Monday, November 7, 2016

HyperNormalisation- Dir Adam Curtis (2016) and a farewell to election season

Adam Curtis's latest documentary Hypernormalisation is a sprawling opus about the transformation of history from events that unfolded politically to a series of reactionary poses based more in the management of public perception than anything else. It's a great work, connecting many seemingly disjointed narratives from Syria to the creation of the internet to Jane Fonda to LSD to 9/11 to the rise of Donald Trump, and worth seeing in its entirety.

But it's a point from this last throughline that I want to highlight. In the documentary, Curtis connects the Trump campaign's tactics to those of Russia's Vladislav Surkov, a chief of staff at the Kremlin who oversaw a series of bizarre tactics set to create a massive misinformation campaign whose only aim seemed to be complete bewilderment. Surkov used Kremlin money to finance both the left and the right, fascists and liberal human rights groups, the status quo, and the rising opposition. He quotes a politician who referred to him as being party to "a ceaseless shapeshifting that is unstoppable because its undefinable".

Whether Trump is connected to specific actors from Putin's camp or not, what emerges from this election cycle is that we remain at a constant arm's length from the facts. Power continues to be codified somewhere far beyond us. And virtual space, while also presenting a great opportunity to connect us in huge ways, creates new gaps between us and the truth, shuttering us away from the narrowing inner network of power players attending each others's weddings and making decisions about when and how we can drink clean water, get access to healthcare, be protected from monsters with guns in uniform or in red ballcaps, et al.

What the media and the politicians will learn from the circus of this election cycle is that we enjoying eating peanuts, watching the acrobats ride the trembling line of analytics, and hearing the barkers bark. We liked the clowns, because we could both laugh at and be terrified of them. But by the end of the show, with the lights shining in our eyes, and the poofs of smoke signalling the arrival of each new act, it became harder and harder to discern what was all part of the act and what was actually happening.

The election has always been caked in layers of unreality, a stage show whose actors are so hackneyed and stilted they make community theater look like peak TV. But now, the civilized facade that media and the politicians used to portray, a friendly rivalry between two noble Skull and Bones opponents, has been exposed as the sham it is. The trust of the American people in news organizations has faltered. The failure to pony up any accountability over the 2008 crash and the Iraq war has been noted on both sides of the aisle, and Trump was savvy enough to see that slinging shit at both parties would tap into that collective nerve.

But as a result of our mistrust, the public now look to memes and Youtube videos for our news. They share RT stories or arbitrary plants, in ideological shades of liberalism and conservatism, of outrage fodder, dreamed up by minds who know that only an audience whose own reality has been liquified would ever buy. You know, the one where people's homes and savings were put on gambling block and then sold to a pawn shop for bailout money to the casino owners, and then who literally put a two-bit casino-owning charlatan in charge of one of the major political party. You know, the one where the century's biggest war crime was carried out over an invented story about a hypothetical nuclear arsenal that no one ever believed and no one went to jail. Where the 8-year speaker of the house is a pedophile and the multi-count sexual predator who once sexualized his 1-year-old daughter is running tight against the first major female presidential nominee because of sending a bunch of emails no one has seen in a manner that no one clearly understands.

Telejournalism is now fully the realm of a pitiful cadre of the punditry class, whose entire vocabulary is one of strategy, predicting how well each side will be marketing to us issues we don't fully understand and policies they couldn't bother to interrogate. So we've turned our attention elsewhere and in haste to follow the rabbit hole of facebook likes and retweets, we allowed a troll in our midst, who has taken to smearing a stream of fecal consciousness all over the cultural landscape.

Trump has unleashed an awful lot this long, desolate election season, but perhaps the most dangerous is the war he's waged on information. Like Billy Joel, he didn't start the fire. And like that song,we're talking about a morass comprised of a lot of arbitrary shit, slung together as if its part of some beautiful synchronicity but is actually just a chaotic dumpster fire of word vomit. (For those who'd get the reference, it's beautiful m0dnAr). As I tilt my head sideways and ponder the conspiracies at the center of it, I realize that none of us are immune to becoming one of its casualties. This election has made me think of all the weird crooked hands turning all the screws and cranking all the pulleys. It has made people like me question whether this really is rock bottom or whether this is just the way we should have been feeling the whole time. And the fact that this election teeters so close to the verge really does beg the question; is Trump the worst of us, or is Trump what we really look like in the mirror after the magic potion of self-petting for likes and cookie-bred reinforcement algorithms wears off?

Every four years we attempt to ask the question: who are we? And the answer always comes back more monstrous and hideous then the last, a bestial hybrid of acquiescence and intolerance, of denial and diversion. The lie that we sell ourselves coming back to sell ourselves out. At what point do we recognize that maybe America is not great, but it's not quite a lost cause either. It just needs to stop thinking that it's King Shit before it can work on its issues.

With big complicated issues that we need communal buy-in on in order to save us from species-wide extinction, it's hard not to become desolate over what all this gooey postmodern afterbirth of post-truth glut means for the future. Curtis takes his title from a phrase in a book about the end days of the Soviet Union, and how the Soviets knew that their way of life was on its last legs, but they refused to disavow it because they couldn't think of any alternative. 2016 has been a weird ride. At a glance, all the strange appears to be an emergence of what an alternative may shape up to to look like. Yet, a society that is so inundated with novelty and misinformation that they don't know what to believe can't be one long for survival. With this election, we are at the end and the beginning of something. Trump knows this, which is why he's exploited fears of this uncertainty. But he's not prolonging our entrance into this new era, just hastening it and attempting to replace what it could be with broken fragments of what already has been.

Trump is a cancer, not because he could bring about the end times, but moreover because he could make the end times last even longer. Let's end this end, and start a beginning.

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