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HyperNormalisation (2016) [video] (thoughtmaybe.com)
301 points by cliffy on Feb 9, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 136 comments



The closing arguments of this documentary, where the author brings the timeframe to the present, that talk about the reinforcement of content across groups in social networks, are incredibly poignant and relevant to the 'fake news' effect that currently sits at the forefront of the media's attention.

It's scary how, as social networks' power gains more influence and accuracy, the lens through which we view content on the web will be narrowed and focussed. So much so, that coupled with the above 'fake news', is responsible for members of the public 'only seeing what they would want to see' - and not questioning the credibility of the source material.

We, as technologists, must work hard to strive towards an objective web. I think that fake news is just the beginning of a veil of blurriness that will flow over internet content.

It therefore strikes me as surprising that Facebook has started a 'flagging' system for fake content[0] — when it relies on the above positive feedback loops of users with shared interests.

[0] - http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/38827101/how-facebook-...


I don't understand why everyone is going around talking about 'fake news' and 'alternative facts' and these other stupid terms. They're called lies and misinformation and propaganda. Call them what they are.


I agree, and I can't imagine how much Chomsky is cringing about it right now[0]. But the sad truth is that psychological phenomena only become identifiable by the general public once they've entered our lexicon under catchy names, i.e. 'fake news'.

I recently help but couldn't feel confused why 'fake news' is a new concept to people; why is everyone going on about it when (as you say) we've been subject to propaganda for as long as we can remember?

I think it largely comes down to social media and how (as other commenters have pointed out) its utterly widespread use only now warrants the spread of misinformation as 'propaganda' — because it reaches so many people these days. The Internet™ was — to a layman — seen as ubiquitous with truth and objectivity... and now that it suddenly (well, duh) transpires that our social network feeds are chock-full of misleading content from untrustworthy sources — everyone's going nuts about it.

[0] - http://www.salon.com/2017/01/03/noam-chomsky-you-cant-educat...

--Edit, added Chomsky source, as proof-of-cringe


> I recently help but couldn't feel confused why 'fake news' is a new concept to people; why is everyone going on about it when (as you say) we've been subject to propaganda for as long as we can remember?

See "Yellow Journalism" for the late 1890s as an example. This country has literally been dealing with "fake news" since the invention of the printing press.


Propaganda has always been around, along with sensationalism by MSM as anybody who's ever read about themselves in a paper can tell you. What is new is Clickbait news, which has different motivations and different effects. After seeing the virality of memes clickbait is now being used as propaganda to blur the truth by burying it and that is what I'd call fake news.


I was under the impression that "fake news" was originally referring to the phenomenon of "satire" websites that would publish click bait headlines with semi-convincing stories. "Obama signs executive order banning handguns" that sort of thing. The motivation to do so seemed to be financial but there could be social impacts to.

It seems to have been rapidly adopted as a term to also include "opinions/interpretations I disagree with" - or in some cases "accurate things I wish weren't true".

I think lies, misinformation and propaganda underplay the essentially chaotic nature of a lot of this stuff. An evil mastermind at work is seductive as an idea because the solution is just punching. I don't see any evidence that that is the truth though.


>I was under the impression that "fake news" was originally referring to the phenomenon of "satire" websites that would publish click bait headlines with semi-convincing stories. "Obama signs executive order banning handguns" that sort of thing. The motivation to do so seemed to be financial but there could be social impacts to.

Kind of. Before it became (for lack of a better word) a meme, it essentially meant literally what it says: news website that published fake articles. This is what the British tabloids have been doing for decades, for what it's worth.

After the US presidential election, it quickly became a buzzword referring to the sorts of websites that posted articles that aren't just misleading but are actively made up and are presented as being true. These were mostly very, very right-wing Trump-supporting websites.

>It seems to have been rapidly adopted as a term to also include "opinions/interpretations I disagree with" - or in some cases "accurate things I wish weren't true".

By the alt-right, yes. Trump and his supporters immediately co-opted the term to mean 'things I don't like', which Trump regularly applies to CNN, which is certainly not fake news by any reasonable definition.

I don't really think that fake news is particularly chaotic. It's intentionally misleading, intentionally biased, intentionally targeted towards peoples' rasher emotions.


CNN is "certainly not fake news" in the sense that the articles aren't wholly made up. However, I've seen many an article where an inflammatory headline was not directly addressed anywhere in the content of the article. I suppose that kind of thing is merely "clickbait", but I consider it disqualifying for a news agency that wants to be taken seriously.


I mostly agree, but would like to share a counter-anecdote.

When I was growing up my parents would take 'weekend drives'. They would look at architecture, comment on things from tree species to historical events in the area. And they would listen to talk radio. Most of the time, I'd be fighting nausea in the back seat. For a very long time I had a very strong association between talk radio and actual nausea.

About a decade ago a friend introduced me to Car Talk on NPR. Car Talk isn't jornalism or news, but it was very entertaining. It became my 'gateway drug' to NPR. I added Wait, Wait, Donn't Tell Me to the my list (again, not journalism, but definitely newsy), and now NPR's morning line-up, including actual journalism) is a regular part of my workday routine.

So, sometimes the clickbaity, not really news pieces can gently introduce people to the real deal.

(apologies for any typos: phone response)


"As any sorcerer will tell you, if you know the name of a spirit, you have power over it" -- Gerry Sussman, SICP

* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dlbMuv-jix8#t=12m50s

Many/most of the general population seem to think "propaganda" only happens to other people, somewhere else, under a dictatorship, in Russia or North Korea for example. In contrast, many/most think the TV/media outlets they watch/consume (and most closely identify with) are the real news -- the true/fair/balanced/accurate news -- while the "other news" channels are "extreme" (MSNBC vs FOX NEWS) or "fake" (now ascribed to CNN).

It's supposed to be illegal for the USG to use propaganda against its own citizens. Curiously the "Lobbying Restriction" in the US tax code for IRS 501(c)(3) describes lobbying as "carrying on propaganda or otherwise attempting to influence legislation": http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/26/501.shtml.

Call it propaganda, lies, manipulation, population control, fake news, the matrix, whatever -- I think the significance here is the general population now has a name for it. It resonates. It's gone viral. And now that it's entered the general lexicon and has become a real, legitimate topic of conversation, people will begin to see what's been hiding in plain sight. As the idea propagates through the system and gains strength, the veil will lose power as the curtain fades away.

The question to ask is: What happens next?


>Call them what they are.

You're overlooking a phenomenon in living language where people want to label something specific and the existing term is too general. People want the extra connotations[1] in the more specific term.

- too general: "lies" (could mean anything from a child's "fib" about eating a cookie or advertiser's false claims about their product)

- more specific: "fake news" (which is a subset of "lies") The "fake news" has extra connotation of transmission via media (news, social websites, etc).

If we all decided to always use the word "lies" to describe every variation of lies, we'd end up with cumbersome noun phrases and/or hyphenated combinations. E.g. "social-newsfeed-lies" or "news media for profit lies". Maybe some people really prefer to have the taxonomy of language embedded in the noun phrases (a linguistic form of Hungarian Notation?!?).

Consider the wiki page on "fake news"[2]. Should the wiki editors delete that entire page and simply redirect all search queries of "fake news" to the main page titled "Lie"?[3] If so, a shade of meaning that was embedded in the term "fake news" would be lost in the process. (If you move the "fake news" from having it's own separate wiki to a subordinate heading within "Lie" article, that still acknowledges that "fake news" is a term with wide currency.)

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connotation

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fake_news

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lie


Because calling them by their actual name takes the axle out of the hitched policy wagon for top down control of information systems.


Problem, especially in politics is that lies, misinformation and propaganda are often ment as facts, information and of interest to the public. The primary thing which defines what they are is ones political view.


But those are big words and they sound so harsh!


I thought 'fake news' was just comedy?


Indeed and most news is mostly fake/manufactured anyway. Distinctions lie in degree and intent only.


'Most news is mostly fake'? What?


That campaign is working.


Exactly, propaganda is from the last century. Why try to convince when you can discourage and confuse?


I seem to have forgotten the place where they discovered the much feared Saddam's WMDs that we went to an expensive war for. Surely you can help.


When everyone has such free access to content which shares and affirms their views, then even without publishers/facebook/whoever pushing targeted content this effect sort of happens regardless of if it's an algorithm pushing content or people simply choosing what to read/not read -- doesn't it?

Objective/Non-Biased content is great and essential, but I fear we're in the minority as people who consume content from both 'sides' of any given issue.

That makes me think if people naturally flow towards content which affirms their views/biases, how much blame can we put on sites for displaying 'relevant' content to such a users if they simply ignore content which goes against their views anyway?

Can you blame facebook that a hardcore trump supporter doesn't click on an article about how beneficial obamacare is simply because an algorithm knew they wouldn't have clicked on it anyway. for not showing it?

We're all going into little silos, I'm not really sure how to fix that.. Perhaps this is a natural evolution.. If it is, it seems we're being outnumbered by isolationists lately, though..


Reminds me of what Scott Alexander said, that "the closer you come to true freedom of association, the closer you get to a world where everyone is a member of more or less the community they deserve".

http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/06/07/archipelago-and-atomic-...


FWIW I had to unfollow more than few people on twitter in last few months. These folks were getting so bitter and filthy because liberal-progressive ideas were not resonating with popular politics across the world. Before that they would have something funny, interesting to say but lately they were all consumed with 'alternate facts', 'post truths' and so on.

I have come to conclusion all this logical sophistication is fine cover when events were happening the way these people liked else the world is going to hell.


Yep, people bitching or being super partisan are good grounds for dropping them from your circle(s) -- what I've not worked out yet is: was everyone so polarised already as you suggest (and simply had no reason to behave in this way as, if it's as you say they are only being vocal now that their views no longer match where global events seem to be taking us)? -- or is something going on which is making us all more militant in our views?

Reading only news which matches your views over a longer period seems to be making us all more aggressive/silo'd in our views..

It's pretty worrying, I'm not sure I can even have a reasonable discussion with someone who disagrees with me on any political topic which would end in a productive outcome anymore -- is it just me or does it seem that as a whole we're becoming more dismissive of others views and just shouting over each other, avoiding any challenges to the views we hold personally and then retreating back into our strongholds of those who agree with us?

edit: mef


I think they were always polarized but most of the time they had something interesting to say. What I was unaware before they would have such bad meltdown because of events across the world. I would think in the past people would get angry, say something and move on to other stuff.

I am just no longer interested in erudites who display such shallow understanding of human nature and world events but nonetheless whine whole day, whole year about how world is going to hell.

Nowadays I stick to tech, philosophy, Netflix etc. Though on netflix I notice how simplistic the social/political views of characters are even in shows with fantastic production values.


When thing are going well, people have fun and tell happy jokes. When things are going poorly, and getting treacherous, people get serious and tell bitter jokes.

I come to the conclusion all this logical sophistication is fine cover when people don't bother you with their problems, else the world is unentertaining for you.


If it were their problem it would be fine I guess but they were claiming it is world's problem. On personal level they seem doing well: doing PhDs, launching startups, taking pictures of fine food and places and so on. It is their ideology which is consuming them.

I mean I am no fan of any flavor of politicians or groups but I do not believe someone is 'uniquely evil', 'specially dangerous' but getting lot of public support.


I would agree if we were talking about center-right or center-left politicians, where the biggest criticism is "being too much like the previous person".

Trump, for example, lost the popular vote and seems to anger many of the people who voted for him. The only voices of support we hear are from Vladimir Putin and Marine Le Pen.

People are afraid and feel the impulse to do what they can to counter what is happening right now.

On a tangential note, I would recommend the 1995 French (fiction) movie "La Haine" (Hate). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Haine


Thanks, I will check that movie.

You say:

> The only voices of support we hear are from Vladimir Putin and Marine Le Pen.

I imagine It is same thing that somehow who voted for Trump were more than who were claiming to be supporter of Trump. There will be more leaders who are neutral or agree with Trump but would prefer to just keep quiet.

For example I notice a lot of support for Trump in India apart from a small section of elite who are ideologically opposed or IT workers/companies who are hopeful or dependent on US visas.


That frustration and cynicism is basically the (predictable) result of being protected from actual discourse with people actually disagreeing with them. Now those people are in power, and it's not possible anymore to hide from the fact that they and their views exist.


Given how our brains work, and the basic tenents of communication, is there such thing as objective content?

If I write an article about global warming, is it biased to not present the "denial" angle? Is it biased to present the denial angle with the same weight as the "scientific" angle?

Everything is tainted by this to some degree.


If you present scientific evidence and then correctly draw conclusions, then - assuming quality data sources - the only thing that's biased in your article is reality itself.

Truth doesn't lie in the middle, nor does it care about politics.


Almost all conclusions are drawn from a certain set of assumptions.

For example, the Affordable Care Act is in place, but costs are still rising. Some people think that this is because it's not "enough socialism". Others think it's because of "too much socialism".

You could list facts, but people are not looking for raw data, they're looking for analysis. How do you analyze this "objectively"?

Even if the content is objective in the sense of reality, many people will say it's not objective. And public opinion of "objective" sources are usually those that play to the both sides fallacy.

Going back to GGP's thing, people read what they want to read. What if you just happen to be right? Like, what if the "liberal echo bubble" is "actually" the truth? does this problem go away?

I think objectivity is hard to maintain, but objectivity + belief of objectivity in the public eye is probably impossible.


> How do you analyze this "objectively"?

At the very least, an acknowledgement of conflicting ideas would go a long way to gaining the trust of those who may have disagreeing opinions. Give me two partisan views of the same topic, and one author points out a summary of the conflicting ideas of their "opponent" while the other is silent, if I am on the fence on the issue I am going to have more trust in the opinions of the party who was transparently honest.

I'm not seeing much of this from anyone these days.


Instead of seeking unbiased information, it's better to seek out information with biases you disagree with. Too many people are exposed to the "other side" through the lens of their own pundits, rather then going to the highest quality arguments that oppose their views.

I personally can't feel confident in my views until I have heard and understood the motivation and arguments for all sides.


I haven't put much thought into this idea, but I think social media degenerates into bubbles is because its form of communication (asynchronous broadcast to close social circles) has never really been available massively until very recently. It's a form of communication that has no real-world analog, especially impersonal actions such as liking a post.

I doubt people will ever understand how to use social media properly, since there's no incentive or mechanisms to self-correct - "sharing" is much harder when you actually have to look at other people's reactions face to face. Sure, on social media you could get in a flame war with someone who shares fake news or has a different viewpoint than you, but it's extremely unlikely that it will have any effect.

For now the conclusion I've reached is that social media should be considered harmful, so I've deleted my Facebook account, and encourage everyone else to do the same. There are more than enough substitutes available for humans to communicate with each other.


We've had something similar for millennia, but back then fake news was called gossip or rumor.

The same phenomenon that causes these fake articles to go viral is the same thing that makes rumors and gossip travel so quickly through social circles. I think it comes from a need for self-preservation. Like 'ya that's probably not true, but I better pay attention just in case'.

The neat thing about social media is that it formalizes social circles such that they can become measured and analyzed. We might actually be able to get ahead of things like racist theories or fascist propaganda, but the technology is still in its adolescence.


When I was at the BBC, I always resisted moves towards "personalized" news, which of course was something the technology made possible and could be the USP of web news delivery.

My argument was that I go to the BBC of all places to get The News, not My News.


I actually rather like reading sites where I strongly disagree with the views typically expressed there (e.g. order-order.com) as I'd rather know what people think even if I don't agree with it.


Same. Very interesting reading events as described in the theguardian.com and then its foxnews.com equivalent.


That would make a fun site - link to the same event across multiple media sites to give that multi-perspective view.

A Rotten Tomatoes for news!


Education is the bastion of critical and objective thinking. The real solution is too teach our youth to be said thinkers of independent minds.


This is about the most depressing 2+ hours of docu I've watched in the last few years, but simply because this is all stuff we kinda knew already but in a disjointed way presented in one hit..

It contains many thoughts/things that I (and I suspect 'we') have had about where we are, and how we got here, but seeing them altogether in one condensed form was quite hard to take in. It's rather hard to hear our story in this form.. I'll give it another watch soon.

For all the feelings of helplessness it inspires, I highly rate it and would suggest it to anyone. It's on iPlayer (for the brits here) for the next 200 days or something...

I really hope we are not running out of people like Adam Curtis, I'm not really sure of anyone else producing content like this which is so accessible -- would love to hear any suggestions on more content like this besides chomsky and dan carlin's podcast which are my other two favourite opinion content i put beside this in my virtual bookshelf :}

tl;dr -- watch it, but be forewarned you can't 'unwatch' it and, at least for me, it can be a bit much to deal with in one go.


I found it one part hopelessness and one part empowerment. The dream of the internet isn't gone yet and we're still the early pioneers and settlers. We have a lot of work to do but the field of power is wide open to us, if we choose to take it.

Fantastic documentary. Curtis is a genius.


Great interview with Adam Curtis (HyperNormalisation's creator) on Chapo Trap House (a leftist comedy podcast which has been my primary source of sanity since November 8th):

https://soundcloud.com/chapo-trap-house/episode-65-no-future...


I love Chapo and this interview had me buzzing for days after I heard it, it's one of the best calls to action for left politics I've ever heard. If anyone new to the show likes this, I recommend you start with episode 2 after this, since the show relies on a lot of running jokes (episode 1 is basically just a throwaway where they talk about how they want to organize the show). Highly recommend it though, one of the best podcasts I've listened to in a while.


I've been binging on the show as well, and much as I enjoyed Adam Curtis', I found especially the beginning of the interview extremely frustrating because he seemed to be repeating the same thing over and over again.

Other than that the episode about Dinesh D'Souza is one of the funniest things I've listened to in a while!


Binge-listening to their back catalog was my Christmas pleasure. Matt Christman's hyper-articulate rants are superb. But for newbies I always recommend episode 3. I will never not laugh at the image of impressionable young Harvard student Ross Douthat being lured onto William F Buckley's yacht for some midnight skinnydipping.


I've been recommending this to people who don't have time to dive in to Curtis' work. It's a great introduction to his thinking.


I wonder how many gray wolves there are on HN.


This thing of turning fan bases into named tribes weirds me out. Yet another sign most people just want a club to belong to, and actual principles don't matter.


For what it's worth, Chapo's use of "Gray Wolves" is dripping with irony, and was coined with conscious and deliberate awareness of exactly what you're accusing it of.

The "real" Gray Wolves are the paramilitary youth wing of a Turkish ethnic-nationalist party.


Having principles and enjoying a sense of belonging aren't mutually exclusive.


It's completely ironic, the tone of the show is extremely anti-authoritarian (a huge part of the show is eviscerating "washington consensus" liberals from a leftist perspective as well as pathological sycophants in various political orgs) and appropriating the nickname of fascists in Turkish AKP for their fans is a joke.


I MAY NOT BE DALE EARNHARDT...


I MAY not BE.... FRANK SINATRA.... BUT IM.... PART OF the pack.

EDIT: lol apparently not many others.


Downvoters probably prefer Dan Nainan jokes.


Hypernormalization isn't really Adam Curtis's best work. It felt really rushed and not as well argued.

On the other hand "Century of Self", "The Trap", and "All Watched Over By The Machines Of Loving Grace" are much better and should be required watching in the data and socio-economics communities.

All three cover the the same idea about how simplification of complex societal behavior for modeling purposes has been confused for an actual explaination of behavior, and how this confusion has forced people to behave as if the simplification is reality. He specifically deals with at times the idea of a rational market with perfect information which runs counter to behavior economics studies.

To make my own comical example, recall the story of the farmer that writes to the physics department and gets back a study that presumes a spherical cow. Instead of dismissing it, the farmer then goes about building stalls for spherical cows, because that's what the study says. Then cattle breeders start breeding cows to maximize their spherical properties.


Adam Curtis has a history of making these films. Worth also checking out his 2002 film 'the century of the self'.

Wikipedia on Adam Curtis: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_Curtis

The century of the self on youtube: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=eJ3RzGoQC4s

Other films of his are also on archive.org


"All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace" is another excellent documentary by Adam Curtis that I found particularly interesting for it's focus on the history of silicon valley.

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_Watched_Over_by_Machines_o... Documentary: https://thoughtmaybe.com/all-watched-over-by-machines-of-lov...


The Century of the Self is the most reality changing information I've ever been exposed to. This is my #1 top recommendation for any intellectual to consume.


More films available from OP's website: https://thoughtmaybe.com/by/adam-curtis/


I had no idea these were freely available. Thanks and then doublethanks to whoever is behind thoughtmaybe.com...


You can see the videos on thoughtmaybe are BBC watermarked. AFAIK, the BBC never released them outside the UK, although this is mainly due to copyright and the special provisions the BBC has inside the UK that enables them to produce such high quality material. So while they may be "freely" available, I doubt it's legal. I'm not sure how much the BBC cares about enforcement.


adam curtis has implied (in the chapo interview linked in this discussion, i think) that he encourages the bbc to/has an agreement with them to avoid taking down uploads of his films


Last time i looked into it, the thoughtmaybe site seems to pull the actual videos from archive.org.


Power of Nightmares is a Bush era film that first got my attention, IMO his best to date


I'll second that. The part about Russian PR tactics is especially relevant to Americans today.


The Trap, particular part 1 questioning the validity of Game Theory, is highly interesting.


yeah, this is far from his best imo


Am I the only one who finds these Adam Curtis "documentaries" pretty manipulative? They seem to reassure and reinforce everybody in their view on the world. I recently watched Steve Bannons "documentary" "Generation Zero" which works pretty similarly. The difference seems to be that it's meant to reassure the other side of the political spectrum.

When you disagree with such movies it's probably easier not to get sucked in too much into the narrative style, so you can separate manipulation and stated facts easier.


Do you find opinionated essays by persuasive writers to be "manipulative"? I view Adam Curtis documentaries as "intellectual essays in film/narrative form".

There is another kind of documentary, e.g. the Ken Burns style, that seems to take no position, similar to a piece of journalism. This is simply a different style of documentary.

You should check out Werner Herzog's "Lo and Behold", which may be at the center point of these two styles. In that film, Herzog is clearly stating a point of view, but the visual structure -- its scenes, setup, cinematography, and structure -- borrows from the journalistic style. If you put these three styles on a spectrum, perhaps then you will find the style itself isn't worth debating, just as George Orwell vs Jorge Luis Borges may have been writers of very different styles, but very (nonetheless) interesting content.


I love Curtis's documentaries, but they are explicitly manipulative. The imagery is clearly used to evoke emotional reactions. It's impossible to watch one while simultaneously dispassionately evaluating its claims. It doesn't help that he provides no supporting citations, unless you count the footage.


I was actually a little disappointed with "Lo and Behold." Maybe I set my expectations too high, but it struck me as very disorganized. It seemed like it was trying to cover too many topics at once and draw connections between them that weren't really there.

It still had beautiful cinematography, but I just couldn't enjoy the commentary.


> Do you find opinionated essays by persuasive writers to be "manipulative"

To be honest: Yes. I kind of avoid columns for that reason. I get very little out of that kind of stuff. The same goes for those lengthy "long read" opinion pieces that have come into fashion. They're basically just very long columns.


Well, that is certainly a valid personal taste!

But, I think the term "manipulative" suggests Curtis is somehow being "dishonest" in his filmmaking. I find that instead he's trying to craft an intellectual argument which may lead you to rethink things. In this film, the suggestion is that eroding at the nature of truth can lead to many in society feeling numb to current events, because they cannot trust what is "real" and what is "theater". The result might be fatalism/apathy. This is an interesting thought and, in my view, very relevant to our world.


It's easy to get sucked into thinking it all makes perfect sense but there's a few pretty big implied leaps of logic. This spoof sums it up pretty well I think https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1bX3F7uTrg


Lol, this is great. Thanks.


His style (hypnotic, trippy, brainwashing) just swamps any substance there might be for me. I switch off because I don't want to be hypnotised while watching what is ostensibly a documentary.


Yeah, the way he jumps and interconnects history to fit his narrative reminds me of Glenn Beck's delusional meandering.


They aren't documentaries, they're narratives.

Each one may be internally consistent, but the ones that overlap (in time or in subject matter) are semi-contradictory.


Errrm, this did not reassure or reinforce me or my views, rather it scared me witless and made me rethink things...

Still different strokes for different folks and all that.


I actually like the honest subjectivity. Makes it easy to oppose it, contrary to things posing as factual and objective.


I find his style a bit disturbing. It feels like being hypnotized or brainwashed. The flow of the narrative combined with he imagery, retro clips, audio, music combine to put you in a trance like state.


I really enjoyed this documentary when I saw it, and also ended up watching Bitter Lake and (half of) Century of the Self. The concepts were quite bold and the seemed nearly-self-evident. But then I asked myself, "so why am I just only now hearing about all this?" as a heuristic of the measure of the sufficient strength of supporting evidence.

It dawned upon me that some of the techniques of desire-manufacturing/advertising that used psychological techniques, as mentioned in Century of the Self, were also used to compel the viewer about the curated historical web of causality. And I really think that Hanlon's razor supplants to much of the powers that be mentioned movie.

I almost feel like this movie really displays the enouement of neoliberalism: nothing ever changes in this world any more (thus we're near "the end of history"), we're stuck in a massive deadlocked monetary system that has only "unrealistic" alternatives, "humanitarian interventions" in conflicts are necessary crusades and we cede that they may have the same power dynamics of imperial invasions but since they are done in the name of freedom and democracy they are to be absolved for their ambitions, and so on. I think that in that regard, the documentary falls short of exploring things that are subversive to hegemony.

I was unsatisfied with the idea of watching a powerful documentary about hypernormalisation without searching for a critical explanation of the hypernormalisation of the documentary maker, too. Here's one such: That said, I did genuinely enjoy the movie and appreciate that it inspired me to reflect on modern history.

To counterbalance Curtis' fairly conservative view of modernity, this talk by the late Mark Fisher is really good: the slow cancellation of the future [1]

[0] http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/adam-curtiss-e...

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCgkLICTskQ


I agree. Curtis gets the facts right for the most part, and the movie is very interesting for historical learning, but the connections he draws and the cause-and-effect relationships he posits are very tenuous. It's one of those "take what you like and leave the rest" type of documentaries.


If anyone wants to hear more from the creator, he was on an episode of Chapo Trap House and they interviewed him about this film:

https://soundcloud.com/chapo-trap-house/episode-65-no-future...


He stumbles onto something quite interesting at the end of the interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VW_R98EBO7s


From history - KGB propagandist Yuri Bezmenov talks about normalisation in context of subversion - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5gnpCqsXE8g (1983, LA)


There are so many parallels to what Yuri is talking about here, to plausible explanations behind the actions of and sentiment that elected Trump's administration, and some of the views of some of Trump's seemingly strange bedfellows such as Milo Yiannopoulos. If Trump was eloquent, this might be what he sounds like.

Yuri, in 1983, says that it takes 15-20 years to subvert a society. An undertone to his whole argument implied that the West was already at least partially subverted, and in motion even then.


It's interesting how people immediately assume only the Republicans/right/whatever are the deluded ones.

Note that these aren't tremendous sources, I'm only providing some historical facts because the narrative has been completely lost.

Bill Clinton built a wall, and kept out immigrants. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FZXbG5gvoC0

Bill Clinton fought against welfare and the nanny state: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1997/03/the-wor...

Bill Clinton bombed countries on a hair trigger and created enemies overseas: http://www.ornery.org/essays/2001-01-26-1.html

The fatal flaw in Curtis' documentary, and in most people who view it, is they think only Republicans suffer from hypernormalization. BOTH parties are guilty, and yes it's going to keep getting worse even if we have a D beside the president's name. Go back and watch The West Wing and see how long it takes until they're justifying the murder of innocent people in the middle east.


I don't really think that Hypernormalisation is as partisan as you suggest - in fact, listen to the Chapo Trap House interview people are linking to here. He is extremely critical of the Democrats/centrists that trade as "the left" and goes to lengths to explain how culpable they are for the current dumpster fire we're experiencing


Yuri frames subversion in a sinister way, feeding on anti-Soviet sentiment. However, what is progressivism if not subversion? Hasn't the dominant culture subtly shifted to where homosexuality and other "deviance" is tolerated, if not accepted? Is that shift not a subversion of the previous society and its norms?


This is the inconvenient truth that leftists would prefer to deny, and one of the reasons why there's so much shrieking about Trump and Bannon and Brietbart.

They've mastered using the left's tactics against them.


> They've mastered using the left's tactics against them.

No one has a monopoly of truth, or lies. And neither owns the tactic either, stop being tribal


Left, what left? What is going on in DC right now is a fight between two segments of the right wing. There has been no Left in USA sine the 70s at least.


It was, there were soviet operatives all over the place.


From my experience as a programmer and a musician I find it odd that Curtis advocates the need for a big vision to bring about real change. In other words, he urges people to do top down planning.

My impression is that working bottom-up is more suited for solving complex problems with many unknowns. Sure, many undertakings, like the Arab Spring, failed. And this is hardly surprising because a lot of success depends on happy accidents which you can't expect to happen. But bottom up "miracles" like modern computer technology or new musical genres do happen. Otoh, from the top of my head, I don't remember a single complex problem with many unknowns that was (successfully) solved with top-down planning.

Ironically, LSD (which apparently inspired Curtis a lot) is another classic example for this. It failed miserably at what it was intended to do but turned out to be a happy accident for other purposes.


Not sure how much it is top down planning, and how much it is someone that can stake out some point on the proverbial horizon and hold the rest of the group on course towards it, all while they are doing their individual tasks etc.

Think of it like the Kennedy speech about going to the moon with in a certain date. That sets the point on the horizon to steer towards by declaring a vision. Then it is up to the larger group to figure out just how to get there while faced with various obstacles etc en-route.

A good captain declares the course, but trust his crew to get them there without him micromanaging every detail.


That's a reasonable objection. I still think that whether or not positive change happens is regardless of whether or not there is a vision highly dependent on happy accidents (including change in external circumstances).


The point, I believe, isn't a need for a "big vision" specifically, nor is it about "top down planning" (or any other specific solution). The message that Curtis is trying to express is that nobody knows how to run the modern world. Technology and the globalization it enabled made traditional theories of government obsolete, and some people are starting to notice just how out-of-control our ship of state has become.

A revolution can be a nice first step, but it's a waste of time if you don't know the specifics of how everything should run the day after the revolution is finished. You like bottom-up designs. That's great; so how, specifically, do we implement that? Just like how programming needs actual code (not just a plan to use a bottom-up design), managing society also needs specifics. It's easy to point out the serious problems with the current government, but that's isn't going to fix anything unless someone also includes actual specifics about what the fixed system should look like.


I should have said that the idea of him suggesting topdown planing didn't come to me after watching the film but after hearing an interview he gave concerning the film. In the following clip, at around ~0:25, he briefly talks about having a big vision.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VW_R98EBO7s

> A revolution can be a nice first step, but it's a waste of time if you don't know the specifics of how everything should run the day after the revolution is finished.

The way I see it, a revolution is often necessary but seldom met with success. I am not confident that what follows can be specified. I think it rather emerges from circumstances which may or may not turn out to be a boon. Whether or not there are specifics may be a question of the altitude from which you look at it, though.

Having said that, I don't want to discount your comment in any way. Just my two cents. I am not a professional revolutionary ;)


Speaking of fake news, the video repeats the claim from the time of the Iran-Iraq war that Iran sent 95,000 schoolchildren to walk over minefields and detonate mines with their bodies.

Given that Iranians are human beings and therefore, evil Islamists or not, must have similar emotions towards their offspring as other human beings, I find that claim about as believable as the stories of German soldiers eating babies in WWI [1] which is to say, not at all.

Unfortunately after hearing that I find it very hard to believe anything else in that video.

_______________

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atrocity_propaganda#World_War_...


It's timely this should come up as I've been on a bit of an Adam Curtis binge lately, having recently watched half of HyperNormalisation and then the entirety of the 'The Power Of Nightmares' series. I'm looking forward to watching the rest of his work.

One question I have for those that have seen his stuff - a recurring criticism I see of Curtis' work is that he states his opinions as if they are historical facts and heavily editorialises, leaving out important chunks of history because they don't support the view he's trying to push.

Are these accurate criticisms? I don't want to feel like I'm learning about history when in actuality I'm being fed something that's inaccurate (thanks 'King of Kong' for ruining my trust in documentaries, but I digress!). For example after watching 'The Power Of Nightmares' I feel like I know much more about what was going on in the world of geopolitics in the 80s and 90s, but I'd hate to think that I've just picked up a series of falsehoods (doubt this is the case though).


"leaving out important chunks of history because they don't support the view he's trying to push."

I think that's a fair criticism of Adam Curtis - but then again it is pretty much a fair criticism of pretty much every analysis of historical events - everyone has an agenda.

Having said that, I absolutely love Bitter Lake more for sheer experience than anything else.


I treat Adam Curtis (or any other documentary maker) as a source of ideas for further research, but with a heavy pinch of salt.

His work is designed to ping the same sense of delight in being party to a secret that motivates conspiracy theorists.


His films often make me feel as if i'm listening to the Feeding of the 5000 [1] for the first time again

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FKAHU5-pS_A


Well, I got to the point where Blackrock builds a giant supercomputer called Aladdin that can predict the future and, well, now I understand exactly what kind of video I've been watching.

So that's an hour and twenty minutes of my time on this lonely Earth wasted watching the modern equivalent of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, or the Illuminati trilogy but, like, for serious. I should have watched BSG reruns instead.


till last year i was thinking of getting a visa and trying my luck in the valley. now it seems (having learned more about america) that a significant part of the population thinks science is a liberal hoax, thinks the government and media is constantly lying, carries assault rifles and believes shit like pizzagate is not only plausible but true.


> that a significant part of the population

not any part you'd ever come in contact with. it's like being worried about greek people living in Paris


America is much more diverse than other countries - the valley, New York, etc are very different than the deep south.


Even regions that seem homogeneous from the outside are highly varied, like the deep south. Travel the interstates and highways in Georgia, and you'll mostly find the same kinds of things and people who, at worst, silently judge you. Get off the interstate/highway, and every little town has its own unique structure, culture, lore, and tolerances for outsiders.


"History may not repeat itself but it does rhyme..." Some guy, last century

Are there really no parallels for popular opinion straying significantly from established facts and resulting in irrational behaviour before natural correction...? Are the South Sea Bubble and the Cold War not two such such examples of this?


In considering our time more pivotal than any before, are we not guilty of the same sensationalism and irrational behaviour that this film observes?


The Wikipedia page provides a pretty decent summary: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HyperNormalisation


Also downloadable from here: https://archive.org/details/HyperNormalisation


I enjoyed watching this but it felt a bit disjointed in comparison to his other productions.. almost as though he had ton of clips left over from his other documentaries that he didn't want to go to waste. The style remains eminently watchable though and the parts on social media were real head in the hands, 'what have we built?' moments for me.

Great soundtrack again too.


Watching this documentary was a really unsettling experience. The subversion of information has become so institutionalized, and common people are so accepting of it, that it is hard to even think about how we can escape it. My only logical conclusion is that things will continue to get worse as people get more and more distant from the truth. Perhaps a new dark ages.


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>> "You can't just word associate and chant to make things related, there must be a factual connection"

Ironic.

>> "Putting up a wall will hurt the human smuggling business model, taking power from criminals, and stopping thousands of sex crimes every year."

>> " In 2010 and 2011 hundreds of people were executed in the San Fernando massacres."

And the connection is? (hint: there isn't one; there's no causal relationship between los zetas and a wall, because a wall won't have a significant effect on their operations) [0]

>> "All of the business leaders that support him can tell you that" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_authority Also, https://www.wsj.com/articles/tech-ceos-take-a-stand-against-...

Selective much?

>> Milo's schtick is doxxing people at talks.

>> The Trump homophobic thing is a false canard; he's never been seriously accused of homophobia

>> "The news media says he is racist, but then why would he care about Mexican women being raped?"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whataboutism These two statements have no relationship with each other. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racism#Aversive_racism

[0] http://ced.berkeley.edu/events-media/news/donald-trumps-wall...


Bless you


Suddenly all these people communicating among themselves in a strange language that sounds like nonsense to me. Must be what it feels like getting old.


It's a cult. They're like LaRouchies.


> he even mentioned these statistics in his 2015 Chicago Tribune interview

Link to transcript? I can only find articles about him not an interview. A cursory glance across them doesn't support your statement.


> You can't just word associate and chant to make things related

Oh but you can. It works on most humans... all humans. Everyone is subject to priming, bias, aggressive marketing and advertising.


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We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13604222 and marked it off-topic.


Ah ok. I thought people were upset about him being orange skinned.


Fascism doesn't mean what you think it means.


Donald Trump exhibits every defining factor of being a fascist. He's authoritarian and very pro-military, he's nationalistic, he paints other religions and ethnicities as being evil, he paints other nationalities as being evil, he is protectionist, he's anti-media, he's anti-independent judiciary...


> authoritarian and very pro-military

> nationalistic

> paints other religions and ethnicities as being evil

> paints other nationalities as being evil

> anti-media

> anti-independent judiciary

None of those views fall very far outside of mainstream Republican belief. Trump just replaced the typical dog-whistle with a bullhorn, because he's politically incompetent, and was far more blatant in pandering openly to the fringe.


The difference is he has a personality disorder, extreme narcissism, that verges into sociopathy. If such an individual gets hold of a position of power, they can ruthlessly "split" the people around them, and exert greater than proportional influence. Whether this meets a technical description of fascism or not, it puts him in a category with authoritarian despots, who rule with no regard for the welfare of anyone besides themselves.


None of those things (except pro-military, but every party in the US is pro-military, that's what you get when you're the only empire on earth) are typical of the republicans. The republicans, despite what you might (incorrectly) think, are not represented well by Trump.


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This account has been posting mostly unsubstantive comments recently. Please stop and (re-)read the guidelines:

https://news.ycombinator.com/newswelcome.html

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


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problem with that is all the world-destroying wmds the empire is clinging to as it goes down


haha "too big to fail" might be true this time rather than just a fig leaf for brazen corruption like it usually is.


"Too well armed to fail" is a good analog.


"No one has any vision for a better future" ( first minute of the film)

thanks for making the wrong premise explicit and not have us waste our time.




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