Delving Into HyperNormalisation

Acclaimed documentarian Adam Curtis is at it again with HyperNormalisation, another stab at explaining the many forces responsible for the confounding state of our present world. Hyperallergic has a fascinating analysis of Curtis’s latest project and pulls this frightening / enlightening quote from the documentary’s narration:

The liberals were outraged by Trump, but they expressed their anger in cyberspace — so it had no effect. The algorithms made sure it only spoke to people who already agreed with them. Instead, ironically, their waves of angry messages and tweets benefited the large corporations who ran the social media platforms. As one analyst put it, ‘angry people click more.’ It meant that the radical fury that came like waves across the Internet no longer had the power to change the world.

Going a bit off path (if you’ll indulge me, as this is primarily a music biz blog), we can also read this as a warning against putting all of one’s promotional efforts into social media. There are indeed many potential listeners to reach through, say, Facebook but there are limits. And those limits – determined by an algorithm you can’t control, and reaching into a bubble of the already converted – won’t give your project much expansion outside of your current circle. It’s low hanging fruit in the short term as you’re hitting those who are into ‘similar music’ (at least those that pay attention to Facebook), but once that’s exhausted there’s nowhere to go, at least organically. Your own site and outside promotional efforts should always be a focus, with social media simply a tool to point the way. Treat social media like another – albeit quite effective – form of newsletter, instead applying the bulk of your energy where it matters and potentially affecting more people.

But I digress. HyperNormalisation is fantastic though IMO not as masterful (or convincing) as 2015’s Bitter Lake. But that’s a high bar, and HyperNormalisation is effective and affecting, with many brilliant examples of Curtis’s hallmark montages and expert music selections working in tandem to wordlessly implant his message. I watched it before the presidential election and its themes continue to haunt (and scar) my thoughts afterwards. If you’re in the UK you can view HyperNormalisation now on the BBC iPlayer. If you’re not, have a look on YouTube and you might just see it pop up now and again.

Artspace recently interviewed Adam Curtis, focusing on HyperNormalisation‘s assertion that a rise in individualism (epitomized in the film by Patti Smith and the ’70s NYC art scene) created an un-unified weakness in liberal movements.

{Curtis:} We look back at past ages and see how things people deeply believed in at the time were actually a rigid conformity that prevented them from seeing important changes that were happening elsewhere. And I sometimes wonder whether the very idea of self-expression might be the rigid conformity of our age. It might be preventing us from seeing really radical and different ideas that are sitting out on the margins – different ideas about what real freedom is, that have little to do with our present day fetishization of the self. The problem with today’s art is that far from revealing those new ideas to us, it may be actually stopping us from seeing them.

This might be quite a difficult one to get over, but I think this is really important: however radical your message is as an artist, you are doing it through self-expression – the central dominant ideology of modern capitalism. And by doing that, you’re actually far from questioning the monster and pulling the monster down. You’re feeding the monster. Because the more people come to believe that self-expression is the end of everything, is the ultimate goal, the more the modern system of power becomes stronger, not weaker.

That whole Artspace interview is a mindfuck, as is pretty much Adam Curtis’s entire output. If this is new to you then prepare yourself for the rabbit hole.

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