Nicheness warning: This piece lacks insight for those not familiar with the documentaries of Adam Curtis.
We live in a strange and bewildering world. Disturbing events keep happening for reasons we do not understand. Theresa May, the migrant crisis, the new Star Trek movie, the continuing survival of The Telegraph. And the journalists seem to be powerless to explain what is going on.
This film is the story of how we got into this confused, directionless state. It explains not only the causes of these disturbing events, but why they can only be explained with slow motion stock footage and extended analogy between unconnected events.
There are two men at the heart of this story.
One of them is an obscure 20th century theorist with a background in psychology and/or computer science. The other is a 20th century icon who is now held in disrepute.
Here is the 20th century icon smiling in slow motion to the sound of a bass-heavy song from the 80s.
Both of these men began by reading War of the Worlds.
War of the Worlds is a book by Aldous Huxley. Aldous Huxley was an English novelist who believed that technology could be used to keep people happy and keep the political system stable. His book was an account of a man living in a world ruled by technology.
The obscure 20th century theorist with a background in psychology and/or computer science read that book and used it to come up with his own radically simplified vision of journalism. Instead of telling the public everything that had happened in the preceding day, which would take a prohibitive time and include irrelevant information, journalists would tell a story. Just like the story of the War of the Worlds. This story would involve heroes and villains. And at its heart would be the most heroic figure of all. The viewer.
At the same time, thousands of miles away, the 20th century icon was giving a speech to an audience that included the granddaughter of Aldous Huxley. He realised that in order to make a convincing speech he would have to tell a story. Instead of describing everything that had happened in his life, he gave a simplified account which focused on a few key details. He didn’t mention that he had lost his keys the previous week. And he didn’t mention was that he was secretly working for the CIA. Because that would undermine his story.
Journalists learned to tell simplified stories. These stories had characters and events and causality. But then people stopped watching. No matter how simple and how clear the journalists made their stories, they were too boring for the people at home.
So now we live in a strange, dreamlike world where nothing seems to make sense. The news offers no solution because we can’t be bothered to watch it. The journalists know that reality is complicated, but they also know that complicated journalism is hard to understand. So they keep making simple stories. Because if anybody tried to tell a story which involved everything that was happening it would be confused and bewildering.
Scientists call this process hypernormalisation.