Secrets Without Agents: From Big Brother to Big Data
Spies have made a remarkable international comeback in popular film and TV since the early 2010s. Many of the recent TV series and feature films that revolve around spying and surveillance also draw on the Cold War for historical parallels, antecedents or representational elements to convey a decidedly contemporary sense of ambiguity, allegory and dystopia that is associated with the global crisis of neo-liberal markets, the erosion of trust in democratic institutions and the emergence of autocratic leaders worldwide. Originally delivered as CARGC 2019 Distinguished Lecture in Global Communication, CARGC Paper 15 by Anikó Imre probes this association further and ask why and how the memory of the Cold War is resurrected through its favored genre to lend a representative platform to current, globally shared structures of feeling. On the one hand, the implied historical parallels yield a contemporary reevaluation of the Cold War as much more complex and more thoroughly networked among national and other agents than the triumphant Western narrative of two warring empires has long suggested. On the other hand, the comparison between Cold War and contemporary manifestations of spies and spying guide us to understand significant recent transformations in the nature, effects, and experience of surveillance. The comparison between Cold War and contemporary spies highlights a radical transformation of the technological and media networks themselves from nation-based broadcast networks to streaming platforms that are themselves active facilitators of a more widespread, insidious, and inescapable sense of surveillance. In particular, Imre argues that there is a synergy between the structures of broadcast television and Cold War representations of spying on the one side and contemporary, digital, SVOD delivery and the structures of spying represented by streaming services on the other. This feedback loop between spying as content and technology compels a serious critical and historical understanding and requires creative pedagogies of interruption.