Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Hypernormalisation (2016)

Adam Curtis tries to revive the Grand Narrative as a way for understanding history. Using conspiracy as a structure for truth, Curtis pieces together a large number of events in attempt to explain 'the fake world' we live in. However, he avoids many elements that do not fit in with the premise, such as the anti-globalisation movement of the 1990s and 2000s and the power of money. This is despite establishing early in the film that the power of corporations now extends to dominating politics. This idea is abandoned when the film focuses mostly on the deceptions and violence of international politics. The other major failing of this film is the reliance on the images from news and popular media, from the Internet and mobile cameras, in other words the visual regime that creates what Curtis calls 'the fake world'.

The 90s concept of 'cyberspace' is confused by Curtis with Artificial Intelligence, algorithmic capitalism and digital cultures. Surveillance and data mining are largely ignored. There is no 'fake world' -  the symbolic visual and spatial system we are creating through technology is the world we live in and also the means by which we understand this world. Whether that is a positive thing is of course very debatable. As recently as last week I read an essay by Hossein Derakhshan on how the visual dependency upon video for news is feeding the extreme ideas of the far right;

"The emerging illiterate class, hooked onto their old television sets or to their Facebook-centred mobile personal televisions (i.e. smart phones), is good news for demagogues. Look at how Donald Trump has mastered the formula of television to turn it into his free-of-charge public relations machine. His capture of the spirit of television has helped him transform all threats into opportunities, garbage into gold, and waste into energy – like a perfect incineration plant."

Curtis is part of this same visual regime and contributes to the creating of non-critical thought. He adds to this lack of critique by always introducing a sense of panic into his narrative by using such phrases as:

We live in a time of great uncertainty and confusion.
the endless migrant crisis
those who are supposed to be in power are paralysed - they have no idea what to do.
chaotic events are happening
all of us in the West have retreated into a simplified, and often completely fake version of the world.
Forces that politicians tried to forget are now turning on us with a vengeful fury.
Piercing though the wall of our fake world.
That one can simply turn off the computer, not take out credit cards, and instead read books and attend events seems to have alluded Curtis. At one point in the film, (around the 2 hour mark - the film is unnecessarily long), when talking about the Occupy movement, Curtis announces that it was an attempt to 'organise people without the exercise of power' -  like 150 years of Anarchist philosophy does not exist. Trying to make sense of chaos is difficult when the argument is that "We live in a time of great uncertainty and confusion". Either the uncertainty and confusion are real, and therefore there is a real world, or the world is fake and therefore so is the uncertainty and confusion. Which is it? Furthermore, Curtis's obsession with the idea that Hafez al-Assad invented suicide bombing as a tactic against a more powerful enemy is not correct. Suicide bombing goes at least back to the kamikaze ('Divine Wind') pilots of Imperial Japan in World War Two, and possibly further back to the 1880s

The idea that 'the Internet had played a key role in organising the groups' is far from established. As one research site states "It is important to understand that new platforms of social media didn’t cause Arab Spring but played a role of communication that aids the revolutions in the long run." The use of the Internet for organising social change is important. But it also seems to contradict the premise that we live in a 'fake world' mediated by technology, if it can in fact bring about real change. It is amazing that the full film of 2 hours and 40 minutes never uses the word 'propaganda'. If there are journalists who seriously believe, as Curtis says, their job is to 'expose lies and assert the truth' they are not working on 90% of the newspapers that have been in circulation since Watergate.  Journalism and Public Relations are taught together at universities, they are practiced and produced on a daily bases everywhere.

The film ends on xenophobic fear, and this connects the long, at times rambling, and fear-filled history from Adam Curtis up to the point we are at now, with Trump about to assume office in the White House. What lies at the heart of this drama is not a failure of politics, as it has been the politics of the last 40 years that has been driving a globalized, neo-liberal agenda, and that seems to be perfectly on track. If the values of those neo-liberal globalists are threatened by the socialist and nationalist tendencies of Islam, or the loss of cultural identity through a decline in white middle class christian values, we can expect to see more hate, more violence and more suffering. The desire to 'change the system' and believe the contradictory and contrived rhetoric of Donald J. Trump supplies the conservative elements of the Republican Party with a new opportunity to keep the global capitalist project on track, no matter what the cost.

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