Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Look for Patterns

by Scott Adlerberg 

I've finished three of the six parts of the new movie by  Adam Curtis, Can't Get You Out of My Head.  It's the British filmmaker's latest collage-like excursion into exactly how the world we live in today has become the way it is, both in the West and in the East (especially China).

Like with all of Curtis' films, there are loads of ideas to chew over.  But so far, the segment that struck me with the greatest force is the one that looks at Jim Garrison, the District Attorney for New Orleans from 1962 to 1973.  He's the guy Kevin Costner played in Oliver Stone's JFK, the one who investigated the John Kennedy assassination and prosecuted New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw (Tommy Lee Jones in the film) in connection with the killing.  A jury heard Garrison's case and returned a verdict of not-guilty for Shaw after less than an hour of deliberation.  Anyone who has seen the movie knows the complexity and vastness of the narrative that Garrison wove around the Kennedy killing, a narrative that begins in one place and takes off into flights of convoluted fantasy, conspiracy theory thinking at its finest (or worst).

Wrong on the facts, Jim Garrison. 

And yet...

In his film, Adam Curtis discusses a memo Garrison wrote to his staff while in the midst of his investigations. Curtis explains how Garrison believed that modern democratic government in America was just a facade and that behind this facade was another secret system of power that really controlled the country.  But because this secret system was so hidden and powerful, you could never discover it through normal means.  Garrison wrote a memo to his staff called "Time and Propinquity" to address this situation, and in the memo Garrison explained how you could uncover this secret world.

To quote Curtis on Garrison/s memo: "You didn't bother with meaning or logic because that will always be hidden.  Instead, you looked for patterns, strange coincidences and links that may seem to have no meaning but are actually tell-tale signs on the surface of the hidden system of power underneath."

Curtis pauses in his narration and then says: "This theory was going to have a very powerful effect in the future because it would lead to a profound shift in how many people understood the world.  Because what it said was that in a dark world of hidden power you couldn't expect everything to make sense, that it was pointless to try to understand the meaning of why something happened, because that would always be hidden from you.  What you looked for were the patterns."

Indeed!  I found this fascinating (not to say extremely unusual coming from a city district attorney) because it exemplifies how a person, Garrison, could be so off in the specifics of his theory about a particular case yet lay down an overall theory that would become so prevalent.  Wrong, Garrison, but totally right in a sense.   As Curtis says about the Time and Propinquity theory, "Fragments...That's how people think now.  They make associations and there's no meaning.  That's the world we live in."

It is an illuminating moment, I thought, and I actually stopped the film and went back and replayed the section.  The Time and Propinquity theory.  How that kind of thinking has metastasized.  The obsession with looking for patterns.  A memo from the desk of a New Orleans DA to something common in the world at large, helped, of course, by social media.  

So strange really, but, you know, that's where we are.

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