Have you heard of Hypernormalisation? This is the question I ask everyone I come across these days. I’m a bit obsessed.
Also, like a lot of Americans (almost 66 million of us) I’ve been pretty depressed since the election. I’d tell you why, but listing the things I personally find abhorrent about Trump would take too long. The list grows longer by the minute. Trump is a disgusting human being.
All of this is just a long-winded wind-up to the idea that I’ve been in a cynical mind-set of late…
So, I’ll stick with the big thing, which is that he says he does what he does in the name of patriotism, for the good of the country, my country, which is BULLSHIT! He’s the most profoundly, unapologetically selfish person to ever emerge into the American public sphere – that he claims otherwise – and that there are more than 60 million cretins out there that would vote for him – is unbelievable to me. And yes, it’s my post, so I’ll paint with as broad a brush as I care to. Anyone who voted for that piece of shit is scum in my book.
So you see, yes absolutely, Trump brings out the worst in me. I wish ill on the unfortunate red state saps that voted for him. Which doesn’t do anyone any good, least of all me. But then, that blue state self-righteousness is a tasty dish! Made even sweeter because I’ll be just fine. Those he is going to hurt most will be the people that can least afford it. Meanwhile, after Trump and his friends have screwed his poor and working class supporters for all he can, he’ll most likely manage to pin the blame on us pointy-headed liberals. But then, why should I give a shit? I’ll only be that much richer thanks to his tax-cuts and the bleeding of the entitlement programs I’m preparing myself to do without. That is unless the wheels fall off the bus entirely and we’re talking about the end of the republic (which isn’t out of the question imo). In which case, I’ll have bigger problems than watching my investment portfolio – or being called “libtard” or “cuck” by some sub-educated mouth breather.
All of this is just a long-winded wind-up to the idea that I’ve been in a cynical mind-set of late; that is cynical at the least and apocalyptical at worst. But then a cynical mindset also happens to be the perfect state to be introduced to the subject of this editorial, the work of the English journalist and documentarian Adam Curtis.
I only recently became aware of Mr. Curtis when I stumbled across his newly released BBC documentary “Hypernormalisation” on youtube. Since then I’ve been diving deep, watching as many of his older works as time has allowed. I’m pleased to report that it is amazing shit!
Adam! Where have you been my entire life? It turns out he was there all along. I was just ignorant of him. Mr. Curtis has been working steadily for 30 years. He’s produced numerous (over 20 by my count on Wikipedia) documentaries and films, many for the BBC.
As I write this I started watching one on youtube called “Bitter Lake” (from 2015) which begins with Mr. Curtis’ voice – he narrates all of the films I’ve watched thus far – he speaks over images of a stark, dry, (presumably Middle Eastern) landscape. “Increasingly we live in a world where nothing makes any sense. Events come and go like waves of a fever leaving us confused and uncertain. Those in power tell stories to help us make sense of the complexity of reality. Those stories are increasingly unconvincing and hollow. This is a film about why those stories have stopped making sense and how that led us in the west, to become a dangerous and destructive force on the world.”
What a statement! What a way to start a film!
Mr. Curtis lays out simple, straightforward arguments concerning media, history, society, and the way different types of powers interact within those societies. It’s fascinating stuff. The greatest stories ever told really, all of them related to how our species manages to stumble forward, despite ourselves.
“Hypernormalisation” which debuted on the BBC in October 2016 shortly before the US election is a freaking masterpiece, on so many levels, not least of which is that it justifies my dour mood.
In the nearly 3-hour film he traces the origins of two broad societal forces he claims were birthed in 1975. One of these; unfettered capitalist finance replacing governmental jurisdiction in the realm of societal governance, features a cameo by none other than Heir Trumpenstein. The other innovation is the concept of suicide bombing which is brought to bear in Middle East politics by Hafez al-Asad. He traces these two broad trends through the years, up to present day, where he claims (and I believe him) that the West and the Middle East are left in a hypernormal state. The definition of this term stems from the age of perestroika, before the Berlin wall fell and the Soviet Union came apart. Previous to that unspooling of the communist state, people in the USSR were dealing with a fake version of society. People knew communism wasn’t working but everyone, the technocrats and leaders in the government as well as the citizenry in general, played along with this massive, shared fiction because nobody could imagine, let alone put into place, an alternative system. And then, when that fiction could no longer be sustained, the Soviet society dissolved very quickly into chaos.
Mr. Curtis, I believe, is arguing that there are parallels to present conditions in the west. Our means of governance and the methods we use to maintain order in our society are failing so many people, doesn’t it stand to reason, that our society would need to readjust in some fundamental way? Further, even with so many of our citizens (at least covertly) believing that the status quo is falling short, doesn’t it seem odd that even suggesting that we do things differently, would be considered heresy?
This line of thinking leads to another question, one that Curtis doesn’t posit directly but seems natural to me. Why don’t we hold our leaders to higher account? If we know they are lying and they know we know they are lying but continue to lie, but still neither party is bothered enough to do anything about this state of affairs, then in a way, shouldn’t we – the people – at least partly share the blame?
Further, will things, society, dissolve into chaos for us? Is there a new system, some other way to live waiting in the wings? Fascism perhaps? I find it hard to imagine. There’s too much at stake, too much money involved for the status quo to go gentle into that good night, but then apparently my imagination isn’t all I’ve cracked it up to be. Two months ago I couldn’t imagine Trump as president, either. I had too much faith in the American people. I thought we couldn’t possibly put a charlatan like that man into power. I, apparently, know nothing.
So there you have it. That’s the kind of thing Adam Curtis does. And to be clear, I don’t think he’s suggesting that we are living in end times. I think he’s saying that there are some incredibly powerful forces that are bearing down on us, and he’s bidding us, as a journalist and documentarian, somebody who chronicles the world as it is, that we’d be wise to pay attention.
Yes, it is a fantastic premise, but then there’s some pretty dark shit going on out there as well. It could end badly. It has before. So why not this time?
What’s perhaps most striking about Mr. Curtis’ work and the points he argues is that they are practically (almost!) common sense. Watching his films, I feel like I’ve thought some of the things he’s saying on my own, but then I would never have been able to give voice to them nearly as succinctly. I don’t say this to give myself props, rather than to say that Mr. Curtis has his finger on the pulse. He’s giving voice to what many people are inching towards understanding.
This is dark, cynical stuff. Made only more so by Mr. Curtis’ masterful use of mis-en-scéne. He uses dark droning sound cues and ironic image placement, stitching together what appears to be mostly found and historical footage. It’s shockingly original and modern looking. It’s really fantastic; considering he doesn’t produce any of these images himself (at least I don’t think he does, although I could easily be wrong about that). His work feels like that of a reincarnated George Orwell; a man clearly fascinated in equal measure by broad historical forces, editing software and found footage. All of which he uses to paint pictures and tease out larger narratives. Mr. Orwell-reincarnated has forsaken the written word in deference to web video in this all-media-all-the-time-age.
Mr. Curtis edited Hypernormalisation in addition to writing it. Which is yet another nod to the fact that truth an empirical thing, but one’s perception.
In summary, Adam Curtis’ work is a deliciously cynical delight. Enjoy! I know I will. I have something like 22 films left in his back catalog to get through. A quick search on youtube and it can all be yours…