back to article Hypernormalisation: Adam Curtis on chatbots, AI and Colonel Gaddafi

Hypernormalisation, the new film by English documentary-maker Adam Curtis, dives deeper into technology than any of his previous films for the BBC. It goes up on the Beeb's iPlayer on Sunday (at 9pm in the UK) and “it’s a bit of a monster”, he admits. The film is pushing three hours long. I had to watch it over two nights – a …

  1. OliP

    Only just watched Bitter Lake, can't wait for this!

  2. bollos
    Thumb Up

    watch anything by adam curtis.

    i highly recommend this:

    "The film compares the rise of the neoconservative movement in the United States and the radical Islamist movement, drawing comparisons between their origins, and remarking on similarities between the two groups. More controversially, it argues that radical Islamism as a massive, sinister organisation, specifically in the form of al-Qaeda, is a myth, or noble lie, perpetuated by leaders of many countries—and particularly neoconservatives in the U.S.—in a renewed attempt to unite and inspire their people after the ultimate failure of utopian ideas."

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: watch anything by adam curtis.

      You know that the US helping Saudis bomb civvies in Yemen is absolutely ok, while Russia helping Assad bomb Qaeda goons with collateral damage of Stalingrad levels in Syria is absolutely a no-no, a "war crime" and demanding of a "robust response"? It's true!

      1. Tom Paine

        Re: watch anything by adam curtis.

        The only way the US has helped the Saudis (to my knowledge -- I'm open to corrections) is to sell them arms, same as we (UK) have done. Now, clearly that was a Bad Move, we shouldn't ever have done it, and thank the FSM we're finally looking into maybe stopping it; but to propose an equivalence between Russian actions in Syria and the US in KSA is fatuous, offensive, and the sort of BS you normally only hear from Jezzer and the Momentumites.

        1. phuzz Silver badge

          Re: watch anything by adam curtis.

          The US are hovering on the fringes of Yemen right now. One of their warships was shot at in the last couple of days, so they've fired a few missiles back. Whether this will result in them getting more involved is anyone's guess at this point. There is some oil and gas there, so who knows.

          As for Syria, it's such a fuster cluck I don't think there's a "right" side, everyone seems to be shooting at everyone else. But hey, the international arms industry is making it's $$$ so all good right?

        2. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

          Re: watch anything by adam curtis.

    2. Ashley_Pomeroy

      Re: watch anything by adam curtis.

      My impression of The Power of Nightmares was that Curtis presented a plausible narrative, but he didn't convince me that it was *the* narrative. It was just one way of presenting things. Beyond that I think his documentaries are fantastic and I'm glad he exists.

  3. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Dear Mr Curtis,

    The last entry on your BBC blog was a trailer for Bitter Lake, and until the last month I have only been able to find one mention of you - attending a film festival to receive an award for Bitter Lake. Was your 'radio silence' deliberate, or have you just been very busy?

    Also, what's your relation to the Internet Video channel on YouTube?


  4. Richard Barnes

    Adam Curtis summary

    I believe that the best comment on Adam Curtis documentaries can be found right here:

    1. Mayhem

      Re: Adam Curtis summary

      Ok, that was well done.

    2. Tom Paine

      Re: Adam Curtis summary

      Is that The Loving Trap? YT's blocked here, I can't tell. Here's another link, in case it wasn't.

      1. Richard Barnes

        Re: Adam Curtis summary

        Yep - that's the one!

    3. Sam Haine

      Re: Adam Curtis summary

      "Adam Curtis believed that 200,000 Guardian readers watching BBC 2 could change the world."

    4. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

      Re: Adam Curtis summary

      "I believe that the best comment on Adam Curtis documentaries can be found right here:"

      Brilliant, especially at 11:25 ;-)

      Still, I think Hypernormalisation was worth watching.

  5. Zog_but_not_the_first
    Big Brother

    Looking forward to this

    Like a beacon on a dark night.

  6. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Eliza? Oh yeah

    Well, Eliza is a tired and old subject, always fun when someone wants to show that he superior to the rubes (Ha Ha, a simple chatbot confuses people about whether there is a freudian analyst there). It was a silly stunt.

    I would like to have heard more about Judea Pearl who is the real deal. I have a few books by him - serious algorithm wrangling.

  7. MT Field

    Should be on the box

    Fantastically thought provoking no doubt, as always, and I look forward to getting some time to watch it. But why on earth can't the beeb or C4 find time to put it out over the airwaves?

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Should be on the box

      Odd considering his previous stuff has been on BBC2, yet this time he doesn't even get a BBC4 slot. I suppose they want to make more iPlayer-only stuff and figured out that his audience will follow him wherever he goes.

      But, hey, nice to see all the nice words in the article for the BBC ponying up the cash to make it. What? Oh. Well, I'm sure Sky would have done it too...

    2. Tom Paine

      Re: Should be on the box

      Maybe because it'll be beautifully constructed, well written bollocks on toast, like his previous films? I liked Curtis' work too when I first came across it. Then (somewhere in Power of Nightmares) I got bored with his stock footage and soundtrack gimmick and started paying attention to what he was saying -- or trying to; the sementic content disappears like frost on a sunny morning when you write it down and try to figure it out. Apart from banging on about Elites and Corporations like a sixth former who's read too much Owen Jones / Paul Mason. There are interesting and unknown stories to tell about these matters, but although Curtis tries hard and is one of the very few people to try anything other than a conventional approach, I'm afraid it just. doesn't. work.

      1. MT Field

        Re: Should be on the box

        True that. But still thought provoking - not as thought provoking as reading a newspaper you don't agree with, or trying to take "the Donald" speech seriously, but thought provoking nonetheless.

      2. Harry Stottle

        Re: Should be on the box

        Be interesting to see if I get a similar bunch of down-votes for supporting your criticism. I posted a detailed critique of Power of Nightmare back in 2005, before things really kicked off with ISIS etc. Almost everything I've seen since has reinforced my then opinions.

        Curtis is damn good at presenting novel points of view. His problem, I think, is that he doesn't challenge his own views strongly enough before presenting them as though they were solid conclusions. Frankly, too often, he comes across as someone who formulated an opinion, then went looking for ways to justify it.

        That said, he's always educational and often entertaining. I downloaded Hypernormalisation last night (6 GB ferchrissake) and so far I''ve only watched the first 10 mins, to see if I'd want to watch the rest.

        I do.

    3. r_c_a_d_t

      Re: Should be on the box

      Probably because it is too long. I enjoyed watching it, but there were plenty of times when I wished the editing had been a lot tighter. With a bit of effort he ought to be able to deliver the same message in under 2 hours.

  8. Poncey McPonceface

    Ooh, Can't Wait

    Have to figure out how to view it in the Republic.

    @Destroy All Monsters … Have you watched any of Curtis's stuff?

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Ooh, Can't Wait

      Not yet but I sure will.

      1. Poncey McPonceface

        Re: Ooh, Can't Wait

        Great, you won't regret it.

  9. buckleyboy


    I think Dan Snow did a general history of Syria in 2013.

  10. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    IT Angle


    Something to do lots of virtual machines?

  11. Daniel_Tepper

    Saw the film and really enjoyed it. It covers a lot of ground but it's territory Curtis has explored wonderfully in his previous work. I'm interested to know what Curtis thinks about dancing - his 2004 series 'The Power of Nightmares' begins with a memorable scene set inside a school dance and there are many dancing shots in his latest film.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Are current leaders really the only liars and manipulators ?

    I've just watched "Hypernormalisation". It was an interesting take on a few things.

    Curtis's central point that leaders are making stuff up and manipulating the people to me seems to have been true through out human history. This isn't as Curtis says "A new thing".

    News was spun, censored and manipulated in the Second World War by all sides ( and we have pretty good records of that ) and was almost certainly spun and manipulated all the way back to the dawn of civilisation by political and religious leaders of all kinds.

    Saying people live in their own unreality, with delusions also seems to me to be as old as the dawn of civilisation ( and probably before ) to me. This again is nothing new. We all have our pet unprovable theories. What Curtis fails to take on is the central and dangerous delusions of all the religions. These trips of untestable, unreality have been with mankind for a very long time, with the consequences littering the pages of history books.

    Tell the people what they want to hear to help the leader keep power is the mantra all leaders through out the ages have practised.

    Curtis does correctly point out that the internet and computers have changed things quite dramatically.

    Humanity has only had electronic communications for a relatively short time from the telegraph, telephone, radio, tv, mobile phone and now the internet.

    So the only difference I can see now from earlier eras is the instantaneousness and mass availabilty of electronic communications that has hit its current peak with the internet and modern smart phones.

    What the modern world along with its political and religious leaders are having issues with is coming to terms with the power and speed of modern electronic communications. The hardest part for them is now the people have more power to be publishers rather than just consumers of information. The full ramifications of the internet are yet to be fully appreciated.

    That all said, I did quite enjoy watching Curtis's take on a few things that have happened over the last 40 odd years. He has an interesting style :)

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Kissinger has a lot to answer for...

    I've got a particularly fine single malt ready for when that dangerous, psychopathic fossil finally kicks the bucket. If there was any justice he'd face a lingering and very painful end, but sadly at his age it's normally sudden.

    1. Poncey McPonceface

      Re: Kissinger has a lot to answer for...

      I agree. I will join you. Hitchens knocked his dressing down of H.K. out of the park, n'est-ce pas?

      Oi El Reg! Where's the bleedin' follow up article you promised us?

    2. Dylan Byford

      Re: Kissinger has a lot to answer for...

      Having watched the film over the weekend and tried to follow it all back to root causes, I would say some racist types in 60s Beaconsfield had a lot to answer for.

      Plus Kissinger. Of course.

      1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

        Re: Kissinger has a lot to answer for...

        "Having watched the film over the weekend and tried to follow it all back to root causes, I would say some racist types in 60s Beaconsfield had a lot to answer for."

        Well the film didn't mention that the arabs promised to exterminate every single jew in Israel.

        That probably has something to do with the turn of events.

  14. Richard Barnes

    Other comments

    For those unable or unwilling to traverse the paywall, I share some pertinent comments on Hypernormalisation from Mr. Gill of the Sunday Times:

    "It is long and coherence-straining. Once Curtis starts, he can’t stop. There is precious little editing for clarity. The connections keep falling like snow, until they are a blizzard that blots out the point. You simply have to grasp the bits that make sense to you, and leave the rest on the side of the plate.

    ....The problem is that there is no end, no denouement, no summing up or message. In Curtis’s work, there is a log jam of things to see, but nothing to learn, nothing to make, no hope of change; and his well-rehearsed paranoia makes you question his motives."

  15. Astara

    no access

    What's an iplayer, and why won't it let anyone outside the UK watch this video?

    1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: no access

      iPlayer is the BBC's on-demand video and radio streamer.


  16. PyLETS

    nothing new under the sun

    Pontius Pilate famously asked "what is truth ?" understanding full well that for politicians there are no absolutes: truth is what powerful people claim it to be. We get much the same from The Emperor's New Clothes classic fairy tale - which additionally points out that those on the inside are those who get most deluded by the subjective realities they spin.

    So I spent an hour watching this disconnected ramble telling me what has been known for a very long time.

  17. charlesfrith

    Curtis Cringe

    Curtis writes MI5 BBC propaganda. How he weaved anti Assad propaganda in without getting called out as incoherent and full of BS is testimony to how far people will grovel to be told what to think.

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