Adam Curtis’ HyperNormalisation: Over-Hyped

If, like me, you just spent two hours and forty-six minutes watching¬†HyperNormalisation, the new Adam Curtis film on BBC iPlayer, who might be despairing at the state of the world. Terrified that the world is run by either nefarious villains who arbitrarily play the system and court paradox with the aim of confusing and alienating the populous (e.g. Trump and Putin) or ardent capitalists who pretend to have values whilst selling out to the highest bidder (e.g. Reagan, Blair, Bush etc). Terrified also of the monsters that thrive in the wake of these superpowers such as terrorists unafraid of killing civilians in a bid to create chaos. Meanwhile, the rest of us, powerless and paranoid, decide to retreat into a world of cyberspace where nothing is real, no one is really listening but we are being watched by nasty megacorporations who just want to sell us more crap. Yup, it’s a horrible world according to HyperNormalisation and even those who attempt to fight it – Occupy, the Arab Spring – end up dead, defeated or defecting to the baddies. But I’m not one for relentless pessimism and I kind of felt much of this has been said before.

Take Guy Debord, one of many 20th century French philosophers with a difficult surname to pronounce. He wrote a book called The Society of the Spectacle (1967) and it focuses on how social life has become increasingly self-reflexive. He wrote that “all that once was directly lived has become mere representation” and what I understand him meaning by this is that we spend far more time looking at representations of the world rather than at the world itself. For example, rather than go for a walk outside we play a computer game about going for a walk outside. Life becomes increasingly virtual as we watch endless TV, surf the web and monitor our online profiles, all the while losing touch with what’s authentic. We get lost in a world of representations, spectacles and signs, and lose our ability to figure out what’s real (the hyperactivity of the world becomes normalised). In HyperNormalisation Curtis picks up on this theme and explores how increasingly surreal politics have become. For example, Western superpowers create convenient supervillian baddies (aka scapegoats) in the Middle East to justify their continued wars waged to maintain the capitalist military industrial complex rather than actually deal with the genuine complexities of a globalised world. I see this as forming part of the larger postmodern critique of modernism – i.e. that those grand narratives so beloved of the US and UK such as Progress, Civilisation, Enlightenment and Happy Endings are a bunch of bullshit facades used to sugarcoat vicious and corrupt political systems that make a bunch of people rich.

However, the problem, and this is one of the problems I think Curtis’ film suffers from, is that the postmodern critique can only go so far. It takes the premises of modernism (i.e. those big narratives), finds them very wanting and then flips them on their heads. But once you’ve flipped a shoddy grand narrative on its head there’s not a lot you can do with it other than get cut amongst the broken pieces. And that’s what HyperNormalisation is – a lot of broken pieces fused together to form their own grand narrative that itself is much too simplistic and keeps reiterating the point that we’re doomed and there’s no alternative. It does this by juxtaposing endless clips from pop culture with pictures of mass destruction and dead bodies. It’s shocking, desensitising and a product of the very HyperNormalised world it tries to critique. Like the conniving politicians who try to bamboozle us into submission with paradoxical messages the film leaves us confused, devastated and gasping for air without offering any hope.

But I call bullshit to a hopeless future. Whilst money and banks are referenced there’s scant economics in this film – namely the economics of consumer capitalism and how it fuels so much of the conflict charted in the film. There’s also little time spent on examining alternatives – steady-state economies, sustainability, gift economies and the like. And whilst Curtis looks at various forms of terrorism and the West’s grand narratives as important systems of belief he doesn’t look at other more peaceful ones, for instance, CND, Quakerism and environmentalism. In essence, Curtis just contributes to the agenda of doom, despair and nihilism that has ravaged so much of our culture and caused the death of so many. He’s a documentarian of apocalypse and whilst he’s certainly created a spectacle that is at times informative and entertatining it’s also incredibly overwhelming and anxiety inducing. It floods us with highly selective information without providing any tips on how to use this information. Now here’s a picture of a banana with a condom on it because, hey, everything’s postmodern these days and doesn’t need to make sense…

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Pokemon Go: The Conspiracy

Once you think about it, it makes complete sense. That the latest smartphone game currently taking the world by storm, Pokemon Go, is actually the product of a conspiratorial collusion between world governments and gaming corporations. A conspiracy that has no grander aim than the complete subjugation of the human race. Marx is spinning in his grave.

Pokemon Go is an innovative idea: you hold your phone up and through the screen you see the real world on the other side. So far, so boring. However, what’s that over there? No way! It’s Pikachu! Yup, Pikachu is just a few metres away lolling around that random park near your house. So, off you creep, and then boom: you must do your best to capture Pikachu in one of those little pokeballs. A few button clicks later and, hurrah, Pikachu is in your collection. Now, I hear rumour there’s a Bulbasaur near the library the council just closed down. Gotta catch ’em all.

So far, so innocent, unless of course you accidentally walk into a rake, a wall or ensuing traffic, or stop to question the idea that Niantic (the inventors of Pokemon Go) have just populated the entire world with virtual Pokemon without seeking anyone’s permission and without much forethought for the consequences, which include accidental death, robbery and murder. However, it’s no coincidence that the game’s release coincided with the collapse of Western democracy, the EU’s implosion and the rise of yet more extreme right-wing political parties. What a brilliant way to distract people from the mess that is politics by getting them addicted to hunting pixellated animal things (it’s not so much fiddling whilst Rome burns, it’s imaginary creature hunting whilst the world burns). Like most consumer goods it’s a way to soften the blow of capitalism’s inherent destructiveness whilst further lining the pockets of the mega-rich. This is textbook consumer capitalism and we love it. It probably also helps governments keep an eye on the populous, getting us all to wave our phones at each other – the next Jason Bourne movie will probably involve the CIA tracking him via Pokemon Go users and then imprisoning him in a giant red and white ball.

However, there might be something else going on – as more and more people take to the streets with smartphones in hand off to fill Central Park or clamber over the Hiroshima Peace Memorial a critical mass is slowly being reached, enough people to fill streets, block offices and surround the fancy houses of the 1%. Maybe the Pokemon Go inventor isn’t a greedy capitalist after all but a radical anarchist who is soon to initiate that worldwide revolution we’ve all been waiting for – it’s not Charizard we’ll be hunting, it’s the global elite. Maybe Marx will get the last laugh. Either way I just spotted a Voltorb…laterz.

Pokemon Go

Is It Time The Labour Party Got A Divorce?

It seems one thing British political parties need to do right now is act and act quick. The Tories are already rallying around Margaret Thatcher Mark 2 who is prepping to eject the UK from the EU and send us into outer space. Meanwhile, John McDonnell of the Labour Party is calling many in his party “fucking useless” whilst Angela Eagle isn’t offering much in the way of new policies and Jeremy Corbyn keeps missing opportunities to stick it to the Tories. It’s also becoming violent as Eagle recently had a brick thrown through her window. This is highly distressing and the question I’m asking is if Labour, under Corbyn or Eagle, can keep it together?

At the moment it seems like it can’t. I don’t buy all of the hype around the conspiratorial nature of the ‘coup’ and think Corbyn is somewhat deluded to think everyone is out to get him but you don’t have to be a Blairite to be disappointed with some of his actions – I mean, the man took a holiday during the referendum, the single biggest thing to happen in politics since Cameron was accused of putting his willy in a pig’s head. And watching the short VICE documentary on Corbyn’s team ‘doing’ politics is like watching a slow episode of The Thick of It – I thought that programme was supposed to be fictional. But at the same time Corbyn’s is the loudest anti-austerity voice in mainstream politics and it’s clear he’s riled the establishment somewhat given that the media is going all out to render him ‘unelectable’. And the Party putting the membership fee up from ¬£3 to ¬£25 is a nasty joke that reaffirms how out of touch they are with their support base. But it seems many in the Party are falling out irrevocably and don’t want to try and form a unified front, especially if Corbyn is re-elected.

So, maybe that split needs to happen pronto. For those who oppose Corbyn but still advocate neoliberal, capitalist economics maybe they could join the Lib Dems or make a new party with some vague euphemism for a title and continue presenting themselves as the lighter shade of blue option, which Blair began many years ago. I’m not trying to be glib in my analysis of their economics and, boy, do we need a functioning alternative to the Tories, but whilst I think the ‘centre’ ground of politics has just torn itself apart there are plenty of people who still wish to inhabit it (not that neoliberal capitalism can ever really be the ‘centre’ because money will always promote inequality unless suitably contained). Let them have their ‘soft left’ cakes and eat ’em whilst they carry on failing to beat the Tories at their own game. Anyway, Tariq Ali said all this before me in his book The Extreme Centre: A Warning. Meanwhile, the Corbynistas can either keep the Labour Party title or just call themselves Momentum or something. Although I do hope they stop being so violent and hostile toward alternative views because they’ll need to make a lot of new political allies. In fact, the reports of bullying in the Labour Party, stalking, and Corbyn’s refusal to support a secret ballot (so as to protect the identities of those who voted against him) suggest there are still many emotionally immature and unstable people in the Party.

One hundred and thirty-two years ago the Fabian Society was established as a precursor to the Labour Party. At its heart was representing the ‘working man’ and challenging the establishment but this was when there were flourishing working class communities centred around key industries like mining. Those industries no longer exist and work isn’t what it used to be (especially with the rise of automisation), so whilst the ideals of Corbyn’s Labour are still vital (we do need a welfare state and an end to austerity), yesterday’s solutions cannot answer all of today’s problems. We need a lot of big new ideas. But there aren’t any, I hear you cry. Wrong. I know someone’s whose got ’em and her name is Caroline Lucas – y’know, the woman who is always spot on in the things she says but gets basically 0 seconds of media time. Gotta love ’em Greens.

 

The Men Behind It All

It’s been about a year since I started this blog so I thought what better way to celebrate than to reveal the truth behind the lies, to reveal who really is pulling the strings of the global system. Who manipulates politics, economics and business at such a high level that even presidents and prime ministers will do what they ask. Who tips the balances of the capitalist military industrial complex in their favour and reaps the rewards. Who has the odd billion stored in one of many offshore tax havens. Who somehow remain hidden in the shadows.

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Perhaps, like me, you turned to The X-Files to learn the truth – that there is a cabal of wealthy, white men in grey suits who function above the law and collude with aliens to plan world domination. These men are known as the Syndicate – they’re in the picture above – just a bunch of guys in suits hanging out in shadowy rooms smoking cigarettes and drinking tea, the stuff of global conspiracy (fyi, a few X-Files spoilers on the way). The men of the Syndicate work with a bunch of aliens who want to take over the world. The men do all they can to ensure the public never knows about this: they plan and enact elaborate conspiracies to ensure abductees, alien sightings and even alien attacks are all covered up and explained away; they have the military at their disposal; they bribe and threaten government officials; they kill anyone who knows too much and often try to kill FBI agent Fox Mulder (who is always one step away from revealing their dastardly plans). In short, they pull an awful lot of the strings of power. But, the thing is, they do it very badly.

Over and over again these silly, old men make mistakes and let things slip. So many of their secret experiments using alien DNA and alien tech go awry and result in many people needlessly dying. Then they have to clean up the mess and kill anyone who spotted the mess, usually Fox Mulder. To conceal their mistakes they have to spend an awful lot on bribes and concoct exceptionally elaborate cover-up stories (often more ludicrous than the actual alient-based truth). Then they have to kill a few more people, including JFK and Martin Luther King, who threaten the balance of power. They also make a very bad team – they don’t trust each other and frequently lie to one another when they fail to successfully ‘manage’ a ‘situation’. So yeah, they’re the ones behind it all, but they’re also a bunch of idiots.

And there are times when I can’t help but think this is quite a good analogy for the real people behind the real system (unless there is actually an alien-government conspiracy and The X-Files was a documentary, not sci-fi). There’s a certain comfort in believing that a group of super-ruthless intellectuals are playing puppet master to the world’s problems and tipping the capitalist military industrial complex in their favour. And yes, there are certainly people doing this – creating/using multiple tax havens, subsidising environmentally destructive industries whilst undermining sustainable energy, investing/trading in weapons. They often do this because they’re greedy and/or it makes “business sense” (i.e. maximise short-term profit at any expense). But is it a joined-up, super smooth system of conspiracy and collusion, I doubt it, I often just think it’s greedy, insecure, selfish people with far too much power doing what greedy, insecure, selfish people do, namely look out for number one. I can’t imagine it’s actually fun being one of these people (“Hey, darling, how was your day?” “Oh, you know, the usual – I hid lots of our money in an offshore account to avoid taxes and I sold a load of weapons that will be used to kill innocent people.”). Certainly, the Syndicate don’t seem to have much fun as they’re constantly paranoid their nefarious ways will be revealed and they spend a lot of time planning how to kill one another. So, maybe those shady characters in that shady room aren’t quite so clever as the conspiracies would have us believe and, in a way, that makes it worse – such a shame that it’s a bunch of idiots bringing about doomsday far too far in advance.