AS this election day, the most frightening hyperobject any of us has encountered in decades, looms, it is time to ask How in the world did we get to this point? Has our communications environment become so appallingly polluted that we must take emergency measures to stop what we’re doing and move in a different direction?
Adam Curtis (“The Century of the Self,” “The Power of Nightmares,” “Pandora’s Box,” “Bitter Lake,” etc.) thinks so. His new film, “HyperNormalization,” which broke on BBC iPlayer on October 16, is about Brexit, immigration in Europe, suicide bombing, the war in Syria . . . and Donald Trump. In an interview with Jonathan Lethem for Lethem’s profile of Curtis in the New York Times Magazine on October 27, titled “Adam Curtis and the Secret History of Everything,” the filmmaker said that Trump had “realized that the version of reality that politics presented was no longer believable . . . And in the face of that, you could play with reality.” He described Trump as “a hate-bot. You go, ‘I’m angry,’ and he goes, ‘I’m angry too!’ And nothing changes. But the system likes it: Angry people click more.”
In Lethem’s telling, Curtis sees Trump as a creature of what the Internet has become, or is becoming. “What will happen to the Internet in the future?” Curtis asks. “Will it become a bit like a John Carpenter movie? You go there, amidst the ruins, and it’s weird, and you can be nasty—just have fun and be bad, like a child. From about ’96 to about 2005 people built these lovely websites, they put up masses and masses of fantastic information. They’ve left them sitting there, but it’s like a city that everyone’s gone from. And what’s come in instead is a weird world where you don’t know what’s real—just people shouting at each other. It’s good fun, but it’s not real.”
This is the world Trump is reflecting and channeling. It is a virtual world, but it could have terrifying real world consequences. If representative democracy is to survive in America, we are going to have to take back our communications. The unquestioning belief and certainty in the ultimate relativity and equivalence of all information is destroying public discourse and making politics impossible. Trump is just the most visible symptom of this disease.
How we respond to this is going to be critical. At the end of Lethem’s time with Curtis, the great filmmaker said about Trump’s campaign: “It’s the end of something—that’s what I would think—and if it’s the end of something, then it’s about time we started inventing something new.”
David Levi Strauss
Wednesday, November 2, 2016.
[Graphic: donaldjtrump.com website splash page. November 2, 2016. 10:15 EDT.
Click on image to see an enlargement.]
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