Consumer democracy?

I have recently discovered the documentary films of Adam Curtis and can highly recommend “The Century of the Self” (2002) – it’s available on YouTube and the four 1-hour episodes are:

  1. Happiness Machines
  2. The Engineering of Consent
  3. There is a Policeman Inside All Our Heads; He Must Be Destroyed
  4. Eight People Sipping Wine in Kettering

The last 10 minutes gives an excellent summary of how politicians adopt methods used by business (e.g. focus groups) to give voters what they said they wanted, but this consumerism allows people only the illusion of control.  Rather than people being in charge,  their desires are.  They exercise no decision-making power, and democracy demands no acts of citzenry but treats the public as passive consumers.  Responding to a mass of ever-changing and out-of-context individual opinions is very different from having a leader with a coherent plan.

This made me think of the way student feedback may be treated in universities, and whether it is used to inform or guide planning.  I’m all for a higher education sector which responds to student feedback, but I think consumer-driven universities risk focusing on students’ short-term desires at the expense of delivering the kind of challenging and transformative experience that produces confident graduates with useful skills.

See also last Friday’s episode of The Now Show, in particular Andy Zaltzman’s segment (begins at 17:45) about improv politics, and Pippa Evans’ song (26:42) “I’ve got an opinion, everybody listen to me…”

Curtis’ more recent films Bitter Lake and HyperNormalisation are currently available on BBC iPlayer.


1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Conflicting priorities on information security | Laura's Dark Archive

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