The Adam Curtis documentary, Hyper-normalisation is one of his less effective works. This time the story is about a world in which we pull our heads under the covers to escape the boogeyman and instead live in our safe dreamworld under the covers.
He begins by telling the story of Hanif Al Assad, how Henry Kissinger betrayed him and then presenting him to a man obsessed only with revenge. This culminates in the suicide bombing of a US marines base in Beirut which kills hundreds of American soldiers. The Americans are weary of involving themselves in a middle eastern conflict that could have many unforeseen consequences so they pull out of Lebanon. The problem for me with the 2D portrayal of Assad is that defeat in the 1973 Yom Kippur war with Israel and the subsequent loss of the Golon heights doesn’t feature as a cause for Hanif’s depression and vindictiveness. A treaty between Egypt and Israel (which America brokered) is the (poorly explained) reason Curtis gives us for the single minded vengfulness that will consume Assad for the rest of his life.
At this point Curtis, who is prone to this kind of simplification, starts to weave in the idea that what the US really wanted was a simple story, a predictable world in which they were the good guys, Libya and Qaddafi were the bad guys and everything that happened in the world had a narrative ending, one that had no bearing on future events but was self contained, like a tv show episode. Telling this false story led Americans to perceive the difference between the real world and the safe story the politicians were selling. You could believe it if you wanted but you would loose your filter for what was true and untrue and then you could only distinguish between what you wanted to believe and what you didn’t.
Curtis then introduces the character of Vladislav Surkov, the puppetmaster of Russian politics with a background in the avant guard theatre scene. Curtises’ Surkov manipulates the Russian population by doing contradictory things (like sponsoring communists and fascists) and then letting it be known that is what he is doing. The result is a population that can believe nothing and anything, where real events are easily taken as conspiracy and visa versa. When i was in Russia I had a conversation with a Russian American about the conspiracy theory that Putin had bombed apartment blocks in Moscow in an attempt to start a war with the Chechen’s and raise his popularity. To my surprise, the man was both sure Putin did this and that he was the only man to rule the country. Perhaps this is the kind of confused political rationality we should come to expect in out future.