Review of Adam Curtis’s new movie ‘Hypernormalisation’

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Posted Oct 26 2016 by Dave Darby of Lowimpact.org
From the film Hypernormalisation by Adam Curtis

Adam Curtis has a new movie out – Hypernormalisation, about how, due to ‘perception management’, what we see as ‘normal’ is anything but – and you can see it for free on BBC iPlayer. I don’t think you need to rush – his last movie, Bitter Lake, was on iPlayer for what seemed like a couple of years, instead of the usual 7-30 days. I don’t know if Curtis has some leverage over the BBC, but I’m not complaining – I find his movies highly entertaining.

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This one is a familiar romp through a list of namedrops as apparently diverse as Donald Trump, the Occupy movement, UFOs, the Arab Spring, LSD, banks, Gaddafi, Khomenei, artificial intelligence, cyberspace, 9-11, Prozac, Reagan, Putin, Assad (senior and junior), and how Black Rock / Aladdin are attempting to manage risks for the global financial system.

There are, as in all Curtis’s movies, some riveting anecdotes woven throughout the film, for example:

How Donald Trump was bankrupted in Atlantic City by a Japanese gambler called Kashiwagi who apparently couldn’t lose, so Trump hired the services of a gambler with a photographic memory, who devised a game that Kashiwagi couldn’t resist, but in this case lost 10 million dollars. However, he was killed by the Yakuza before he could pay his debt, thus bankrupting Trump, and pushing him in the direction of ‘celebrity tycoon’, which these days includes the position of US president.

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How the Ayatollah Khomenei introduced suicide bombing as a weapon against the West, even though suicide is forbidden in the Quran, and how Assad senior in Syria successfully used this tactic, with a Hezbollah truck bomb in a US marine base in Lebanon in 1983, killing 241 Americans – then how suicide bombing was taught to Hamas by Hezbollah, and how Hamas carried out suicide bomb attacks against civilians for the first time – something new to Sunni Islam, which was to result in the election of Benyamin Netanyahu, 9-11, ISIS and a new kind of war that can’t be defeated conventionally.

How ‘perception management’ works – using Colonel Gaddafi as an example. He became a convenient scapegoat for everything after the fall of communism, because the US needed a ‘baddie’ to unite against, and how he revelled in his status as international super-villain, even though his country had the population of Wales in the 1980s. And how he was eventually re-invented as a hero by Bush and Blair when they needed to show that the invasion of Iraq could transform Arab countries; how he destroyed non-existent weaponry and confessed to the Lockerbie bombing to get sanctions lifted and to cement the new relationship; and how the uprising was supported by the West and he became a ‘tyrant’ again.

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And this one – which would be hilarious if it weren’t so horrific – how an MI6 agent reported to the British government that a trusted source in Iraq had sent information about nerve agents developed by Saddam, and contained in hollow glass spheres, although no such technology existed, apart from fictionally – notably in a 1996 movie called ‘The Rock’ starring Nicholas Cage and Sean Connery, that the informant had obviously seen.

And many more fascinating snippets, as usual. But how are these things connected?

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For me, the underlying theme, and the foundation of what Curtis is saying is that the War on Terror and ‘perception management’ generally have been used to facilitate a transfer of power, from the political system to the finance sector, made easier by young people’s retreat from politics into a largely online world of social media and self-absorption, fuelled by a very real recognition that governments no longer exist to try to improve the world, but to manage the risks of capitalism, and to make it easier for banks and corporations to make profit, by:

  • rolling out the red carpet for corporations – allowing them to avoid tax, employ sweatshop labour, create oligopolies etc.
  • inviting the corporate sector into the decision-making process – what’s good for the corporate sector is good for all of us, after all
  • embracing trade deals, like TPP, TTIP, CETA etc. that hand greater powers to the corporate sector, including the ability to sue governments that introduce policies that threaten its profits
  • crushing dissent from rebel governments like Syriza
  • spying on us and crushing dissent from individuals too
  • allowing them to dominate international institutions like the WTO, World Bank, EU (via the European Round Table of Industrialists), UN (via the Global Redesign Initiative) etc.
  • bringing countries into the EU that are not ready economically, resulting in a flood of cheap labour into Western Europe
  • deregulating their activities so that there is no oversight of corrupt activities
  • and finally, by bailing them out with taxpayers’ money when they inevitably fail

These are my points, not Curtis’s, and they’re not comprehensive – I’m sure you can think of many more. People power has begun to fight back against corporate ambition – notably TTIP and the EU, but what it’s also done is to split people, and many are being labelled racist for objecting to their wages being driven down when they’re already financially insecure.

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I’d suggest that we avoid splitting into the traditional lef-right camps if we are to challenge corporate power effectively. I’m from the left, but recognise that there are plenty on the right who understand the danger of untrammelled corporate power, and that the left is missing the point, with its current emphasis on identity politics and political correctness, and its social media campaigns that enrich corporations like Facebook, but don’t reach Trump supporters or potential supporters because of the algorithms that ensure that social media users only ever get to see messages that they already agree with. Even if we split on social issues, we can unite to counter corporate power, which prevents both liberty and equality.

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About Adam Curtis – he points out that the Occupy movement was not built around an idea for change, but around an idea about how to manage things. For me, the thing that is missing with the Occupy movement (and with Adam Curtis) is the lack of an idea to take power from the corporate sector, and without that, power will (obviously) remain with the corporate sector – they’re not going to give it up if they don’t have to. However, I criticised Jeremy Paxman for insisting that Russell Brand have a blueprint for a new society before denouncing this one, so I’m not about to do the same to Curtis, who has said that the most likely source of a new idea is left-libertarianism. I have to agree – specifically from market anarchism, and more specifically, from Proudhon-inspired mutualism. I’d go so far as to say that nothing else can.

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