We need an inspiring picture of the future: Adam Scott and HyperNormalisation, pt I

Today I’d like to share and comment on this review by of Adam Scott’s documentary HyperNormalisation by Phil Harrison in The Quietus, a British publication I’ve never heard of before and am delighted to find in it signs of intelligent life. I plan on watching the movie itself later tonight and writing about it soon. Why?

Authority figures, it posits, have run out of credible stories to tell their sceptical subjects. Fake folk devils and implausible solutions abound but have lost their potency. Every innovation – from pseudo-subversive pop culture to apparently emancipatory technological developments – feeds back to nothing. Worse still, the innovations are co-opted and become part of the problem. The suspicion of sinister hidden hands on the tiller has been replaced by an even more disconcerting sense that no one is steering anymore because no one can now imagine a worthwhile possible destination.

In the 1950s and ’60s, people loved envisioning the future. There was Star Trek and Kubrick’s 2001. Check out how the Ford corporation pictured the year 1999. Today, however, our idea of the future looks excruciatingly dystopic, with Black Mirror exemplifying our grim technological expectations.

As the world become more inexplicable, could we be about to enter an age of algorithmic inbreeding, where the emergent Netflix model throws up more and more variations on familiar minor themes for a captive audience and less and less that might startle or discomfort?

Twitter and Facebook long abandoned chronological timelines, opting to display information that their algorithm believes to be important to me––based on marketing and demographic research engineered to get you to buy (which occasionally gets insidiously branded as “get involved” or “take action” re: political involvement).

Not even Adam Curtis’s sternest critics could fairly accuse him of a reluctance to engage with the big ideas. Which is why he often feels like a throwback to a more adventurous TV age. And yet in a wider sense, is he really swimming against the tide? Maybe not. In our post-truth times, it could be argued that Curtis himself is just another master manipulator. His array of jump cuts and abrupt narrative jack-knifes arouse the suspicion that perhaps he’s simply the ultimate post-modernist; piecing together a diverting collage out of various picaresque shards of recent history and presenting it as the truth.

“What does subversion look like anymore?” is the bemoaning attitude I get from this critique, which says more about an artistic crisis than a political one. Does it matter? Different media entities constructs their own truth, which get validated by people in government. I can understand, however, that even without yet seeing this documentary, I know it’s going to be a cynical, hyperliterate, and therefore susceptible to accusations of pretensions and inaccessibility. But that reality, a reality I wish to live in, is far more preferable than a President-elect who won’t listen to intelligence briefings.

Does Adam Curtis deal in the truth? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps the whole point is that increasingly, there’s no such thing. Instead, he deals in a truth. It’s a more reliable but harder to swallow truth than The Bank or The Met or Britain’s Hardest Workers or anything else that the BBC is currently offering can bring itself to acknowledge. It’s that no one knows anything.  

Eggheads and poindexters are in for a wilder ride in 2017. You could see cracks in the foundation when postmodern academics and artists started arguing that nothing is true, which I’ve always angrily replied in my head, “Then how do planes stay in the sky?”But truth be told, I don’t know much about philosophy, so I’m going to educate myself this week!

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