Review of HyperNormalisation (2016)

Moving picture, 166 minutes

Adam Curtis (writer-director).

Seen in 2017.

Alexei Yurchak’s concept of hypernormalisation, meaning collective tacit pretence that a broken society, like the late Soviet Union in his example, is working. The 1975 economic crisis of the city of New York, with Patti Smith’s rubbernecking apathy illustrating the weakness of political engagement with urban decay. Ruhollah Khomeini inventing a Shiite theological defence for suicidal mine clearance, adapted for suicide bombing by Hafez al-Assad, to which Ronald Reagan reacted with ego-boosting falsehoods. William Gibson’s nuanced conception of cyberspace becoming warped into Barlow’s utopia and the Californian Ideology. Gaddafi playing the melodramatic villain the world wanted him to be. Richard Doty informing Paul Bennewitz about a “sanctioned counterintelligence operation” to produce belief in UFO conspiracy theory in order to distract from military R&D. The arrival of the perception management industry—including Vladislav Surkov’s deliberately contradictory version of it—and environmental disasters undermining political credence and will.

More generally, the retreat of meaningful politics across five decades in the face of increasing complexity, with economic interests and various simplified substitutes—drugs culture, moralism, religion, conspiracy theory, Facebook as ELIZA/DOCTOR with Bayesian homo economicus echo chambers—rushing into the vacuum. All of it setting the stage for Donald Trump.

Pure Curtis. The joy of weird archival footage is strong here. The arrest and execution of the Ceaușescus is intercut with Jane Fonda workout videos. Quotes from Dr. Strangelove (1964) and Stalker (1979) interpreting the Strugatskys’ and Tarkovsky’s Zone as a representation of surreal Soviet political discourse. An extensive montage of pre-9/11 disaster blockbusters. Redundant clips of Trump seething under Seth Meyers’ roast. The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (2015), Brexit shock, Syrian carnage, capsizing Mediterranean refugees, a fashion commercial and badly twerking tweens are all intercut with the psychic massacre in Carrie (1976) and set to Barbara Mandrell’s 1976 country song “Standing Room Only”; so good. A missed opportunity to quote the opening of The Naked Gun (1988), which was going through my mind re. convenient cardboard villains like Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein.

References here: Bitter Lake (2015).

moving picture non-fiction