Director: Adam Curtis
I’m guessing that Adam Curtis is a familiar name to many here, to some not so much – particularly as his work is now mainly seen on the BBC iplayer which those abroad may not be able to access. He’s a journalist and film-maker, who for the last two decades has been crafting a singular approach to documentary making. Curtis’ films are collages of archive clips from primarily the BBC News that explore a particular topic, anchored by Curtis’ own narrative voice and a kicking selection of background music. All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (2011) argued with a techno-optimist view, suggesting instead that technology has simplified and distorted our view of the world. Bitter Lake (2015) looked at how many Islamist terrorist groups have their origins in the nature of the alliance between the USA and Saudi Arabia; and now we have Hpernormalizion.
Hypernormalization starts in 1975 in New York – where the politicians have bankrupted the city and the financiers take over the running of government; in Syria – where Assad’s father, the first dictator, is trying to create a pan-Arab settlement for the middle East. Frustrated by the Americans’ support of Israel he allies Syria with Iran and creates suicide bombers to drive American troops from the middle East. Hypernormalisation as a concept comes life from the former Soviet Union, to describe a state of mind in which everyone knew that what was said by the government about the world was untrue, but behaved as if it was as no-one could imagine an alternative.
Curtis then traces the rise of hyper-normalisation from Russia into the West The Middle East exemplifies a political problem that is too difficult for the politicians to solve. As attacking Syria would have had unthinkable consequences, Western leaders promote Gaddafi as a cartoon tyrant backing terrorists – as they can bomb Libya without serious reprisals. Curtis is nothing if not contentious, arguing that there was significant evidence Syria was behind the Lockerbie bombing rather than Libya.
Patti Smith makes an early appearance: her work, centred on an individual expression of identity rather than participation in a collective cause, Curtis sees as emblematic of a cultural and political retreat from sixties mass attempts to change the political system.
The rise of the internet saw two things happen: that the utopian ideal of cyberspace was a retreat from a too-complex world, and that it was in turn undermined by corporate interests. Society itself – where data networks work globally in pico seconds – has become too complex for politicians to think about any change, and so they have turned to management and the avoidance of risk rather than trying to change anything.
His section on the role of the internet in the Arab spring and in the Occupy movement starts to bring his argument into complete focus – that the internet enabled networked protest movements to emerge spontaneously without leaders, but utterly failed to provide any workable model of a new society to work towards. The internet has become an ‘echo chamber’ in which we are separated from any views and interests that conflict with our own, served only that which reinforces what we already think. It will be no surprise to say that Trump makes an appearance before the end, and the timeliness of Curtis’ thesis is shown by the current debate about Facebook’s effect on the American Presidential election.
So, in the spirit of Curtis I would be fascinated to hear views from across the political spectrum from those who’ve watched it. The Afterword is perhaps one of the few places I go to on the internet where those of different political opinions debate on equal terms. It’s 166 minutes long, but every ten minutes there’s a turn in the argument or an archive clip that will have you gobsmacked.
Might appeal to people who enjoyed:
Adam Curtis, thinking about the world, archive clips and familiar but strange music, conspiracy theory, Patti Smith being singled out