Lost in a Fake World
October 17, 2016 4:30 PM   Subscribe

HyperNormalisation (UK-only iPlayer) (region-free link), the new BBC documentary from Adam Curtis (previously), covers four decades leading up to today's seemingly inexplicable chaos - the Syrian Civil War, Brexit, Vladimir Putin, the Islamic State, waves of refugees, suicide bombs, and on and on. Curtis argues "all of us in the West - not just the politicians and the journalists and the experts, but we ourselves - have retreated into a simplified, and often completely fake version of the world. But because it is all around us we accept it as normal." This version of normal, promoted by the Internet and 24-hour news cycle, is now under assault by forces that everyone from Patti Smith, Colonel Gaddafi, and Jane Fonda to Henry Kissinger, the Assad dynasty, and Putin's post-modern propagandist, Vladislav Surkov, has been trying to forget over forty years. (Youtube trailer) (Warning: footage of blood, dead bodies, etc)
posted by Doktor Zed (85 comments total) 90 users marked this as a favorite
 


This post looks familiar. Have I once again become unstuck in time?

Curtis's MI5 documentary (the one that made them look like better-funded Maxwell Smarts, barely) was eye-opening, so I expect great things from this, despite the awkward-sounding premise. Offlining it for my next flight.
posted by rokusan at 5:08 PM on October 17, 2016


Optional: ... have yourself an Adam Curtis bingo card #HyperNormalisation

I don't understand how the free space here isn't, "What no one realized was . . ."
posted by Copronymus at 5:20 PM on October 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


Does this need a warning? The last thing I watched from this guy had video of people dying. It was shocking and unexpected and if he wanted to wake me up he did, by showing me what that looks like. I'm an adult and I'm safe. Should I expect this?
posted by adept256 at 5:21 PM on October 17, 2016


adept256 - hmm, going by the first two or three minutes, I think you should.
posted by carter at 5:27 PM on October 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


If you are alarmed by dead bodies, or separately, huge smears of blood, you might want to give this a pass. I'm about half an hour in and I haven't seen any gore yet, but there is, e.g., reporting from the Sabra and Shatila Massacre with bodies in the background and the reporter describing the smell of death.
posted by indubitable at 5:28 PM on October 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


I believe this is the second time this has graced the front page
posted by From Bklyn at 5:28 PM on October 17, 2016


There was at least one probably-dead person and a lot of blood in the first couple of minutes. I haven't watched past that yet, but I'd be careful.
posted by AFABulous at 5:28 PM on October 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Some of his earlier documentaries have been astute and thought-provoking, but I'm having doubts about this one based on "We have retreated into a simplified, and often completely fake version of the world." What does that even mean? It sounds a lot like "My liberal values aren't ascendant in the public arena, so I'll throw stones in lots of directions..."

And this just seems silly: "events keep happening that seem crazy, inexplicable and out of control—from Donald Trump to Brexit, to the War in Syria, mass immigration, extreme disparity in wealth, and increasing bomb attacks in the West." Actually many of these are intimately related and all are quite explicable, just like most other eras of human history are if you think deeply and clearly.
posted by twsf at 5:46 PM on October 17, 2016 [24 favorites]


Actually many of these are intimately related and all are quite explicable, just like most other eras of human history are if you think deeply and clearly.

I don't know. As H.L. Mencken said, "For every complex problem, there's an answer that is clear, simple and wrong." (Actually, he didn't say it quite as simply and clearly as that.) In any case, if there's anything we've learned from history, it's that trying to make sense of history requires forcing a lot of random and chaotic events into a corset. Theories of history are something that we accept for the sake of conversation, but they should be taken off before going to bed.
posted by Modest House at 5:59 PM on October 17, 2016 [12 favorites]


One doesn't need a grand theory of history to see how the war in Syria, mass immigration, and Brexit, for example, are linked.
posted by twsf at 6:08 PM on October 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


Well, stop teasing us, then. Let's hear your grand, simple explanation.
posted by indubitable at 6:09 PM on October 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


God's will.
posted by benzenedream at 6:16 PM on October 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


twsf, most people in the US get all their news from mass media. They're not thinking "deeply and clearly" because the media is feeding them a narrative. More than 40% of people in the US have not gone beyond high school and thus have a limited education in history. I'm not saying they're not smart, they just have not necessarily had exposure to the background materials that would make this theory of yours obvious to them.

When Curtis says "we have retreated into a simplified, and often completely fake version of the world," he is including the folks above and the majority of the rest of us who participate in social media. As I'm sure you're aware, Twitter, Facebook et al are echo chambers. They're fake. Even mefi is largely an echo chamber, and you are proving that point by not taking into account the legions of people who just do not know the history of Syria or Brexit, etc.
posted by AFABulous at 6:21 PM on October 17, 2016 [20 favorites]


I've got one. It's guilt! There's a single word explanation. Closely followed by an essay length explanation.

How do you reconcile what you have which other people don't have? It can't be because they don't deserve the same things as you. Maybe they're at fault somehow, they're to blame. Perhaps they should be punished. Maybe privileged western lives feel guilt, for looking at all this suffering caused in their name. Or caused by them.

Guilt is the beginning. Redemption is way over there, let's march, you and I together, towards that.
posted by adept256 at 6:24 PM on October 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Donald Trump at 11:40. I haven't watched past 11:48 so far. The opening sequence was like the entire blood supply that used to belong to an adult. I don't believe it is possible to lose that much blood and live but I am not an emergency medical technician so maybe one can.
posted by bukvich at 6:30 PM on October 17, 2016


There's a dead person in the trailer too, btw.
posted by AFABulous at 6:59 PM on October 17, 2016


It's humorous that the previous thread we had about an Adam Curtis documentary accused his documentaries of being "broad-brush work and any analysis stops about one level down". Physician, heal thyself.
posted by zabuni at 7:09 PM on October 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


1:43:00 in and there's the second airliner smashing into the World Trade Center.
posted by indubitable at 7:15 PM on October 17, 2016


To clarify, I meant that comment at Curtis, not Devonian.
posted by zabuni at 7:15 PM on October 17, 2016


Ok, to really participate with this discussion in good faith I had to download it without the assistance of the bbc. I will take off my eye-patch and lower the skull and bones to request the moderators to slap an nsfw on this. I'm not saying yank it, but there actually should be a warning. Kids may be in the room.
posted by adept256 at 7:25 PM on October 17, 2016


So, the world really is like I thought it was... and protesting doesn't work.
posted by MikeWarot at 8:07 PM on October 17, 2016


Modest House: "In any case, if there's anything we've learned from history, it's that trying to make sense of history requires forcing a lot of random and chaotic events into a corset."

True, but there's nothing really unique about now, by the same token. I might be sold on the idea that some periods are more chaotic then others, but things probably always look pretty crazy when you're in the middle of it.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:17 PM on October 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


rokusan: "This post looks familiar. Have I once again become unstuck in time?"

Posted and deleted yesterday for not being available outside the UK yet.
posted by Rhaomi at 8:22 PM on October 17, 2016


Mod note: Added a warning for the blood and bodies.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:24 PM on October 17, 2016


I always thought Curtis was weirdly uncynical, like it's not people are transfixed into the Spectacle, they're just tired and hopeless and can't see a way out.
posted by The Whelk at 8:29 PM on October 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


This movie needs more FACT CHECK than all of metafilter can provide.

East Wenatchie Washington has a higher percentage of its citizens on prozac than any other city? I don't even know how one would fact check that. I suppose the manufacturer thinks they knows where all the pills go but 1.) the error bar on that has got to be huge and 2.) that's their trade secret and why would they give it to Curtis? and 3.) every pharmaceutical manufacturer makes an SSRI and there really isn't anything that exceptional about that specific drug so even on the remote possibility that the information is factual it is a non sequitur.

Good sound bite of Blair saying there isn't any doubt Saddam Hussein is loaded with WMD's, though.

I suppose you could enjoy it as a work of fact-based fiction.
posted by bukvich at 8:30 PM on October 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


The notion of a 'fake version' of the world is what I object to. Social media is, um, social. Sitting around the campfire, or the town square, it's a bunch of just us talkin' and posin' and opinionatin' with only partial information at our disposal, and some people trying to manipulating others - same as it ever was. The conceit that somehow THIS era is FUNDAMENTALLY different seems silly and small minded - it's the same old simians fighting and fucking.
posted by twsf at 9:30 PM on October 17, 2016 [7 favorites]



Well, stop teasing us, then. Let's hear your grand, simple explanation.


I don't see where anyone in this thread claimed there was a grand, simple explanation. If anything, it looks to me the person most fitting that description is Curtis himself.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:46 PM on October 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


So, I've now spent the last 3 hrs. watching this. If you've seen any of Curtis' other films, he covers a lot of familiar ground here, but if you haven't this is a good summary of his work. I also think for younger people who maybe weren't around before the 90's, this is actually a pretty good look at some of the things going on geopolitically in the decades just before your birth. Of course it's not complete, and of course it's not 100% objective truth. You're not going find anything that is though. You could do much worse.
posted by spudsilo at 10:55 PM on October 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


Some of his earlier documentaries have been astute and thought-provoking, but I'm having doubts about this one based on "We have retreated into a simplified, and often completely fake version of the world." What does that even mean?

It's the general thesis of his last documentary [Bitter Lake (2015)]: namely, that the narratives of state and media sources have conflated the events in the Middle East of the past several decades into a "good vs. evil" dichotomy, thus obfuscating any nuance or complexity surrounding the issues. This "simplicity" propagates a false reality in an ever-increasing age of technology and information, further muddying the waters.

Entropic ouroboros.

Can't wait to watch this new one!
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 11:01 PM on October 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


I just spent the three hours watching it. I would suggest you either watch the whole thing and then criticize it or just continue to critique something based on a description. For me this was a very unsettling look at past and current events. And I am not talking about the blood. I am referring to, for example, the rise of people who are chanting "lock her up" in the glare of a person who seems to be a business failure who now plays the role of nascent fascist. There are a lot of things in this film to think about whether or not you end up agreeing with it. I can't say I'm glad I've seen it. But at least I have a few more ways of viewing what is going on and given the insanity that seems to arising around us we all need a few handles to grasp to maybe make sense of it.
posted by njohnson23 at 11:07 PM on October 17, 2016 [16 favorites]


thought Curtis was weirdly uncynical, like it's not people are transfixed into the Spectacle, they're just tired and hopeless and can't see a way out.
Yes. The Russian woman interviewed wallpapering her living room, saying it's best not to dream at all as those dreams will inevitably be crushed, is meant to stand for all of us. Curtis is making an analogy with the very last years of the Soviet regime. The entire world system is in a state of collapse similar to that of the USSR in the mid-'80s. We all know it's collapsing and none of us now believe the blithe media assurances offered to us saying everything is fine. Yet we accept the lies and false narratives (the "bloodless" version of history), knowing their falsity, even though that acceptance crushes us emotionally and psychologically, because not assimilating the lies is actually worse. None of us wants to imagine life after the collapse, but the collapse is just the other side of the meniscus of everyday life.

I made it about 100 minutes in last night and will watch the rest tonight. I found it hypnotic and terrifying and oddly empathetic at unexpected moments.
posted by Sonny Jim at 12:27 AM on October 18, 2016 [25 favorites]


I am looking forward to watching this, if that is the right way to express that thought.

My friend who makes infographics for Reuters says, well illustrated but uses too much Pye Corner Audio for eerie effects. Not sure that that means!
posted by asok at 2:01 AM on October 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


But Then!

I love these Curtis docs, mostly as freeform footage dumps. This one took a long time to get to the point, but it's really worth it for the final ~40 min. Somehow amidst all the Trump crap I'm bombarded with, I'd never seen that terrible Seth Meyers roast. Is that considered, like, 'The Moment'?

The Guardian said it best - it's like hanging out with a friend who's in a few dozen deep wikipedia tab binge.
posted by mannequito at 2:11 AM on October 18, 2016 [8 favorites]


A-ha!
The model that Curtis’s films have always aspired to, he says, is that of the archetypal great American novelist, John Dos Passos, whose books he describes as “the most satisfying thing I have ever read”. The novelist pioneered a technique called “camera eye” which was, as it sounds, a rush of raw experience, and then spliced it with montage from newspapers and the lives of fictional characters.

“Why I love Dos Passos is he tells political stories but at the same time he also lets you know what it feels like to live through them,” Curtis says. “Most journalism does not acknowledge that people live at least as much in their heads as they do in the world."
That's from a long read on Adam Curtis, by Tim Adams (grauniad)
posted by Mister Bijou at 2:50 AM on October 18, 2016 [3 favorites]


More than 40% of people in the US have not gone beyond high school and thus have a limited education in history.

I have news for you...higher education does not bestow one with any greater education in history. It's entirely possible for one to complete a Bachelor's degree and never once step foot in a history class. Or, one barely better than the History 101 they were required to take in high school.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:43 AM on October 18, 2016 [8 favorites]


The conceit that somehow THIS era is FUNDAMENTALLY different seems silly and small minded

Perhaps the world has always been "fake", but I think one way this era is unarguably different is that we are coming close to having the tools to fight that for a change. Too much is made of social media being a bubble or an echo chamber, when it fact what it does is make us one or two clicks away from radically divergent opinions and experiences.

In fact, some of the panic and disquiet that seems common right now might be coming from just that: we're realising for the first time the real complexity that is out there, and people are either opting to shout loudly to insist the old simplifications are still real (Trump, Brexit) or just freaking the fuck out in general.

Britain has probably always been this racist, but those racists didn't have a voice this loud until social media meant you could see them in your faces; so now liberal Britain is aghast and on the back foot in the face of the "legitimate concerns" they keep hearing. In the US, black people have always been shot by police; only now we get to hear about and see the pain of the people left behind and people are genuinely taking note at last. Women are able to get their experiences at the hands of men to an audience of men when they would never have got them past a coterie of newspaper editors.

The birth pains of this shift away from the simplistic past are proving to be unbearable, however.
posted by bonaldi at 4:15 AM on October 18, 2016 [10 favorites]


I love these Curtis docs, mostly as freeform footage dumps.

"President Bashar al-Assad’s favourite band is the Electric Light Orchestra..."

Six things we learned from Adam Curtis’s HyperNormalisation
posted by Mister Bijou at 4:34 AM on October 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


SLYT
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 4:35 AM on October 18, 2016


Technology also means that the Metropolitan Police will be soon be wearing body-worn cameras. Making things both more real and less real at the same time. Or something.
posted by Coda Tronca at 4:37 AM on October 18, 2016


SYLT (better audio)
posted by Mister Bijou at 4:40 AM on October 18, 2016


Inexplicable? We actually have good social science explanations for why things happen. There's of course no 'grand theory' (nor should there be) but anyone trying to paint complex events as inexplicable randomness should be greeted with suspicion.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 4:49 AM on October 18, 2016 [6 favorites]


Yeah, the only choices aren't "inexplicable" or "there is a simple Grand Theory". The third choice is "there are lots of complex factors of varying levels of importance". And I think the third one is best. (The second one is more fun!)
posted by alasdair at 5:04 AM on October 18, 2016 [4 favorites]


I still have my money on capital.
posted by carter at 6:03 AM on October 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'd never seen that terrible Seth Meyers roast. Is that considered, like, 'The Moment'?

The recent Frontline that does parallel profiles of Trump and Hillary from childhood also theorizes that the 2014 WHC Roast was, indeed, the moment Trump decided he was going to run, although he had flirted with the idea more than once before.
posted by briank at 7:28 AM on October 18, 2016 [3 favorites]


There is a quote from a US President from 18XX which I saw on the BBC earlier but can't find now (I have googled but it is not finding it as I can't remember which President) but it was something along the lines of "The world is run by a handful of rich and powerful men." If anyone knows the quote, please post it!

He is so right, the place is ran by a small coterie of rich and powerful and mainly white (in the West) men, who gather together to decide the course we all must follow. It is like the US election - although Clinton is slightly more in line with the thinking of people here, she is hardly going to bring about radical change, the problems the US faces it will still face even if she gets 8 years, and even if the Democrats controlled both governing bodies. (Please note, this is not meant as an endorsement of Trump, although I do feel he will win. I think that there will be a backlash against what people perceive as the "coastal liberal" thinking and the way they feel that has been enforced upon them. Whether this is actually true (the enforcement) is debatable, but it is what people believe that matters.)

I am a fan of Curtis' work but this is nearly 3 hours, and I am pretty sure I know which side of the Brexit debate he will be on (he has written for the Graun, which gives me a big old clue!) so will probably skip this one. If you feel it would be worth my time to watch it, given that I am a Brexiter, then please let me know, or if you feel that it will just piss me off as he reiterates the Remain stuff from the pre-Referendum period then also let me know. Is there much of that, or is it more about linking the differing strands of geopolitics together to form a coherent narrative?

I did find these presidential quotes though, which are interesting:

“However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.” – George Washington

"Whoever controls the volume of money in any country is absolute master of all industry and commerce." - James A. Garfield

“In the history of mankind many republics have risen, have flourished for a less or greater time, and then have fallen because their citizens lost the power of governing themselves and thereby of governing their state; and in no way has this loss of power been so often and so clearly shown as in the tendency to turn the government into a government primarily for the benefit of one class instead of a government for the benefit of the people as a whole.” – Theodore Roosevelt
posted by marienbad at 7:34 AM on October 18, 2016


As perception management goes, I prefer that of Adam Curtis.
posted by Obscure Reference at 8:03 AM on October 18, 2016 [3 favorites]


@marienbad
Brexit does not actually get that much screen time. Only in the last 30-45 minutes and only mentioned as an aside. There are no big arguments for or against it from Curtis' side. it is mentioned when the current migrant crisis comes up and how that has helped the Brexit campaign by integrating it (the crisis) into their argumentation for a Brexit and in mobilization of voters (instrumentalizing the fear and uncertainty related to the increase in asylum seekers).

I would advise you to watch it anyways. It spans a bow from 1975 Syria and New York over Reagan, the collapse of the USSR, the Invention of the suicide Bomber, following Trump in his rise and fall and rise again, to the instrumentalization of Ghaddafi and Lybia and closes with Syria again.

He draws some interesting geopolitical parallels and connections. probably best digested in smaller chunks.
posted by Megustalations at 8:17 AM on October 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


Can't watch. What does he say about suicide bombers?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:27 AM on October 18, 2016


marienbad: "Please note, this is not meant as an endorsement of Trump, although I do feel he will win. "

Please let me know if you are available for a wager on this point.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:30 AM on October 18, 2016 [5 favorites]


What does he say about suicide bombers?

You want someone here to do your homework?
posted by Mister Bijou at 8:41 AM on October 18, 2016 [4 favorites]


I am pretty sure I know which side of the Brexit debate he will be on

God forbid you be exposed to anything that would trigger any cognitive dissonance on the bright utopia that awaits Brexitland.
posted by bonaldi at 8:43 AM on October 18, 2016 [5 favorites]


Meanwhile, backstage, things were falling apart ...
posted by Chitownfats at 9:12 AM on October 18, 2016


"Whoever controls the volume of money in any country is absolute master of all industry and commerce." - James A. Garfield

Umm, that's a popular quote in various conspiracy circles, but people seem to have trouble figuring out if he actually said that.
posted by effbot at 9:34 AM on October 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


You want someone here to do your homework?

Did you see the part where I said, 'cant watch'? Thanks for your help.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:04 AM on October 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


Can't watch. What does he say about suicide bombers?

To Cole's notes it a bit:

He claims that the theological justification behind suicide bombings was invented in Iran (while suicide is forbidden in the Koran, there is a tradition of martyrdom in Shi'a that makes it amenable to suicide bombing (?)), this was done basically for the Iran-Iraq war. Then Syria (under the Assad regime) really took it on as a geopolitical tool to use against the west (US and UK) as a check on their power in the middle east. It's unreasonable effectiveness is why it spread throughout the middle east even in Sunni communities where the original theological argument would not make sense.

He also claims that the west basically had no good response to suicide bombings (starting with Regan through to now), that Syria's deployment of them was effective in driving the US and Israel out of Beirut (in 1984) and that the US basically started framing Gaddafi for every terrorist act they could because he made for a better enemy (Curtis claims that all/most of these acts were actually masterminded by Syria). The singular villain caricature was the enemy they could sell and the enemy they could defeat. He also connects this through to the invasion of Iraq (why invade Iraq? because it had a villain we could defeat). Which all ties into his overarching theme of politicians building a fake reality.
posted by selenized at 11:12 AM on October 18, 2016 [8 favorites]


Metafilter: Entropic ouroboros.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 12:13 PM on October 18, 2016


I made it through about 20 minutes last night and turned it off only because it was bedtime, but I had nightmares so I don't think I'm going to subject myself to the rest.

twsf, we still disagree - I think social media is fundamentally different to face-to-face communication. People were always assholes, sure, but social media makes spreading one's assholery very, very easy. Trolls swarm and force people (mostly women) to retreat or quit in a way that's not possible in person in the same numbers. Many, many people have learned only via Facebook that their families or friends have horrifying opinions. These family members knew enough to keep their mouths shut at Thanksgiving but feel free to spew garbage online.

Thorzdad, you prove my point. I didn't say that all college grads have a grasp of history, I said that they were more likely than high school grads to be exposed to complex concepts. This makes the problem even worse - greater than 40% of the population has not learned any history beyond a few HS classes, which were likely focused on American and European history with brief chapters on the rest of the world.
posted by AFABulous at 12:24 PM on October 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


I would say this is good stuff and that people should watch before judging/commenting. While it might be easy to criticize a broad thesis like this it is full of interesting factoid departure points and it is a lot more insightful than the kinds of political (not sure if that's the right word) thinking that gets expressed. I think that every era does have fundamental differences, the impetus of some human drives may remain constant but I do believe that there are real meta constructions and mechanisms (I think I might just mean culture) that are very different. For me the disturbing thing about Curtis's idea is not just the learned helplessness for people who pay attention, bread and circus for everyone else, but the idea of using theater and language(?) to destroy the ability of people to think in ways you don't want them too. It is like 1984 only less claustrophobic and more open ended. I think I despair because it feels like all this scheming in aid of nothing particularly good, unless you believe that there is morality in natural selection I guess.
posted by Pembquist at 1:06 PM on October 18, 2016 [3 favorites]


Man, I love Adam Curtis, but at some point I always have to remind myself that I'm not watching a Craig Baldwin film.
posted by lumpenprole at 1:56 PM on October 18, 2016 [4 favorites]


God forbid you be exposed to anything that would trigger any cognitive dissonance on the bright utopia that awaits Brexitland.

As opposed to the utopia we are living in after 40 odd years in the EEC/EU? Or that would arise spontaneously if we stay in? Right.
posted by marienbad at 3:22 PM on October 18, 2016


Megustalations - thank you for the information.
posted by marienbad at 3:23 PM on October 18, 2016


Today on the PBS radio hour they had a Belgian security guy who just told the reporter matter-of-fact: if they are willing to die in the attack there really isn't anything that can be done to stop every one of them. The anchor person looked about as scared shitless as a radio voice can sound if that makes any sense.
posted by bukvich at 5:52 PM on October 18, 2016


(Meanwhile they were all cheer leading the mosul attack and tut tutting about ISIL using the hundreds of thousands of residents as human shields.)
posted by bukvich at 5:54 PM on October 18, 2016


Also released for Vice 2016-10-15: Living in an Unreal World
posted by meehawl at 9:53 PM on October 18, 2016 [4 favorites]


Watched it, enjoyed it. Here's my first thought.

One of the cornerstones of social constructivism has been that if we're able to recognize that the rules and laws governing our associations and behavior are not necessary but instead historical and conventional, only then are we able to start countering and resisting them. That is, to start building social resistance, it is, in a sense, necessary to realize that our society is constructed. This doesn't mean that construction would be opposed to "reality", of course, but simply that society is always under construction. It's reality is the result of activity, and not something "out there".

Now, this opposition between "real" and "fake" can only be operative within this activity of construction. In Curtis' case, the opposition is between complex relations and simplified narrative devices (the construction of an enemy that we can definitely defeat, for example). In this sense, Curtis does not in any way offer a grand theory but rather a critique of everyday grand theories as they are the ones enabling the institutionalization of this seeming simplicity of the world. And it is the fake simplicity (or, spectacle) that we no longer have a way out of: everything can be settled according to an us vs them logic. Identify the enemy, and we'll once again be happy. Just like an action movie starring Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery (as has been made clear recently (and on livestream even), real battles are way too boring).
posted by sapagan at 11:15 PM on October 18, 2016 [5 favorites]


As opposed to the utopia we are living in after 40 odd years in the EEC/EU? Or that would arise spontaneously if we stay in? Right.

We could also just avoid pointlessly relitigating the whole Brexit debacle. I'm in a foreign internet cafe in Nepal, and it turns out that my pound buys quite a lot less time than it used to.
posted by jaduncan at 1:01 AM on October 19, 2016 [4 favorites]


Somehow amidst all the Trump crap I'm bombarded with, I'd never seen that terrible Seth Meyers roast. Is that considered, like, 'The Moment'?

That's the 2011 White House Correspondents' Association dinner, where Meyers was the performer and Obama also told a series of jokes at the expense of Trump, who was in the audience after having been a leader of the Birther movement in the preceding years. PBS Frontline's "The Choice 2016" broadcast last month advanced the same conclusion, that Trump's public humiliation at that event was pivotal to his decision to make the 2016 run.

For anyone who didn't make it to the end of the Curtis film, in the final minutes it draws a parallel between the dinner—Trump sitting at a table with a frozen expression while everyone in the room laughs at him, the most powerful and prominent people in the country—and the scene in Carrie where she uses her supernatural powers to trap and then murder everyone at the prom.
posted by XMLicious at 11:16 AM on October 19, 2016 [3 favorites]


Britain has probably always been this racist

I don't think it makes sense to think of racism or other xenophobia as part of a country's make up, because of how much the simple act of letting it show encourages it. Most countries are fertile breeding grounds for racism, and the spores of persistent overt racism are ever present, but if the society becomes warm or damp or stops being cleaned, that's when the spores take root.

And the reason that it's really important to think of racism as something, like dirt, that you're continually keeping at bay is because if you forget your society's meant to be keeping it at bay, then,…
posted by ambrosen at 1:45 PM on October 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


Just finished it. Much more disturbing than other stuff I've seen by him.
I like what he does.
But...
Did anyone else think his use of that tween girls' dance video at the end was a bit uncool?
posted by 8k at 5:13 AM on October 20, 2016


I thought that was a comment on context and perception. Throughout, we'd been treated to scenes of live social media video being interrupted by drone strikes, or helicopter-delivered ordinance, or other forms of massive and sudden external force. We'd already seen footage of a very young-looking jihadi having a piece-to-camera interrupted by a drone strike, in which he was presumably killed. Another from Syria in which the apartment complex immediately next to the uploader was demolished by an airstrike, which was subsequently directed onto his own block, apparently killing or incapacitating him. We'd been effectively primed by the film to expect sudden disaster or death to befall those on camera at any moment.

So I interpreted that final clip as Curtis saying: what makes these particular girls safe, necessarily? What's protecting them? What disaster is about to befall them, lurking just off the edge of the frame? It's about a world in which social media makes death and disaster omni-present, or where the omni-presence of social media itself is the disaster. And that omni-presence is no longer safely limited to geographically confined "war zones."
posted by Sonny Jim at 5:29 AM on October 20, 2016 [7 favorites]


I watched this yesterday and thought it was really, really good. Very difficult to summarize, jumps all over the place in a sort of dissociative fugue state as it pieces together threads from the past 60 years of geopolitics. What it arrives at is hard for me to shake. Granted I'm primed for these conclusions, since I've been mulling over similar ideas ever since 9/11. But this really hit hard with the "how come no one explained it like this before?" shivers of recognition, and many of the strange ironies and twists of the knife that got us to this point in history were new to me.

This year I'm getting that very strong sense of fabricated narratives being shaped to push and pull us around in dozens of ways, and of never really feeling stabilized or sure of what's happening. If you believe wholesale what we're being told as the government drums up a renewed case against Russia, for example, then I'd say the perception management is working according to plan.

The entire world system is in a state of collapse similar to that of the USSR in the mid-'80s. We all know it's collapsing and none of us now believe the blithe media assurances offered to us saying everything is fine.

Yes, but does everyone know? Because from what I've seen Americans genuinely do think everything is fine, speaking long-term at least. They're talking about how the economy is doing great with the latest reports that came out, for example. I know because I've gotten pushback for suggesting otherwise here. And I think most people in the US aren't fretting too much about what's unfolding in Syria and how we will get entangled, even though they should be.

One question I had after seeing the film, was in Curtis's insistence that protests, insurgencies, and pushbacks against establishment forces won't work because we're not capable of envisioning a genuine new order, or something. This is so vague and I felt like it wasn't fully explained. What does he mean, exactly? Why does he feel like all of our desires and actions for change are misguided until we can achieve that, and how do we go about achieving that? I can sort of see it with respect to how the Arab Spring ultimately failed - there was a vacuum of power that was ultimately filled by a worse actor. But I'm not sure the same applies to Occupy, where it was more or less inevitable that it would fizzle out because real change within the system often involves the hard work of judicial and legislative action and political capital/numbers and money, none of which were particularly present. I don't know. I'm not convinced on his final point that we're just not envisioning things properly.
posted by naju at 3:40 PM on October 25, 2016 [2 favorites]


Regarding the idea that Trump is a new height of perception management and confusion tactics, I'm not so sure. His campaign has been a mixture of being really savvy at playing the media and destabilizing the entire process, and being inept in staggering ways. I would wager that the real sophisticated perception management is happening with Clinton and the largely bipartisan establishment that has embraced her and is preparing for a much more aggressive, twisty, and manufactured foreign policy under her rule than Obama allowed.
posted by naju at 3:48 PM on October 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


I made it about 100 minutes in last night and will watch the rest tonight. I found it hypnotic and terrifying and oddly empathetic at unexpected moments.

I watched it in two 75-minute/90-minute chunks over the past two nights, and would second all of this. One of his best. It made sense for me of the West's changing relationship with Gaddafi in a way that nothing previously had done; helped explain 1980s/1990s UFO sightings; and pulled Putin's political strategy into clearer focus, without even having to mention MH17.

Curtis is in no way "trying to paint complex events as inexplicable randomness".

East Wenatchie Washington has a higher percentage of its citizens on prozac than any other city? I don't even know how one would fact check that.

Googling wenatchee + prozac turns up a string of 1990s articles:
Prozacville, USA
, A Washington City Full of Prozac, Wenatchee: Little Town of Horrors.
posted by rory at 3:58 AM on October 27, 2016 [2 favorites]


One question I had after seeing the film, was in Curtis's insistence that protests, insurgencies, and pushbacks against establishment forces won't work because we're not capable of envisioning a genuine new order, or something. This is so vague and I felt like it wasn't fully explained. What does he mean, exactly? Why does he feel like all of our desires and actions for change are misguided until we can achieve that, and how do we go about achieving that? I can sort of see it with respect to how the Arab Spring ultimately failed - there was a vacuum of power that was ultimately filled by a worse actor. But I'm not sure the same applies to Occupy, where it was more or less inevitable that it would fizzle out because real change within the system often involves the hard work of judicial and legislative action and political capital/numbers and money, none of which were particularly present. I don't know. I'm not convinced on his final point that we're just not envisioning things properly.

Not an exact answer to your questions but he goes a bit more in depth in this conversation with Jon Ronson:
"I'm afraid I disagree with you that social media is a new kind of politics. It's a powerful new tool for helping to organise people – that is true. But what it really doesn't offer is a new kind of political way of changing the world. And, in fact, the belief that it does, and the failure of that, can lead to the most conservative situation.

Let's analyse what happened to the Arab Spring. Because that is often held up by the tech-utopians as the evidence for social media's revolutionary potential. In the Arab Spring all the liberal middle classes in places like Egypt came out to protest, summoned by social media. But then, once the revolution – or revolts – happened they had absolutely no idea of what to do. In the face of forces like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists, who had a powerful idea, the Twitter and Facebook networks were completely incapable of coming up with something new and powerful that could challenge the Brotherhood or the Salafists.

All they did was keep tweeting each other about how they all agreed that what was happening was terrible. And, in the process, they became trapped in an echo chamber that completely stopped them looking at the world from other people's points of view, and thus finding ways to effectively challenge the opposing point of view imaginatively. They got trapped in a system of feedback reinforcement.

Then the generals had a coup and all those liberals sighed a big sigh of relief and they tweeted each other that this was really a good thing.

You tell me anywhere in the Arab Spring where the ideas of those who used social media have risen up to become dominant. From Tunisia to Egypt and Yemen to Bahrain, those very groups who based their faith in social media have completely failed to have any substantial influence on power. Those doing well are ironically the traditionalists who have a powerful cultural conservative vision. Except, of course, Syria, where, as you know, the liberal middle classes are doing really well.

But I do really agree with you about Twitter domestically. Twitter – and other social media – passes lots of information around. But it tends to be the kind of information that people know that others in that particular network will like and approve of. So what you get is a kind of mutual grooming. One person sends on information that they know others will respond to in accepted ways. And then, in return, those others will like the person who gave them that piece of information.

So information becomes a currency through which you buy friends and become accepted into the system. That makes it very difficult for bits of information that challenge the accepted views to get into the system. They tend to get squeezed out.

(...)

I have this perverse theory that, in about ten years, sections of the internet will have become like the American inner cities of the 1980s. Like a John Carpenter film – where, among the ruins, there are fierce warrior gangs, all with their own complex codes and rules – and all shouting at each other. And everyone else will have fled to the suburbs of the internet, where you can move on and change the world. I think those suburbs are going to be the exciting, dynamic future of the internet. But to build them I think it will be necessary to leave the warrior trolls behind. And to move beyond the tech-utopianism that simply says that passing information around a network is a new form of democracy. That is naive, because it ignores the realities of power."
posted by mannequito at 2:17 PM on October 27, 2016 [6 favorites]


Very interesting stuff. Thanks for sharing that.
posted by naju at 3:51 PM on October 27, 2016


Not super exciting but possibly of interest - Vladislav Surkov, Putin's advisor who is featured towards the end of the film, had a bunch of emails leaked

Medium - Breaking Down the Surkov Leaks
posted by mannequito at 6:18 PM on October 27, 2016


From rory's first link:

Ironically, while Prozac may have tarnished Wenatchee's wholesome 'rural image, the town is far from qualifying as the true Prozac Capital. In June, Prozac maker Eli Lilly and Company revealed that Wenatchee is actually slightly below the national average in per capita Prozac consumption.

And the real Prozac Capital? Lilly won't divulge--it's a corporate secret.

posted by bukvich at 12:24 PM on October 28, 2016


This post needs some new attention right now
posted by dagosto at 1:18 AM on November 9, 2016 [4 favorites]


From Curtis's interview with the Guardian linked in the OP:
“My take on Trump is that he is an inevitable creation of this unreal normal world,” Curtis says. “Politics has become a pantomime or vaudeville in that it creates waves of anger rather than argument. Maybe people like Trump are successful simply because they fuel that anger, in the echo chambers of the internet.”

If Hillary Clinton gets elected next month, Curtis suggests, then the vaudeville will have played its role – the anger will have been expressed and changed nothing.

But what if Trump wins? “It means the pantomime has become reality and starts rampaging around. And then we are fucked.”
And that's what makes HRC's concession speech plea to the public to give Trump "the chance to lead" so frightening. Its an expression of the hope that Trump can be normalised when in fact he not only represents the unreal but now is also in a position to dictate it to everyone.
posted by Doktor Zed at 3:44 AM on November 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


I watched it yesterday to see if it could help me make sense of the situation (and it was very helpful), and today I watched Bitter Lake and the iPlayer automatically went back to HyperNormalisation so here I am again. It's just got to the Gadaffi bit.

There's so much in here about vanity - all the main players he mentions are colossally vain men. Gadaffi actually makes me quite sad. But there's also vanity in the posturing of the Trump bros and even the Occupiers, and also (in an odd way) in the way that suicide bombers can build a heroic narrative around themselves that ends in their death.

I think it might be Curtis' best yet, although each film increasingly appears to be a part of a grand patchwork narrative - for example this and Bitter Lake go very well with The Power of Nightmares from almost fifteen years ago.

I think it's important to stress that Curtis doesn't claim to be telling The Truth - I think all his films, recently at least, begin with the words "This is a story...". He tells a story on one hand, cut together with footage that often deliberately accentuates the fact that it was shot by a cameraman (for example, by being the footage from before or after the shots used in the news report) - it's always seemed to me that he emphasises that history is a narrative construction, and is encouraging people to go back to the sources to create their own narratives. At its best, history is like science, in that the historian presents a hypothesis and backs it up with evidence, and other historians try to knock it off its perch with hypotheses and evidence of their own.

In any case, I hugely admire Curtis both because he's trying to uncover the complexities of recent history and develop a style of presentation that preserves that complexity and the rhizomorphic nature of the information.

Yeah, mofos, rhizomorphic. Bite me.

And whether or not it's OK to use the footage, I think Miranda Duncan is wonderful.
posted by Grangousier at 12:25 PM on November 10, 2016 [4 favorites]


The scene with the execution of the Ceaușescus intercut with the Jane Fonda workout video to the strains of On Some Faraway Beach is amazingly audacious.
posted by Grangousier at 12:31 PM on November 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm so glad I watched this, and will be urging everyone to. It gave me the much-needed tools for grappling with what might be the most confusing and upsetting time in our lives.
posted by naju at 4:34 PM on November 10, 2016




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