Adam Curtis at the BBC:
Everybody is always remarking about how stuck our society feels these days. The music doesn't change, the political parties are all exactly the same, and films and TV dramas are almost always set in the past.
We are also stuck with an economic system that is not delivering the paradise that it once promised – but is instead creating chaos and hardship. Yet no-one can imagine a better alternative, so we remain static – paralysed by a terrible political and cultural claustrophobia.
I want to tell the story of another time and another place not so long ago that was also stifled by the absence of novelty and lacking a convincing vision of the future. It was in the Soviet Union in the late 1970s and 1980s. At the time they called it “the years of stagnation”.
There are of course vast differences between our present society and the Soviet Union of thirty years ago – for one thing they had practically no consumer goods whereas we are surrounded by them, and for another western capitalism was waiting in the wings to fill the vacuum. But there are also echoes of our present mood – a grand economic system that had once promised heaven on earth had become absurd and corrupted.
Everyone in Russia in the early 1980s knew that the managers and technocrats in charge of the economy were using that absurdity to loot the system and enrich themselves. The politicians were unable to do anything because they were in the thrall of the economic theory, and thus of the corrupt technocrats. And above all no-one in the political class could imagine any alternative future.
In the face of this most Soviet people turned away from politics and any form of engagement with society and lived day by day in a world that they knew was absurd, trapped by the lack of a vision of any other way.