by Dr. Joseph Mercola
August 29, 2020
Documentary filmmaker and BBC journalist Adam Curtis has developed a
cult following for his eccentric films that combine BBC archival
footage into artistic montages combined with dark narratives; his
latest film, Hypernormalisation, came out in 2016.
Hypernormalisation tells the story of how politicians, financiers
and "technological utopians" constructed a fake world over the last
four decades in an attempt to maintain power and control
Their fake world is simpler than the real world by design, and as a
result people went along with it because the simplicity was
The film takes viewers on a timeline of recent history that appears
as though you're seeing bits and pieces of a scrapbook, but which
ultimately support the larger message that the world is being
controlled by a powerful few while the rest of us are willing
puppets in the play
Documentary filmmaker and BBC journalist
Adam Curtis has developed a
cult following for his eccentric films that combine BBC archival
footage into artistic montages combined with dark narratives that
create a unique storytelling experience that's both journalistic and
His latest film, "HyperNormalisation," came out in 2016 and is
perhaps even more apropos now, as many have the feeling that they're
waking up to an unprecedented, and unreal, world anew each and every
day - and so-called fake news is all around.
"HyperNormalisation" was coined by Alexei Yurchak, a Russian
In an interview with The Economist, Curtis explained that
it's used to describe the feeling that comes with accepting total
fakeness as normal.
Yurchak had used it in
relation to living in the Soviet Union during the 1980s, but Curtis
used it in response ,
living in the present-day U.S. and Europe...
"Everyone in my
country and in America and throughout Europe knows that the
system that they are living under isn't working as it is
supposed to; that there is a lot of corruption at the top...
There is a sense of everything being slightly unreal:
fight a war that seems to cost you nothing and it has no
consequences at home
that money seems to grow on trees
goods come from China and don't seem to cost you anything
phones make you feel liberated but that maybe they're
manipulating you but you're not quite sure
It's all slightly
odd and slightly corrupt.
So I was trying to make a film about where that feeling came
from... I was just trying to show the same feeling of unreality,
and also that those in charge know that we know that they don't
know what's going on.
That same feeling is pervasive in our
society, and that's what the film is about." 2
Living in a
Fake, Simple World
tells the story of how politicians, financiers and "technological
utopians" constructed a fake world over the last four decades in an
attempt to maintain power and control.
Their fake world is
simpler than the real world by design, and as a result people went
along with it because the simplicity was reassuring.
The transition began in 1975, when the film describes two
world-changing moments that took place in two cities:
New York City and
Damascus, Syria, which shifted the world away from political
control and toward one managed instead by financial services,
technology and energy companies.
First, New York ceded
As noted in The New
"New York, embroiled
in a debt crisis as its middle-class tax base is evaporated by
white flight, starts to cede authority to its lenders.
Fearing for the security of their loans, the banks, via a new
committee Curtis contends was dominated by their leadership, the
Municipal Assistance Corporation, set out to control the city's
finances, resulting in the first wave of banker-mandated
austerity to greet a major American city as thousands of
teachers, police officers, and firefighters are sacked." 3
In Damascus, meanwhile,
Henry Kissinger and Syrian head of state
Hafez al-Assad grew, with Kissinger fearing a united Arab world
and Assad angered that his attempts at transformation were fading.
was that instead of having a comprehensive peace for
Palestinians, which would cause specific problems, you split the
Middle Eastern world and made everyone dissatisfied," Curtis
"In Curtis' view, the
Syrian leader pioneered the use of suicide bombing against
Americans," The New Yorker explained, which then spread
throughout the Middle East, accelerating Islamic terrorism in
While the roots of modern
society can be traced back much further - millennia - Curtis chose
to start "HyperNormalisation" in 1975 due to the economic crisis of
"1975 is when a shift
in power happened in the Middle East at the same time as the
shift in power away from politics toward finance began in the
West," he told Hyperallergic. 5
"It's arbitrary, but
I chose that moment because those two things are at the root of
a lot of other things we have today. It's a dramatic moment."
The film then takes
viewers on a timeline of recent history that appears as though
you're seeing bits and pieces of a scrapbook, but which ultimately
support the larger message that
the world is being controlled by a
powerful few while the rest of us are willing puppets in the play,
and we're essentially living in an unreal world...
Being Managed as
According to Curtis, mass democracy died out in the early '90s, only
to be replaced by a system that manages people as individuals.
Politics requires that
people be in groups in order to control them.
established and individuals join the groups that are then
represented by politicians that the group identifies with.
The advancement of technology has changed this, particularly because
computer systems can manage masses of people by understanding the
way they act as groups - but the people continue to think they're
acting as individuals.
Speaking to The
Economist, Curtis said:
"This is the genius
of what happened with computer networks.
Using feedback loops,
pattern matching and pattern recognition, those systems can
understand us quite simply.
That we are far more similar to each
other than we might think, that my desire for an iPhone as a way
of expressing my identity is mirrored by millions of other
people who feel exactly the same.
We're not actually that individualistic. We're very similar to
each other and computers know that dirty secret.
But because we
feel like we're in control when we hold the magic screen, it
allows us to feel like we're still individuals.
And that's a
wonderful way of managing the world." 6
He compares it to a modern ghost story, in which we're haunted
by yesterday's behaviors.
By predicting what we'll like based on
what we did yesterday, we're inundated with messages that lock
us into a static, unchanging world that's repetitive and rarely
imagines anything new.
"And because it doesn't allow mass politics to challenge power,
it has allowed corruption to carry on without it really being
challenged properly," he says, 7 using the example of
wealthy people who don't pay taxes.
Although most are aware
that this occurs, it doesn't change:
"I think it has
something to do with
this technocratic world because it doesn't
have the capacity to respond to that kind of thing. It has the
capacity to manage us very well.
It's benign but it
doesn't have the capacity to challenge the rich and the powerful
within that system, who use it badly for their own purposes."
Documentary for an Oversimplified Time
While the crux of "HyperNormalisation" is that people have retreated
into a simplified world perception, the documentary itself is
complex and borderline alarming.
Its intricacies can be well
explored, however, as it was released directly on BBC iPlayer, then
passed around on the internet, such that it's easy to replay it - or
sections of it - again and again, something that wasn't always
possible with live television.
Speaking with "HyperNormalisation,"
thing about online is that you can do things that are more
complex and involving and less patronizing to the audience than
traditional documentaries, which tend to simplify so much
because they're panicking that people will only watch them once
They tend to just
tell you what you already know. I think you can do some more
complicated things, and that's what I've been trying." 9
you'll be confronted with seemingly unrelated snippets ranging from
disaster movies to Jane Fonda, which will make you want to rewind
and reconsider what you've just seen.
And perhaps that's the
The gaps in the story compel viewers to do more research and ask
more questions, and those willing to watch all of its nearly three
hours of footage may find themselves indeed feeling like they're
climbing through a dark thicket, being led by only a flashlight, as
the film's opening portrays.
Meanwhile, the theme of an overriding power funneling information to
the masses in an increasingly dumbed-down format is pervasive, right
down to the censorship being fostered by social media.
Curtis narrates in the
intelligence systems online gathered evermore data, new forms of
guidance began to illumine, social media created filters - complex algorithms that looked at what individuals liked and
then fed more of the same back to them.
In the process, individuals began to move, without noticing,
into bubbles that isolated them from enormous amounts of other
They only heard and
saw what they liked, and the news feeds increasingly excluded
anything that might challenge people's pre-existing beliefs."
Corporations Behind the Internet's Superficial Freedom
"HyperNormalisation" also touches on the irony behind the "freedom"
provided by the Internet, which is that giant corporations are
largely controlling it.
superficial freedoms of the web were a few giant corporations
and opaque systems that controlled what people saw and shaped
what they thought.
What was even more
mysterious was how they made their decisions about what you
should like and what should be hidden from you," the documentary
And as Curtis noted,
"I'm not trying to
make a traditional documentary. I'm trying to make a thing that
gets why you feel today like you do - uncertain, untrusting of
those who tell you what is what.
To make it in a way that
emotionally explains that as much as it explains it
On the topic of social
media, Curtis described social media as a scam, telling Idler
"The Internet has
been captured by four giant corporations who don't produce
anything, contribute nothing to the wealth of the country, and
hoard their billions of dollars in order to pounce on anything
that appears to be a competitor and buy it out immediately.
They will get you and I to do the work for them - which is
putting the data in - then they send out what they con other
people into believing are targeted ads.
But actually, the
problem with their advertising is that it is - like all geek
stuff - literal.
It has no imagination
to it whatsoever. It sees that you bought a ticket to Budapest,
so you're going to get more tickets to Budapest.
It's a scam..."
Technology, largely in
the form of social media, feeds into the forces at play that are
spreading a state of powerlessness and bewilderment around the
world, according to Curtis. 12
This is fueled by anger,
which prompts more intense reactions online, hence, more clicks and
more money being poured into social media.
It's Curtis' goal to create an emotional history of the world, which
he plans to create using decades' worth of BBC footage from around
His next project is to
explore Russia, then China, Egypt, Vietnam and Africa, telling
stories that people want to hear but probably won't otherwise, due
to the altered state of reality we're living in.
1, 2, 6, 7, 8
Economist December 6, 2018
3 - The
New Yorker November 3, 2016
4, 12, 13
Guardian October 9, 2016
5, 9, 10
March 16, 2017
11 - Idler
Magazine June 30, 2018