Think about the future-The UK is a twee nightmare

In the process of reading into the background of Adam Curtis’s recent film, HyperNormalisation, I came across this interview with Curtis and Massive Attack’s Robert Del Naja for Vice that I thought worthy of its own moment in the sunshine. A few paragraphs in particular stood out.

Adam: Robert was absolutely right when he said about most things you go to now being eye candy, there’s absolutely no meaning to it. What we’re trying to get at is that, actually, there is a meaning to all that. That modern contemporary culture is not passive, and that art shows and rock shows might not really be radical and free. They might actually be the complete opposite. Actually the images that you see and the recorded sounds that are endlessly played back to you often are actually quite repressive. They’re a sort of way of keeping us trapped in the past, replaying the past.

In the light of Brexit the idea we’re stuck in a perpetual vision of the past being repacked as the future in order to hold us back, while at the same time trying to replay the perceived glories of the past is real. We’re being fed the idea that post Brexit the UK will trade tea and jam as some twee dystopia lies in front of us.

teajam

Adam: The guiding ideology of our time is: “If you like this, then you will love that”. That basically means, “If you like yesterday we are going to give you more of yesterday so you never get a tomorrow”.

Nostalgia seems to dominate. We never move on, never progress, never find new culture or ideas to grow into. Others have pointed this out often but the more we retreat into twee Hipsterism, safe spaces and dream of a land we never experienced first hand that never actually existed anyhow, we never actually solve anything. That means when politicians occasionally do present a positive vision of the future but one that involves change that dumps the past for a new future it fails because fear of the future is a huge thing some people will not be able to get past.

The UK is turning into a twee nightmare. People retreat to the past to hide from the present and wring their hands saying ”something must be done” while Tweeting hashtags, and in the process doing nothing. We’ve become a dystopia where we’re managed in our jobs and lives yet we never become angry enough to change things because the past traps us for our future.

Bleak isn’t it? We can change though it’ll take work, and perhaps the realities of Brexit might be that impetus for people to wake up enough to get angry enough to change things?

What I thought of HyperNormalisation

HyperNormalisation is the new film by documentary film-maker Adam Curtis. It is the story of the last 40 years and how politics have failed to deal with the modern world, both real and cyber, and how the left have capitulated against the swarm that is capitalism and neo-liberalism. It also about how science fiction has shaped the 21st century as ideas from American and Soviet science fiction have been adopted by major world powers to ensure people are constantly confused and unable to present an attack against right wing politics or present a workable alternative.

It sounds extraordinarily dense. In places it is, but this is probably Curtis’s most straightforward work in some time as there’s a clear line of narrative from the death of politics as we think it still to be (big ideas, politicians with big, brave ideas changing things for the better even against public opinion) to where we are now with politicians acting as managers as banks and corporations actually run things in a system of free market economics. So Curtis plots a path from the broken New York of the the 1970’s, explaining how Donald Trump took advantage of the city’s bankruptcy, through to Patti Smith, Lybia and Syria, while skimming 911, the War on Terror, Tony Blair, the failure of the Occupy movement, Brexit and back to Trump running for president today.

But there’s two bits of SF that are crucial to this. One is the works of William Gibson, the writer of books like Neuromancer and creator of the term cyberspace.The other is a work of Soviet SF called Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky which was later filmed as Stalker. In both the book (which I’ve not read) and the film (which is excellent) there are ”Zones’, sites where reality is always shifting and where people known as ‘Stalkers’ can flit between our world and the Zones. The Stalker in the story was a once idealistic man who lost his faith in the system which has seen him move between the world we know and the world of the Zones where reality is fluid.

The ideas in Roadside Picnic/Stalker were adapted by the government of Vladimir Putin to be used in politics, so Curtis reveals how Putin would fund pro and anti government groups as well as things like anti-Nazi and neo-Nazi groups which meant nobody in Russia knows who is really who, or where the truth is as everything is fluid. Reality is always changing. The left wing/liberal radicals of the 1970’s and 80’s rather than take this on either walked away into Cyberspace or were the roots of the Occupy movement who singularly failed to achieve anything important as by now most people were living in echo chambers as their lives were controlled by algorithms on social media.

The entire thesis of HyperNormalisation is utterly terrifying. Politics has failed, so Prime Ministers and Presidents are now just managers, opposition parties are helping manage expectations and any real radical ideas are doomed to fail when they fall into echo chambers created by the very tools which helped them grow in the first place. Meanwhile the forces of neoliberalism are in control but that things like Brexit and Trump are supposed revolts against the system that’s grown up over the last 40 years but aren’t. Politicians can lie, so take say Boris Johnson. Nothing he says is real. We have no idea what his real position is on anything but he’s created enough confusion to help him achieve his goals yet what exactly are his goals? See also Trump or Farage or any number of politicians who simply cannot be trusted.

Truth is therefore not relevant anymore. We live in a Zone where reality is always shifting, always bending yet the radicals, the liberals and the left can’t fight it because they’re lost in the internet being exposed to only those views that agree with there own so any resistance is futile. We have essentially been assimilated by the Borg.

The world is a big complex thing. Big ideas are complex. Take leaving the EU, that is amazingly complex, but that was reduced to a lie on the side of a bus.

brexitlie

Yet algorithms can’t judge for the utterly unexpected as this clip from the film shows.

Brexit wasn’t supposed to happen. It did. Now we’re seeing people who spent months arguing against it cross into the Zone to support it. We have Theresa May who is going for the hardest Brexit possible yet she was supposed to be in favour of staying. The post-truth world means for one to succeed they have to shed all principles and be open to be assimilated by the new reality. The rest of us arguing against these people struggle because we cling onto principles and ideas while inhabiting echo chambers in our safe spaces meaning we can never know how the other side thinks. All truth is lies. All lies are truth.

We are all trapped in management theory, which is essentially being trapped into a meaningless system we all know is false, meaningless and leads to nothing but we stick to it because it gives us money to do our real job which is to spend that money to keep the economy running, and therefore the entire system working. Supposed radicals rather than imagine a new system, or propose new ideas have become part of that system as much as say, Donald Trump. Yet the veneer of difference; the tattoos, beards, craft beers, Great British Bake Off, is creating a twee playground for people who in past generations would be radicals have retreated into a safe world of hashtags.

Curtis’s vision is grim. It is also massive. I’m only really touching on part of what’s discussed, but for me personally the idea that a Soviet piece of science fiction may well be the thing that shaped the modern world is amazing to think of. What however isn’t taken account of is what’s unleashed by those random events nobody can predict, so Brexit and the increasingly far right politics coming out of it, or Trump’s increasingly unhinged rhetoric in the US. The system is massive and finely tuned, yet it isn’t left wing radicals that’s broken it, it’s the right that’s destroyed it because make no mistake, the system for the UK is now broken and we’re not going to leave til 2019 at least.

HyperNormalisation is a challenging work that’s apart from being Curtis’s most linear work, is also his most accessible in some time. This is a film telling the story of the last 40 years up to a point where things are on the verge of either being sheered up for generations to come, or for the system to collapse in a way that is going to unleash hell for those of us at the eye of the storm. It’s available on iPlayer but I do wish this was on terrestrial TV as it deserves a mainstream audience which helps prove a point that society and culture is retreating into echo chambers and any challenging views are sidelined. It’s nearly three hours of your life. It isn’t a wasted three hours, and in fact probably deserves at least another viewing to take it all in as there’s going to be things I’ve missed, but this is the most important bit of television you’re likely to see this year.

HyperNormalisation: the new film from Adam Curtis

I adore the work of documentary film-maker Adam Curtis which is why I’m excited about his new film,HyperNormalisation, due to be launched on the BBC’s iPlayer tonight. This one is about Donald Trump, Brexit and the system we live in today which is entirely false which we all know is false, but none of us want to admit it.

At 2 hours 46 minutes it promises to be an epic but we need people like Curtis making films that question everything, and well done to the BBC for giving him the time, money and space to essentially do whatever he wants. I can’t imagine ITV or Sky doing that.

So here’s the trailer.

I never find Curtis’s work a chore; far from it, so once I’ve worked through it I’ll give my opinion after watching what promises to be an exceptional work.

What I thought of Bitter Lake

The new Adam Curtis documentary Bitter Lake, is either a stunning new way to tell a narrative of history that many don’t fully know, or is a jumbled hurried mess, and in fact it really depends on how you look at it. As far as I can see there’s three ways to look at it. One is as a pure documentary. Second is as an art piece. Thirdly is as a hybrid of the both, and that’s the only way it works for me, though it’s not without some problems as a piece.

Bitter Lake is a two hours, 17 minute, film that details the role of Afghanistan in global politics, especially the politics of the West, and how deals made by the American government after the Second World War led to the current problems with Islamic extremism. In some ways it’s a companion to the Power of Nightmares but it tells it’s own story through Curtis’s patchwork of news footage, interviews, archive from films, TV and advertising, not to mention footage you wonder just where he gets it from (there’s one scene of fleeing Taliban soldiers that I have no idea how Curtis got his hands on it) but it’s the raw news footage that’s jarring as it enables Curtis to bring down the illusion of what TV news is.

The problem I have though with Bitter Lake isn’t it’s length but the way that Curtis meanders for much of the film at a comfortable pace, and then in the last half hour crams an awful lot in which leaves the viewer in a bit of a sensory overload trying to keep up with the narratives Curtis is tying together. It could have been tighter which would have tightened it up not only as a highly effective documentary, but as a work of art which is what Bitter Lake is. This is documentary as art and you haven’t seen anything quite like it as Curtis tells us this almost fairytale type of story of shady American deals, or Saudi Arabian tyranny, Afghan suffering at the hands of the Russians, Americans, British and Taliban or simple beauty or simple horror. This is something that couldn’t work on mainstream TV in 2015 and that is simply a tragedy, yet well done to the BBC for bankrolling it and giving it a pride of place on iPlayer. I can’t think of any other channel in the UK (bar Channel 4 back in their pomp) that would let a filmmaker do this.

See Bitter Lake, and see it if possible in one sitting uninterpreted. I’ve included the iPlayer link above but this is only online for another three weeks or so, which isn’t a problem as there’s a Youtube version, though who knows how long that stays there?

This is possibly the most important film of the year not only for it’s historical content, but for how Curtis spins his vision. Watch it, you shouldn’t be disappointed

Jon Ronson’s interview with Adam Curtis is essential reading

I consider Jon Ronson one of the finest journalists of the last two decades and Adam Curtis to be our best, and most original documentarians. Reading an interview between the pair then is one of the most fascinating things I’ve read in what has been a great year for current affairs for some good, but mainly awful reasons.

With the recession and austerity now entering it’s seventh year for most of us, reading Curtis and Ronson discuss democracy, and the way our societies have been reshaped, not to mention how debate on all sides of the political spectrum has turned into echo chambers thanks partly to social media and Twitter especially.

With the new Adam Curtis film/documentary, Bitter Lake, due to be available on the BBC’s iPlayer only from the 25th January, this is a taster for that and a reminder that we need voices like Curtis and Ronson in our media as there’s not a lot of intelligent thought in journalism left these days.

Watch Adam Curtis’s latest film from 2014Wipe

Last night saw Charlie Brooker’s annual Wipe review of the year, and as usual, there was a five minute or so segment by the documentary maker Adam Curtis. This year it’s essential viewing especially with an election coming up in five months and the entire concept of power being questioned itself.

So here it is, watch, learn and enjoy.

Activism V Slacktivism

Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno is a forthcoming cannibal film which pays a massive homage to one of his, and one of my favourite films, Cannibal Holocaust. I’ve not seen The Green Inferno yet but I don’t have this low opinion of Roth that most people have as I liked the first Hostel and the second one may veer all over the place script wise, but it’s a very well directed film which looks lovely. Roth also did one of the fake trailers for Grindhouse which is still hilariously brilliant no matter how often one watches it, so here again is the Thanksgiving trailer.

One of the things I like about Roth is that he tries to insert politics into his work, ok, it’s often simplistic but I’m hard pushed to think of any other mainstream American director who makes the point that America, and Americans don’t know the world they live in, or do they especially care about seeing the world through anything but their own eyes. Like I said, Roth does it in a simplistic way, but it’s there, especially in the first Hostel film.

The plot of The Green Inferno as quoted from it’s IMDB page is….

A group of student activists travel from New York City to the Amazon to save a dying tribe but crash in the jungle and are taken hostage by the very natives they protected.

 

The idea is that a group of ‘slacktivists‘ actually try to do something but face the reality of the people they tried to protect. Having not seen it, I can’t comment on the film but Roth makes an interesting point in this interview with the Toronto Sun.

“People see something on Twitter, they look at the hashtag, and retweet it and think that’s enough. I really started to notice this around the Kony 2012 campaign.”

 

Roth makes a good point. There’s far too many people who think that retweeting a hashtag is actually going to save the world, or that a Twitter campaign, or even a boycott will change attitudes, or even change the world. Kony 2012 was the best example of a huge campaign which changed utterly nothing, and ended up with the organiser making a bit of a wanker of himself as Roth points out.

“Absolutely nothing got changed by Kony 2012,” Roth continues. “Everyone suddenly caring about this warlord that the government knew about for years because it was on Facebook. And then a few weeks later the leader of Invisible Children was on the street masturbating in broad daylight. That was one big masturbatory exercise that led to absolutely nothing.

“So I wanted to make a movie where kids like that get their asses handed to them … literally.”

 

In the case of Kony the organisers, Invisible Children, made $20 million from the campaign which has resulted in Joseph Kony still carrying on, with the situation being as bad as ever.

The argument could be that these sort of campaigns raise awareness, which is true, but often this is filtered through a very Western, very middle class viewpoint which strips complex situations into basic and simple good and bad, black and white rather than the complicated geopolitical socioeconomics that really drives events around the world. It’s easier to understand a hashtag and retweet it than actually take the time and effort to understand the background of something. The vision is that that people, not to mention the media try to create a narrative to fit their own view of the world. The brilliant documentary maker Adam Curtis made a short film about this, and called it Oh Dearism. It’s an essential bit of viewing.

As Curtis says, we watch news programmes and feel helpless and depressed, so we try to act so we can help, which means in 2013 Tweeting a hashtag or liking a post on Facebook,which makes people think they’re somehow caring enough to carry on without making any serious effort to help a particular situation.

This isn’t to say that spreading information or raising awareness isn’t a good thing, it is, but in the context of many of the campaigns it’s often a bad thing which can have depressing side effects, or as Roth says, it sometimes ends up being this huge masturbatory exercise, not to mention it can make the organisers an awful lot of money, not to mention there’s the other side effect that it makes the leaders of these campaigns celebrities which moves the focus from the campaign itself, to the celebrity.

Actually getting up and doing something to help is hard. Campaigning is hard. I’ve done it in the past for CND, and for the Anti Nazi League, and frankly it’s a chore. It’s often not rewarding, not to mention sometimes it’s painful.You won’t really change the world by sitting on your arse being more aware of things thanks to a Twitter campaign, though you might win small victories, the bigger picture isn’t going to change when you get enough likes from people who only know the most superficial picture in regards a cause, though the superficial ‘liberal hippy’ cliche is more than a myth but I’ll expand on this another time.

Social media is a great way to disseminate information so people can understand more about the world, but the effects has led people to becoming lazy which doesn’t deny the good work that say, the likes of UK Uncut do, but essentially it’s about ensuring that activism doesn’t slide into something which isn’t going to help the cause it’s supposed to help.

As for The Green Inferno, I look forward to it’s gut-ripping antics immensely and hope it lives up to the likes of Cannibal Holocaust. It does have to have a wonderfully exploitative poster too!