In the past, politicians promised to create a better world. They had different ways of achieving this, but their power and authority came from the optimistic visions they offered their people. Those dreams failed and today people have lost faith in ideologies. Increasingly, politicians are seen simply as managers of public life, but now they have discovered a new role that restores their power and authority. Instead of delivering dreams, politicians now promise to protect us: from nightmares.
They say that they will rescue us from dreadful dangers that we cannot see and do not understand. And the greatest danger of all is international terrorism, a powerful and sinister network with sleeper cells in countries across the world, a threat that needs to be fought by a War on Terror. But much of this threat is a fantasy, which has been exaggerated and distorted by politicians. It's a dark illusion that has spread unquestioned through governments around the world, the security services and the international media. This is a series of films about how and why that fantasy was created, and who it benefits.
At the heart of the story are two groups: the American neoconservatives and the radical Islamists. Both were idealists who were born out of the failure of the liberal dream to build a better world, and both had a very similar explanation of what caused that failure. These two groups have changed the world, but not in the way that either intended. Together, they created today's nightmare vision of a secret organised evil that threatens the world, a fantasy that politicians then found restored their power and authority in a disillusioned age. And those with the darkest fears became the most powerful. (From the opening narration to The Power of Nightmares).The tone is conspiratorial, though I’m damned if I can find a real conspiracy; it all seems true enough. The supposedly daring contention is that al Qaeda is not a coherent organization but rather an idea (meme?) adopted by isolated terrorist groups, and that the threat of terrorism is largely a fantasy. (A portion of the program, which was produced in 2004, points out that despite the constant threat of terrorist attacks in
One other point: Curtis seems to have been influenced quite a bit by the Bay Area underground filmmaker (and “media archaeologist”) Craig Baldwin. Both use found pop-cultural imagery and offbeat soundtracks; but
Watch The Power of Nightmares online:
Part I: Baby It's Cold Outside
Part II: The Phantom Victory
Part III: The Shadows in the Cave