HyperNormalisation (2016) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

HyperNormalisation (2016)

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When the political and economic realities of our day-to-day lives become untenable, is it better to seek change or embrace the new normal?  Adam Curtis examines this question beyond any binary answer in the dense HyperNormalisation by examining decades of narrative building around the accumulation of power.

My political circles have intersected with the philosophies of Adam Curtis but never his movies.  He's a fascinating speaker, refusing to play partisan roles in his complex examination of the systems of power that work invisibly throughout society.  I kept distancing myself from his movies because I was so fascinated with the man.  "Don't meet your heroes," is an applicable expression, and I was afraid his movies would not have the same impact as his speech.

I began HyperNormalisation with some truths about myself made clear.  This is not a documentary you can watch passively, nor one where you can even check your phone for a text.  The comparative density of each chapter does not become fully apparent until later down the line.  For the average viewer, and I thought I was not part of this group, the walls of information and seemingly unrelated tangents may be frustrating to a maddening degree.  My plea to you is to do your best to put down any possible distraction, give HyperNormalisation your full attention, and take a look around at what fabricated reality you've chosen for yourself.

Put as simply as I can, HyperNormalisation is about the putting on the pretense of a functioning system of whatever stripe no matter the reality of the situation behind the scenes, and how those in power get people to buy into the pretense then accept it as the new reality.  It sometimes challenges my appreciation of street art and passionate musicians.  An early scene tour of '70s New York City with Patti Smith seems positive on the surface as she admires the beauty of graffiti on derelict buildings.  There is some power in taking abandoned spaces and making them beautiful, but the reality is the canvas that beauty is being created on is a reflection of NYC's failure to care for its citizens.

This is how we accept the status quo.  I can see this line of reasoning in the Step Up movies where one of the worst, Revolution, had a scene where a rich white girl looks at lights strung up over boxes people live out of and she finds it wonderful.  From Patti Smith, it seems charming, from the well-toned dancers of Revolution, it came across as insulting.  Both are ways of obfuscating the crumbling disaster that is capitalism.

Because HyperNormalisation is so dense it's difficult to parse out the many "oh boy" moments of self-realization I had.  So I turn toward Curtis' criticism of leftist movements thinking themselves able of refuting the system by becoming an ungovernable mass.  This resulted in comparisons between the Putin-led government of Russia, where postmodern thinking became a tool of control, and the leftist groupthink of Occupy Wall Street.  I marched in Occupy and was proud of my efforts, but my heart dropped seeing the nearly effortless way Putin's subordinates manipulated reality while the mass of Occupy protestors have frustrating conversations where each protestor echoes what is being said.

This goes to one of HyperNormalisation's biggest points, there has to be a vision of power to accumulate power.  The Kissinger-era portions of Curtis' examination are a morbidly fascinating examination of the trial-and-error approach Kissinger took to controlling foreign powers.  I was initially amused by Curtis' reveal that the titular Dr. Strangelove was inspired by Kissinger.  That amusement grew discomforting when I realized Stanley Kubrick's brilliant satire was engaging in the same kind of obfuscation of our collective reality that Smith's tour of NYC was.  Yes, it's hilarious watching Peter Sellers struggle to get his body to work while poorly resisting calls to his Nazi past, but it's making a joke out of a man whose experimentation in foreign manipulation killed thousands.

Kissinger, Putin, Bush, Thatcher, Obama, Clinton - they all had visions of power.  Working in the background are social and financial powers making sure that your philosophy with respect to that power remains as stagnant as possible.  Even for those of us in the left-wing, every use of Facebook, Twitter, Google, creates an ever narrowing scope of information that keeps us angry at the "right people."  That point may not be immediately clear in HyperNormalisation, and you may scratch your head at what UFO conspiracy theorists have to do with banking, but ride Curtis' train of thought through to the end and it will all become clear.

Or, more accurately, I wish it would become clear.  I am going to finish writing this review, start looking up details on my next project, and the algorithms of the internet will continue doing their work to direct me toward information that will keep me passive.  My work keeping myself out of that zone of comfort is ongoing and, as HyperNormalisation made clear, I am not always successful.  No matter your political perspective, Curtis' film will question your ability to comprehend the realities of your surroundings.  The question of what to do next is up to us.

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HyperNormalisation (2016)

Directed by Adam Curtis.

Posted by Andrew

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