Adam Curtis is one of the best filmmakers on planet earth. Every time a new film of his comes out we write about it because they're always important. Now he actually made a short one for us to help promote his new BBC project. You can read more about Adam and his work here, here and here.
No one talks about power these days. We are encouraged to see ourselves as free, independent individuals not controlled by anybody, and we despise politicians as corrupt and empty of all ideas.
But power is all around us. It's just that it has shifted and mutated into a massive system of management and control, whose tentacles reach into all parts of our lives. But we can't see it because we still think of power in the old terms – of politicians telling us what to do.
The aim of the film I have made – HyperNormalisation – is to bring that new power into focus, and show its true dimensions. It ranges from a giant computer high up in the mountains of northeast America that manages and controls over 7 percent of the worlds total wealth, to the complex algorithms that constantly monitor every move and choice you make online, to modern scientific ideas about what the normal human being should be – in the their weight and in their feelings and moods.
What links all these systems is an overriding aim is to keep the world stable. To avoid all change. The giant computer constantly compares events happening around the world to events in the past. If it sees a dangerous pattern, it immediately adjusts its trillions of dollars to keep things stable. That is real power. The algorithms on social media constantly look at the patterns of what you like and then feed you more of that – so you enter into an echo chamber that constantly feeds you back to you. So again nothing changes – and you learn nothing new that would contradict how you feel. That too is real power.
What results is a system which cocoons us and makes us feel safe. And that means we have become terrified of all change. But that fear of change is in the interest of a system that wants to hold everything stable. And stops us from ever challenging it.
But it is impossible to keep things frozen forever. The world is dynamic. Things happen that you can never predict just by reading the past. This is why more and more we are being hit by events – the horror in Syria, Brexit, Trump, the waves of refugees – that neither we nor our leaders have the mental map to understand let alone deal with. Because we have bought into the dream that the world can be held stable and safe.
The short film I have made for VICE is about how, if you pull back and look at the everyday life all around you, you can see the cracks appearing through the shiny surface of the cocoon we are living in. So much of the modern world is beginning to feel odd, unreal and sometimes fake. I think these are the dynamic forces outside beginning to pierce through as the system begins to fail.
It will fail – because a system of power that has no vision of the future can never last. It cannot deal with change. We have to begin to look outside. Because there is more out there...
'HyperNormalisation' is available on BBC iPlayer from the 16th of October, at 9PM.
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