Recommended Viewing Situation:
Sliding down an algorithm in cyberspace, about to land in a pixel pit.
Running Time: 166 minutes.
Format: Digital with stock and archive footage.
Director: Adam Curtis.
Writer: Adman Curtis.
“Everyone knew that what their leaders said was not real … but everybody had to play along.”
In the novel ‘Roadside Picnic’ there is a zone where perception is managed by the hierarchy and no-one knows what is real. This is ‘hypernormalisation’.
It seems unthinkable; regardless of our satisfaction with those in power, we need to know that what we see is what we get. So how did the word ‘hypernormalisation’ exist before ‘Roadside Picnic’?
‘HyperNormalisation’ opens with Adam Curtis (writer/director) narrating over fuzzy images to discordant yet atmospheric music. This sets the tone for a disturbing documentary rooted in fact, but making fantastic claims. We travel back to 1975 and Curtis takes us from rundown New York to Syria, where President Assad’s hopes to unite the Arab countries have been dashed by Henry Kissinger’s (then US Secretary of State) cunning plan to divide and conquer.
Lastly, we visit the Soviet Union and Curtis sums up the Soviet era with footage of a people who dream of Western freedoms or worse, nothing at all, wrapped up in a sweet-voiced song full of Russian expletives. The quote at the start is his description of the fake society created by Soviet leaders, realising the impossibility of fulfilling their dream of a perfect socialist society. A Russian writer coined the term ‘hypernormalisation’.
But do not sit back, because ‘that was the Soviet Union’; the remaining two hours are split largely between the US, the UK and the Middle East.
‘HyperNormalisation’ covers main areas of world politics, finance and technology since 1975. Curtis’ notion that all have equal footing in world power is substantiated by powerful evidence but his overarching argument is that hypernormalisation exists in all three powers. So while the common people are arguing over which media are the most manipulative, there is manipulation on a scale so huge and so far over our heads that we cannot see it. World leaders making alliances in order to bring down, use or misrepresent other world leaders for their own nefarious ends, or for the good of their countries, sounds like a boardgame of world domination. But we expect that and tell ourselves that it is for the greater good. The more worrying claim is the fakeness being presented to the people. Again, we expect this, but to what degree? How ethical is it to fool a whole society? For example, the visitation phenomenon … think of The X-Files and Curtis gives it a sinister twist.
Over to technology and of course, it has earned its place alongside politics and finance due to the rise of the computer. Curtis’ reference to 1982 movie ‘Tron’, telling the story of a man’s journey through the digital world in which he is trapped, is perceptive. Passage of time has called into question its place in the fantasy/sci-fi genre, given that cyberspace is as real now as any other dimension of society we call ‘world’. And Curtis takes us on a journey into worlds within worlds, created by advertisers, by financiers, by politicians and unwittingly or not, by us.
The rise of the suicide bomber, Gaddaffi’s magic arsenal of nuclear weapons, Jane Fonda’s surprising motives for her lucrative keep-fit empire: this is an explosion of recent modern history. More than a montage of conspiracy theories, Curtis succeeds in maintaining several plots and making clear links. Supported by evidence with well-chosen footage and music creating the right mood each time, it is compelling viewing.
This is about the power to change people’s perception; the irony is that viewing this film is sure to do just that.