HYPERNORMALISATION: GOOD IDEAS, BAD NARRATIVE
Adam Curtis’s latest just doesn’t hang together.
While watching the trailer for Adam Curtis’s latest documentary, HyperNormalisation, I had a sinking feeling. The endorsement from Russell Brand had already put my guard up, but it was the opening text that did it. While a woman sings Emmylou Harris’s ‘Till I Gain Control Again’, words in capitals read: ‘We live in a world where the powerful deceive us. We know they lie, they know we know, they don’t care. We say we care, but we do nothing. And nothing ever changes. It’s normal. Welcome to post-truth politics.’
Declaring that we live in a world of post-truth politics is a clever reworking of that well-loved phrase among conspiracy theorists: ‘Wake up, sheeple!’ In fairness to Curtis, patronising conspiracy theories are not what HyperNormalisation is about. But it’s hard to know what the 166-minute documentary actually is about. Curtis’s documentaries have always been like collages of thoughts, strung together by his pondering voice. But HyperNormalisation is a step too far into the abstract. Jumping from the financial crisis in 1970s New York to clips of young girls dancing on webcam in the 2000s, from footage of the Lockerbie bombing to a weird interlude looking at internet usage in the early 1990s, it feels more like a late-night musing than a coherent documentary.
HyperNormalisation attempts to look at the breakdown of realpolitik after the Cold War, and the shift away from big ideas and towards managerial politics. Curtis tells us that, from the late 1960s onwards, lefties and establishment politicians alike sought not to change the world, but to manage present conditions in order to achieve as agreeable a future as possible. Low horizons indeed. Curtis begins in 1975 New York where, in a state of financial ruin, the city was forced to hand over financial control to the banks. From there, Curtis takes us to Syria, where he begins to tell the story of the unravelling of the Middle East. We are shown footage of the breakdown of the Soviet Union, the emergence of suicide bombers in Syria and the warmongering and game-playing of Western interventionists. Alongside this, using clips of the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring, Curtis looks at why popular left-wing movements failed to stop the collapse of capital-p politics.