Adam Curtis’s HyperNormalisation (available on BBC iPlayer) is an ingenious attempt to explain everything. From Damascus to Washington, via Brexit Britain, our world appears to be in chaos. That is because life is complicated and defies good management. But politicians try. They fail. And ultimately, says Curtis, the people have rejected them because the stories they tell no longer reflect the realities of their lives. “Hyper-normalisation” is a Soviet-era term. It describes a society so used to living a lie that the lie becomes normal and normality becomes a fantasy. The reality, argues Curtis, is that superpower control and the state lost their authority in the 1970s. Since then, banks and corporations have largely been in control. Attempts by politicians to pretend that they still matter have led to terrible mistakes, such as the Iraq War. Curtis doesn’t say that the West is to blame for everything, rather that it has made everything a little bit worse – while its people have distracted themselves with individualism and recreation.
There’s an ironic flaw in this argument. Curtis wants to depict chaos but he also wants to tell a story, so he imposes a template on the last 40 years that suggests the narrative is clearer and cleaner than it really is. Oil is barely mentioned, even though its fluctuating price is critical to Middle East politics, and China hardly gets a look in.
By focusing so narrowly on the West and its foreign policy, Curtis gives the impression that we’re far more powerful than we really are. Some viewers will also find it frustrating that Curtis regards Western voters as slavish consumers who believe what they’re told until one day they wake up – only to vote for a new bunch of masters to run their lives. Trump and Farage, it is implied, are merely a more cynical face of the existing order.
Nevertheless, this is a powerful, well-researched, brilliantly constructed film. At two hours and 45 minutes, it’s the Ring Cycle of documentaries: long but so good that you just have to sit through it. This is the kind of history that inspires revolutionaries.
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