Hypernormalization (foto Medium)
HyperNormalization (foto YouTube)
HyperNormalization (foto BBC)
They know we know they lie (foto IMDb
Normal (foto epsilonspires.org)
HyperNormalisation | A different experience of reality (2016) | FULL DOCUMENTARY, subtitles)
Published on 12 dec. 2016
Adam Curtis Documentary
Added subtitles (French, Brazilian, Hebrew, English, Croatian, Spanish, Turkish and RUssian).
The cult documentary maker explores the falsity of modern life in his own inimitable style. Though he S spent the best part of four decades making television, Curtis S signature blend of hypnotic archive footage, authoritative voiceover and a seemingly inexhaustible appetite for bizarre historical tangents is better suited to the web, A place just as resistant to the narrative handholding of broadcast TV as he is. He argues that an army of technocrats, complacent radicals and Faustian internet entrepreneurs have conspired to create an unreal world; one whose familiar and often comforting details blind us to its total inauthenticity.
Technological Slavery 2.0: Ghosts of Hypernormalization and the Role of Art in A Pandemic
There has never been A better time than now, during A Worldwide pandemic, to sit, watch and reflect on Adam Curtis’ 2016 documentary HyperNormalisation. In the film, Curtis outlines what he sees as underlying the issue of modernity and A society increasingly unmoored from reality. Curtis diagnoses the problem by going back in time to the 1970 S when power shifted from politicians, who held it on the promise that they would keep everyone safe and do good on behalf of society, to the financial apparatus, the banks and their administrators, who were guided by the market economy, A much simpler system in which everyone was beholden to no one and only had to watch out for themselves and their profits. It was A system made to fit figures like Donald Trump who saw in the decrepit conditions in New York City during the 70 S an opportunity to make money buying up real estate made cheap by generations of tax evasion and by the flight of white residents to the suburbs. Trump immediately set out to convert his acquisitions into luxury housing in an effort to turn New York into A city for the rich. When his ventures inevitably began to fail, the banks came to his rescue, underwriting millions of dollars in credit to keep his businesses afloat.
By the early 1990‘s, Trump’s fortune, which came primarily from his father who still continued to give him money at the time, had dwindled until it seemed that all of his businesses, and he himself, would go bankrupt. Again the banks stepped in and Trump was allowed to escape, somewhat poorer, but with his Media image as A powerful, swashbuckling tycoon and deal maker unscathed. It was precisely this image of A great man with great flaws that provided perfect fodder for Comedy Central S Roast of Donald Trump in 2011 that ran in the wake of his success on the reality TV show The Apprentice. Trump had shown himself to be A great manipulator of his persona. Regardless of the many business failures, from his early real estate ventures to Trump University, he was able to spin A web of intricate half truths about himself and his successes, becoming adept at using the Media to help get the message across. What we saw on television was not the truth, but what he wanted people to see. It S not surprising, then, that he uses the Twitter handle @realDonaldTrump.
The reality lies somewhere else entirely. If we are to understand how “hypernormalization” works, we might be able to do so by considering the figure of Donald Trump and all of its facsimiles, from the wealthy young tycoon who was in reality supported by his father, to the Media celebrity who showed nothing but A façade of glitz and posturing, to, finally, the figure of the President of the United States. In this last role he is attempting to repay the banks that once bailed him out and saved his image by facilitating large cash injections into the financial system before it collapses under the weight of its debts, real and phantasmatic.
In A Hypernormal World, nothing is as it seems. Reality shifts, and with it, the very perception of “truth.” In a Hyperreal World, Donald Trump can appear as A successful entrepreneur and or as A bumbling narcissist, sociopath and liar. Curtis gives the example of the reality in Soviet RUssia during the last decade of Communist rule. Everyone knew that the system was at its end, that the collapse was near, but pretended that everything was normal – the news continued to run stories about successful five year plans and people continued going to work as they had for decades. Large banners continued to extol the great achievements of the Soviet state and the bright future that was yet to come. The reality was different. Stores were empty, travel was restricted, and the mood was one of dejection and lethargy. In the Eastern Bloc countries the mood was similar. Reality did not align with the hypernormality presented on television and workplace message boards.
In 1989 everything changed and the system, that was once thought to be permanent, collapsed. Only A few people saw it coming. Writing from his home in Hrádeček, Vaclav Havel relayed the story of the green grocer who every May displays the Party S propaganda in his store windows. The green grocer does not do it because he is ideologically aligned with the Party or Communist ideals. He does this so that he will be seen as cooperative and avoid trouble with the state police who will inevitably come by to ask him why he isn’t displaying the Soviet flag and slogan banners. Havel says that this is what makes the entire system so pernicious. The green grocer is obligated to self police. He does not believe in what he is doing, but he does it nonetheless, and if he were to see someone else who did not place slogans in his shop windows, he would also be obliged to accuse the other shop keeper of Party disloyalty. The core of hypernormality runs deep. It subsumes itself into the very kernel of reality and issues from it as well.
The basic premise of Curtis’ documentary is that we are currently faced with A situation seemingly similar to that of Soviet RUssia in the 1980 S. Events are happening all around us – terrorism, 9/11, Wars and conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and now A global pandemic – while World leaders and those around them have no idea how react to or stop them. Using figures like Henry Kissinger, Hafez al Assad, and Muamar Qaddaffi, Curtis attempts to illustrate the differences between A politicians’ outer and inner Worlds. Kissinger was known to be A ruthless politician, most notably for his adherence to an ideology that he called “realpolitik.” The term itself connotes an already tenuous relationship between the two Worlds of reality and politics. A pragmatist at his core, Kissinger S political crusade was the destabilization of Arab society while pretending to be its ally and friend. When al Assad discovered Kissinger S real goal and ultimate betrayal, he sought revenge, but not before remaking Syria in his own image. He became A ruthless dictator, building statues to himself and A large palace over Damascus. To his people he was portrayed as an enlightened leader, an image that belied the truth. Such an image encourages the development of A cult of personality and projects A human dimension onto something that is supra human and is meant to transcend its very subjectivity.
By contrast, Qaddaffi S image was not of his own making. Following the Lockerbie bombing in 1988, he became A Media symbol of Arab terrorism remaining its icon until the early 2000 S, when the US government decided they could use him in their campaign for the disarmament of Arab weapons of mass destruction. Aided by the US Media, decades old images of A lunatic terrorist with an itchy trigger finger evaporated and Qaddaffi was rebranded as an international thinker. Politicians, TV personalities and academics, funded on behalf of the government, now helped paint him as A positive and benevolent leader. He was invited to deliver A speech before the UN. But, as quickly as they had embraced Qaddaffi, the US and the West turned against him when the Arab Spring erupted throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa and the opportunity to depose him was seized. Each of these three men is used by Curtis as examples and metaphors for the larger problem that exists within the global technology driven society. Donald Trump is the natural outgrowth of just such A society that depends on Media images that do not square with the reality of what is truly happening.
Today we are yet again witnessing what Guy Debord called “society of the spectacle.” The terrifying events surrounding the spread of the Corona Virus are presented to us 24/7 by television networks, newspapers, social Media and government representatives. The spectacle of masked emergency response workers, doctors and regular people going about their day belies the fact that, behind the scenes, A vast redistribution of wealth to top corporations and elites, hostile corporate takeovers, financiers hedging their bets making sure they’ll make money whether the markets rebound or not is going on. What was not possible in 2008 is suddenly possible today.
Outside of the Media system things are also hypernormal. In the middle of A global pandemic, with countries on lockdowns, systems scrambling to operate, forced closures of businesses, factories and warehouses, mass lay-offs and unemployment, things seem strangely ‘normal.’ Many people seem to be either ignoring the event, or are suspicious of the Media’s portrayal of it, and do not take the necessary steps to protect themselves. The irony of this is that despite the apparent blasé nature of this reaction, shelves continue to be emptied of the essential items like toilet paper, paper towels, sanitizers, bleach and cleaning products, cans of soup, meat and dairy. Panic buying has taken on A face of nonchalance and dejected familiarity. Panic is, in this sense, entirely hypernormal.
Curtis’ HyperNormalisation places particular focus on the Artists of the day in 1970 S New York. Faced with increasing poverty and A deep disillusionment toward politics, the Artists retreated into themselves and their studios. Rather than take action, they sought to change what was inside their heads. Curtis argues that this made them more susceptible and ready for Mass Media manipulation. With the rise of the “self” in every day social interactions, and in corporate and political life, individuals, including the Artists, began to focus on the personal, rather than the global or the universal. Now, change was to issue from within the individual and, accordingly, fate was entirely in the hands of that same individual. Responsibility became an individual problem. No collective effort could be A substitute for individual action. Curtis believes that this dramatic shift from the collective actions of the 1960 S that had given rise to Black American civil rights and offered new opportunities to level the social playing field, to A system that left the responsibility for everything from ecology to political action with the individual, neutered the effectiveness of Art to alter the social and political landscape. Artists, rather than taking direct action, now simply “observed the city with A cool detachment.” As Art became more open to new Media like video, performance and conceptualism, it also became more isolated and isolating as engagement with technology and new forms of self expression required and demanded more time away from the public sphere.
Today the leveling effect of these Art forms can be seen in the world of YouTube, Instagram, podcasting and vlogging where Artists no longer exercise significant influence on the political and financial systems that effectively run our society. They are individual voices in the wilderness, despite the millions of followers and views that some channels may have. There are no political programs that have arisen from YouTubers or Instagram influencers. Everyone is engaged in simply reproducing the existing social system at best and pushing anti social, reactionary politics at worst, while remaining entirely in the dark about where real power is concentrated.
Things were different in 1990 S Czechoslovakia. There the Artists and actors saw an opportunity and began taking up positions in government. Many of them had participated in illegal political gatherings that had taken place in A small network of Prague apartments in the late 1980 S. Faced with the possibility of arrest they drew up plans and policies should their political program succeed. They took these to the negotiations table with the politicians in charge and eventually got what they wanted, namely individual freedoms, access to the West and, above all, capitalism. But from the beginning, their struggle and optimism was curtailed by figures like Vaclav Klaus, an economist who had studied in the US and brought back with him the ideas that shaped his political thinking. It was Klaus who would steer the country away from the idealism of the artists and toward the hard reality and pragmatism of numbers and laissez faire capitalism. Klaus, like Henry Kissinger, played A double game, aligning himself with the Artists and regular people on the street, as he went about stripping away the wealth of the nation for his own political gain. He negotiated the split of Czechoslovakia and set up the system of “privatization” that eventually benefited the ruling class and created A new class of oligarchs. Ultimately the Artists retreated. What was to be an unprecedented moment in direct political action and policy making, fizzled as A more aggressive political and corporate takeover was underway. The idealism of the 1990 S gave way to the uncertainty and anxiousness of the 2000 S punctuated by the rise of technocracy and the public S willingness to go along with whatever political program was put in place by an increasingly reactionary and conservative World.
HyperNormalisation concludes with A portrayal of Vladimir Putin, A political figure with some uncanny similarities to Donald Trump. Media images of Putin valorize him as A national hero, A fighter, A lone wolf politician, soldier and hunter, A hypermasculine Ubermensch. Here, again, Media images do not square with reality. Putin uses the Media and his image makers to spin his ideology into an image of the fearless leader. They are master manipulators and create these very images to push through Putin’s political agenda – an amendment of the RUssian constitution that will effectively reset the clock on his presidential terms, allowing him to rule until the year 2036.
Today’s form of hypernormalization is even Deeper than what once existed in Soviet RUssia. Life, work and politics are inextricably entwined, sutured together by technology and social Media. We have all been thrown into A World in which technology alters and shapes the very core of reality – what the “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski would’ve called Technological Slavery. Tied to their phones, many now work in A gig economy that makes it impossible to escape the grasp of technological gadgets, from Uber and Lyft to Instacart. The image of relative freedom masks the incessant demands made on individuals to remain at work beyond normal working hours, driving down actual wages. Again and again, the presentation of our brave new technological World does not square with the very real exploitative and isolating experiences many people endure. Engineered in the rented warehouse spaces of Silicon Valley, the technological system we currently have resembles A virtual version of Ayn Rand S vision, pushed by utopians and futurists who continue to advocate for more advancement in robotics and automation, A total restructuring of society along technological lines. This vision is ultimately shortsighted, because it rarely goes beyond the market place and short term profit margins. Yet again, Artists have retreated, opting instead to use the existing system and get lost within it, rather than offer an alternative. Curtis believes that this is because the natural way for humans to behave is to go along with the system, even if it is destructive or detrimental to themselves as individuals. He also contends that technology and the internet, once thought of as avenues to new freedoms, are increasingly sources of conservatism and reactionary thought, operating on algorithms written to specifically neuter any progressive political agenda or alternative vision. “If you like this, you must like that.” Technology and the internet is giving us more of what we already like and less and less of anything that might challenge us. And Artists are going along with it.
A recent Artforum article, asked the question: what is the role of Art in A pandemic? The writer S conclusions are sadly predictable and point out the value of “maintenance Art” as emblematic of today S crisis. The writer even draws similarities between the maintenance workers on the subways of New York and the Artists who are engaged in performing, or “maintaining” the system in place. Such A perspective is sadly the norm in most spaces dedicated to Art. It puts Art and Artists squarely in place within the existing Order. Rather than being tasked to change it, the Artist is asked to keep it running, despite the obvious problems the system is exhibiting, deferring the promise of actual change to sometime down the road. It is an unprecedented abdication of responsibility, and A retreat from power unlike any that has come before. As Art institutions continue shuttering their doors and laying off staff, they are engaged in precisely the same actions as the politics of the day – anxiety inducing actions which directly contradict their mission statements that tout inclusivity and sensitivity toward the most marginal and at risk groups. Hypernormalization functions at all levels of society and the Art institution is no different.
It would be foolish to think that A system that is based entirely on the existing social Order would produce anything other than A soft version of power and exploitation masked by A veneer of compassion. This is perhaps the greatest irony of all. Our institutions are engaged in what Slavoj Zizek recently called “barbarism with a human face,” A style of reacting to A crisis with the most severe tactics: “ruthless survivalist measures enforces with regret and even sympathy, but legitimized by expert opinions.” In such A World it is virtually impossible to get angry, because most anger is today channeled through the internet as impotent rage which finds primarily sympathetic audiences, or goes out in the streets, at A time when social distancing is critical. In A time of crisis, it is more important to keep the system stable and running, to maintain what we already have than to think of alternative ways to handle it. But the question remains. What will the Artists do in response to the epidemic and are we ever going to come out of the condition that Adam Curtis presented to us four years ago? Is there A way out of A hypernormal state?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tom Pazderka is A painter, installation Artist and writer. He was born in the Czech Republic in 1981 and moved to the US at the age of twelve, shortly after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. Pazderka S sentiments, resulting from immigration, loss, and sense of place find resonance in his written work as well. He holds and MFA from the University of California Santa Barbara where he was A Regents Fellow and was Artist in Residence. At UC Santa Barbara, he studied with internationally renowned theorist and cultural critic Dick Hebdige. Recent exhibitions include Bender Gallery (Asheville, NC), The Basic Premise (Ojai, CA), Sullivan Goss and Silo 118 (Santa Barbara, CA), Gallery 825 (Los Angeles), FA Museum (NC), Parasol Projects (NYC), Trafo Gallery (Prague, Czech Republic). Residencies include Trafacka and MeetFactory (Czech Republic) and Chateau Orquevaux (France). His work has been published in LA Weekly, New American Paintings, Dark Mountain, Santa Barbara Literary Journal and Daily Serving among others.
3:AM Magazine, Monday, April 13th, 2020.