I recently watched the film HyperNormalisation.
It’s 2 hours and 40 minutes. 90% of the film is the director narrating his thoughts at you over seemingly arbitrary images. Many sequences feel like they could be taken out and the central message of the film would be intact. It’s everything I’m trying to make sure my documentary isn’t. It’s barely even a documentary. as much as a video essay, the kind of thing only an already established filmmaker with a contract with the BBC could get away with.
And I think it might have been really good.
Like, really, really good.
I’m still thinking about it days later. The basic thesis of the film is that because the reality is too complex, people have retreated into a world of fantasy, replacing the truth with fake narratives. Corporations and politicians fight over whose fake narrative will rule our reality. People know these narratives are fake, but chose to accept them because they can’t comprehend the alternative.
Like a lot of modern left-wing art, it’s a thinly veiled critique of Trump. There were dozens of “Bush is Hitler” films coming out when I was a kid during his Presidency, so I expect we’ll be seeing more of the same in the future. Two things differentiate this film though – 1) it predicted Trumps win (the film was released in October 2016, before the election) and 2) it has a sharp critique of the left from the left.
In an interview the director stated the left has two big problems. First, they are unwilling to discuss power. The films shows how when occupy wall street and the arab spring came to power, they had no vision of what sort of system of power to replace the old system with – so things went back to the way they were.
In the arab spring, the Muslim brotherhood actually did have a vision of what kind of system they wanted to create – so they took power. The kids behind the arab spring begged the generals they overthrew to stop them. Likewise, in the US, some of the left have called for a military coup – from the CIA or the electorate – to stop Trump. Isn’t this the system they are supposed to oppose? When did the deep state become the ally of the left?
Second, they have no compelling vision of the future. Without that, you can only rely on fear. “Vote this or ELSE…” Or else climate change will destroy the planet. Or else fascism will rise to power. Or else racism. Or else you’ll have to pay back those college loans. The director Adam Curtis himself says the right is the only side right now with a compelling vision of the future. A thing they are fighting FOR. That is what people sacrifice for and are willing to give up the comforts of their life to create.
Unwilling to address power, or create a vision of the future, the left has retreated into fantasy. For goddsakes, how many political posts have you seen that reference Harry Potter or Star Wars? These are children’s fantasies being used to understand global politics.
In the modern era – there is no difference between fiction storytelling and political narratives. Zero. None. Storytelling is storytelling is storytelling. And whoever has the best story is going to win.
How these fake narratives are woven make up some of the most interesting parts of the film. For example, one of Putin’s chief political technologists is former theater major who uses avant garde theater techniques on the political stage. (I wish there’d been more on this, so if you run across a book on this, tweet it at me.)
The biggest realization I got from this film is that people want to live in these fake narratives. They prefer it. How many posts did you read this election that began “unfriend me if…”? These posts don’t convince anyone. They’re just “get out of my bubble.” As the film’s wikipedia page puts it: “The American Left’s attempt to resist Trump on the internet had no effect. In fact, they were just feeding the social media corporations who valued their many additional clicks.” Those people were in for a shock after election day.
Or not? Maybe they can just keep inventing fake narratives for every time reality happens. Maybe after everything they thought about the world turned out wrong, they’ll just make a new fake narrative. Maybe.
My only criticism of the film is that I’m not sure this is anything new. Were people really getting the truth 1000 years ago, or were they just choosing the fake narratives of the medieval Catholic church and the local noblemen over what their eyes presented?
Perhaps the difference between then and now is that we know on some level these narratives are false. What this film adds is that those who chose to disappear into fake realities and fantasy will render themselves politically impotent and those who create the right narrative can rise to great power.
If you’d like to let go of fake stories and find out the truth about something, check out my upcoming documentary American Circumcision.