The Trap – on BB2, on Sundays at 9pm for the next few weeks – is well worth watching. It is mainly brilliant. It’s rare to find television that addresses fundamental issues about our current society. If it’s any indication of how good it is, Charlie Brooker’s Screen Burn in Saturday’s Guardian – which introduced it as unmissable – was probably the only totally serious piece Brooker has written in that column.
The programme looks at our ideas about freedom, where they originated and how they serve to cage us. Ian Curtis traces our current views of individuals as totally self-serving to inventions that were necessary to make Rand Corporation cold-war game theory work, through anti-psychiatry’s attack on institutions and Thatcher-inspiring economists to a situation where, as Brooker put it
“conventional human traits such as sadness or irritability are reclassified as aberrant medical conditions, Narcissism and selfishness, however, are normal.”
I can’t say I can go along with all the arguments – I can’t believe that R.D. Laing was truly so influential anywhere, nor that anti-psychiatry can be blamed much for the medicalising of normal behaviours. Curtis’s argument here is that Rosenham’s experiments, by showing that psychiatrists misdiagnosed mental illness, shook the medical establishment and led to the application of non-human computerised automatic diagnoses. When applied to large numbers of non-mental patients, the diagnostic questionnaires showed that half of the US population had a recognised mental disorder. The questionnaires provided an “objective” set of standards of normality that became a model for the population as a whole to judge itself against.
I don’t know where the argument is going with this, yet, but it seems a little far-fetched. I don’t think the detail is really important. Tonight’s programme was very impressive and important. It looks very broadly at the action of ideas in our society, from their origin to their implications.. It should really make you think.