"Bloggers are bullies"

So says BBC documentary maker Adam Curtis responsible for the hugely popular The Power of Nightmares documentary. I’m a big fan of Curtis’s documentaries including The Mayfair Set, Pandora’s Box, The Century of The Self and his last film The Trap. All of his films tackle many of the fundamental forces and issues that shape the world today.

However, I don’t agree with everything in his films and neither do a lot of bloggers and websites which may explain his outburst in The Register. Although his comments were made in November last year, I’ve only just become aware of them and was quite surprised to hear such sentiments coming from him. Curtis says that Bloggers are simply “bullies” for expressing their opinion or criticising powerful interests (in which case he’s not going to like this post one bit!). His opinion is that bloggers are all uneducated and uninformed and don’t know what they are talking about. Rather than seeing it as a democratic medium, he actually sees it as anti-democratic because he says bloggers effectively gang-up on people they don’t like, or who’s opinions they don’t like, and intimidate them. He says that he’s talked to many broadcast news editors in the USA such as at CNN and in the UK who say they are actually scared of a blogger backlash.

Firstly, I’m not convinced that many broadcast editors really lose any sleep over what the blogosphere is going to make of their coverage of Iraq or the US elections. Secondly, I’d love to know how Curtis equates expressing One’s opinion with “bullying”. In which case, does this mean he considers anyone that expresses an opinion, which his films do on a regular basis, a bully? OK, I would consider it bullying if bloggers were going round people’s houses threatening to break their legs if they didn’t report something a certain way but I very much doubt that is happening. Thirdly, blogging is nothing more than a type of newspaper column. Whereas once such privilege was restricted to those that were paid by a newspaper to give their opinion, now anyone who feels strongly enough about a subject can publish it on the internet. That’s not “bullying” anyone.

Curtis also says in his interview that bloggers continually rely on secondary sources and do no research of their own. Well firstly, blogging is not journalism and has never pretended to be. Secondly, it’s not true anyway because many blogs do their own interviews with people. Yes, some bloggers just give an opinion but don’t back it up with any justifications or evidence but not all are like that. Not all bloggers simply like the sound of their own voice – a huge number see it as the only way to highlight issues that the mainstream corporate media simply refuses to tackle.

An example is MediaLens which is not strictly a blog – more a media analysis/activist website (although it does also blog) – but which I suspect first got Curtis’s back-up. They took issue with Curtis’s common thesis for his films – that some character in history – whether it be Sigmund Freud, Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan – is the driving force behind what happens in society. In other words, Curtis believes that ideology shapes the world more than anything else. The MediaLens editors basically argue that it is cynical corporate and state interests that underlie all of this – it is corporate and state greed that gave birth to cynical Reaganomics, Thatcherism and Freud’s theories that we’re just crazed sexual beasts that need repressing so it’s a good job there’s a state there to keep everyone under control.

I definitely recommend reading the exchanges between Curtis and MediaLens which not only indicate why Curtis may hate the openness of the internet so much, but also disprove his thesis that bloggers are uneducated and uninformed. The MediaLens editors continually cross reference and backup each of their claims with quotes or other sources proving that not all bloggers are the gob-shites Adam Curtis says they are.

I also think that Curtis’s “bullying” claims are quite revealing about the liberal intelligista in the UK. Curtis is probably the most left leaning and liberal documentary maker at the BBC and yet even he finds it hard to accept a pretty basic premise that it is rapacious state and corporate power that have caused most of the suffering in the world, not just a few scattered individuals or politicians throughout history. However, I’ll still continue to watch his films with interest. They’re often brilliant historical analyses with rare, gripping and entertaining footage. I just wish maybe he’d do a film that looks at the more fundamental deeper interests underlying our society (such as the excellent documentary The Corporation by Mark Achbar) and I also hope he can forgive me for “bullying” him with this post.

Trailer for Adam Curtis’s documentary The Power of Nightmares:

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3 thoughts on “"Bloggers are bullies"

  1. Well, you know, once only a privileged elite had the power to lie, slander, misinform, bully and pontificate without competence; now, thanks to the Web, this power is open to practically everybody.
    If this is a good thing or not only time will tell; meanwhile I can understand the outburst of an intelligent man like Curtis. There are intelligent bloggers of course, but the real blogosphere’s motto is ‘I haven’t seen/read/heard this but anyway I think that…’

  2. I think that even if people blog just because they like the sound of their own voice but don’t actually know anything about a subject, it’s still the most democratic thing to give them that option. I’d just choose not to read it.

    Having thought about Curtis’s comments some more, I suspect he had more against those bloggers who actually went one stop further and not only blogged what they thought of his work, but were also organised through activist websites and subsequently also contacted him directly via e-mail. This kind of direct action to hold him accountable for his film making is probably what he meant by bloggers “bullying” him.

  3. I kind of sympathise with Curtis. The majority of bloggers aren’t engaging in reasoned enquiry, they’re funneling every quote, event and other blog post through a very limited and rigid (generally right-wing) ideological filter. Then they combine in groups like ‘Libertad Digital’ which use blog-style techniques (highly ideological, based on surmise, hearsay and ad hominem attacks etc), to try to influence general public opinion. Look at how Dan rather was sacked and humiliated even though Bush never did his national service. Bloggers like Michelle Malkin used bully tactics to force the situation to come to a head, even though the whole thing was based on lies.

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