing, so hopes that this will be a small and understated examination of the topic are quickly dispelled..

Curtis argues that Ayn Rand’s book ‘Atlas Shrugged’, the second-most influential book in America after the Bible (instantly checks Amazon to find out what the bloody hell it is) was influential in the principles that underpinned Silicon Valley in its infancy forty years later. Digital Entrepreneurs were fantasised by the visions of objectivism in her book, the belief that we have to free ourselves from all forms of political and religious control and follow only our own individual desires to be successful and develop the planet.

According to Curtis, her belief was that entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley wanted to create an industry that would extend to political power, allowing individuals to shape their own destiny without others getting in the way. And what was one of the major inventions of that burgeoning market? The internet: a tool that establishes the very vision she set out in her book. Boom. And what did this vision and the internet that it represents lead to? The belief of globalisation, the transfer of power away from politicians to bankers, followed by corruption, greed and the recent financial meltdown. A dystopia instead of the utopian society that she envisioned. Boom boom BOOOM.

Hang on a sec. Really? I’m not that convinced. Well is there any research which goes against these arguments? I did do a bit of work on political power as part of a module at University, but really, good research? Well if there is then he doesn’t acknowledge it here. Um… searches BBC iPlayer / searches Google / starts crying.

It is a bit weird when you think about it. In other forms of broadcasting such as television news we are told to follow strict impartiality rules so us, the audience, are not guided down only one route of opinion. In the US such impartiality doesn’t necessarily exist, we’ve got the dominance of loonies on Fox News remember, but as each network follows the same news stories and gives their own take on the situation there are opportunities to get a second point-of-view and form your own concrete opinion.

The problem is that with this documentary there are no opportunities to go against Curtis’s opinion. None. Zip. There are no counter arguments mentioned in his essay (of course). There are no accessible academic opinions that I could find that specifically covers this area of work that is as in this TV documentary. In fact there is no opportunity to free yourself from the opinion and control of others in this documentary, the very freedom that he constantly refers to from Ayn Rand’s work.

Despite Curtis teasing us with superb editing, haunting archive footage, eerie music and specific words to guide your emotions down the line of his argument, when it all boils down to it the result after watching it is the same cynicism I get after watching Michael Moore, or to a lesser degree Michael Spurlock. Your argument is all very nice and all, but what does everyone else think? Anybody? Anybody at all? HELP!