General TV stuff

The Trap: What Happened To our Dream of Freedom?

First printed in The Courier, Newcastle’s student newspaper, in 2007

The suggestion that humanity’s increasingly widespread conception of itself as inherently untrustworthy and deceptive in terms of inter-personal relations creates a knock-on effect on national and international relations is scarcely a new idea, but rarely has it been examined with such verve as in BBC2’s The Trap: What Happened To our Dream of Freedom.

This three part documentary is presented by Adam Curtis, the same auteurish filmmaker who wrote and directed the similarly excellent The Power Of Nightmares in 2004.

The central conceit, briefly and superficially, is that domestic and international policy is still directed by the same ideology that regulated Cold War policy, ‘game theory’, which is based on the assumption that humanity is fundamentally a selfish, duplicitous race who will back-stab each other wherever possible, and therefore the only solution is a mutual disincentive in all parties to initiate aggressive action towards one-another, such as a huge arsenal of nuclear weapons.

Hand-in-hand with this insular ideology has sprung, paradoxically, an increased valuation of personal freedom, which will, Curtis argues, ultimately disintegrate under the immense weight of Game Theory ideology.

Phew. Conceptually, little of this is new; the brilliance of The Trap lies in the fact that it’s essentially an immensely powerful mood piece, filled with terrifying bleak imagery and wonderfully grim music. It’s also intelligent theorizing for a mass-audience. In short, you should watch it.

• As if to confirm the allegations made in The Trap, Channel 4’s Dispatches (Mondays, 8pm) program conspires to prove to us that even our beloved Prince of Wales is an utter bastard.

It’s not very interesting, but there’re some truly funny comments made towards the end, particularly when the various talking heads are discussing Charles’s ‘alleged’ overindulgence. For instance, some posh woman mentions with disgust the ‘tremendous arrangements’ associated with Charles’s banqueting and shin-digs.

Then there’s a fat bespeckled bloke from The Independent who talks with distaste about the fact that Charles ‘swims with slightly fetid international billionaires’. To cop it all off, the presenter, Simon Barnes, starts most of his sentences with the phrase ‘despite accusations of extravagance…’

Perhaps I’m being obtuse. Isn’t suggesting that the Royal Family’s most profligate member may be extravagant simply to state the obvious? Is it not along the same lines as averring that Stalin may have had fascistic leanings buried beneath the façade?

Perhaps not, and just maybe it doesn’t matter anyway, for the dark, grimy photography and Halloween-like music firmly establishes Charles as a dangerous lunatic whose barely-concealed megalomania is fit to burst forth at any moment. This would seem to be the solitary point of the show: he’s no Stalin, he’s something else entirely – perhaps some strange and unfathomable being, existing outside of the space/time continuum altogether.

Alternatively, maybe his baffling eccentricity is just the result of centuries of controlled in-breeding. I’m only saying what Simon Barnes didn’t have the guts to.

Noel Brown