A kind of entropy, a pressure pushing down on my consciousness has been working on me for a while now, as though there’s a dimmer light glowing in my soul, an emotional flatness filling my being. I feel less surprised, less shocked by things, even when the world looks like it’s turning to shit, and chaos and confusion lie around every corner. I’m not just talking about the election of Trump, I’m battling an overall sense that my senses are being dulled by forces inside and outside of me.
It’s a feeling that Adam Curtis seemed to be getting at in Hypernormalisation – the idea that the ‘real’ world has become such a hideous and distorted farce that we’re all in retreat from it, vanishing into cyber worlds, seeking alternate realities online, even though these are in turn controlled by corporations who can influence which narratives we click on.
Hypernormalisation took some stamina to watch, and by the time I’d got through all 2hours and 40 minutes of it, the feeling of dread had only intensified. But it touched on many things that resonated: the idea that politics is now a form of theatre, divorced from any tangible ‘facts’ in the real world. A spectacle that allows a showman, a manipulator of words and images (like Trump) to gain vast amounts of control.
It feels like reality and fiction are constantly bleeding into each other, melting and rearranging our perception. Science fiction or satire can’t really keep up anymore, because there’s no more fixed reality to satirise or parody, no dystopia that can envision things that aren’t already happening. Take Black Mirror: it’s scary as fuck, but not because it foretells some dark future that we’re slipping towards, but because everything it depicts is already coming to pass.
Social media also plays a big part in the sense of alienation, I think. Dave Egger’s The Circle, which I read over a year ago, has been playing on my mind ever since. I can’t shake his prediction that the impulse for us to ‘share’ our lives online will eventually lead to individual privacy being seen as a crime. More than that, it feels as though our entire perception of reality is being flattened: we experience a mediated reality, where murderous atrocities occupy the same amount of screen time as celebrity cooking programmes.
If there’s one TV character who embodies this state of permanent headfuck, it would have to be Eliot from Mr Robot: drug-addled, overwhelmed with neurosis and social anxiety and possibly psychotic. A hacker constantly seeking not only to bring down the monolithic power structures around him, but also to understand himself, and trying to pry apart the complexities of people around him.
I keep referring to films, books, TV to sort through my thoughts. This was one of Adam Curtis’ critiques of the radicals of the 60s: that they retreated from the harsh political reality around them to focus instead on music and art. But how do you engage with the world through the traditional political channels, when what you’re trying to engage with is a mirage and those supposedly representing you, whose twisted nature is plain to see, insult your senses in their claims to truth?
At the moment, It feels to me that it’s through these avenues – art, music, film – that the honesty of our emotions can come through, offering us a little sliver of space where we can be open about our brokenness, our sense of dislocation, the feeling of inner blankness that come from watching the world burn through a screen.