Alex Gibney’s latest docuseries “Agents of Chaos” breaks down Russian interference in the 2016 election to an effect similar to the way Scooby-Doo villains are unmasked — uncovering that beneath the grand mystery are several small and seemingly meaningless pieces that are the real “monsters.”
The driving force of this series is the exploration of how governments, particularly authoritarian regimes, have weaponized disinformation and used the internet as a battleground to perpetuate state-supporting rhetoric. What’s fascinating about this series’ exploration is how it manages to capture not just the mechanisms themselves, but the story of how the Russian government came to discover and employ them. It does so through a wide range of interviews, including firsthand accounts from people employed by these Russian troll factories, as well as from accounts from those on Robert Mueller’s investigative counsel.
While the series makes efforts to depict a broad perspective by including the views of Russians as well as Westerners, it is still clear that the series was made by and for the Western perspective. This doesn’t detract from the show, because one can’t seriously expect an exploration of Russian interference to be pro-Russia, but nonetheless, it’s worth noting that the series isn’t completely unbiased in its narrative writing. Despite bias, the series still maintains nuance by examining the various pieces of Russian interference without assuming interconnectedness until proven. The narrative is often explicit — its criticism of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is outrightly stated, but other times the narrative is moved forward by editing and cinematography. It paints a parallel between the seemingly mundane actions of Russian trolls with graphic state violence against bloodied protestors, intentionally connecting the two actions as mechanisms of an authoritarian state. Ultimately, the series attempts to push forward a perspective without trickery and makes its point clear.
The effect is a thorough and meaningful investigation of an increasingly relevant political development. In this internet age worryingly accompanied by the rise of global authoritarianism, “Agents of Chaos” explores what seems to be the beginning of a new form of warfare. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if we looked back at “Agents of Chaos” years from now and agreed, “That was just the beginning.” This docuseries has undoubted historical relevance, for both viewers looking to understand what happened during the 2016 election and viewers looking to understand what the future of elections might look like.
Daily Arts Contributor Sarah Rahman can be reached at email@example.com.
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