The Illusion of Reality in “HyperNormalisation”

In 2016, the popular documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis released HyperNormalisation. In the contemporary, extremely complex society, we base our lives on illusions and lies. Though we know that they aren’t true, we believe in them nonetheless. From the free market, through the internet, to international politics and history - our reality is created regardless of what is actually true.


Released in partnership with BBC, HyperNormalisation touches upon the paradoxes of modern society. The term hypernormalisation was first used to describe the absurdity of life in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s. In that scenario, everybody knew how much of a failure the system was, yet no one could possibly imagine a viable alternative to the status quo.

Today, a way forward seems difficult to conceive. The search for a solution to systemic problems led to political polarisation, with a growing ideological gap between Democrats and Republicans in the US. Should we introduce radical changes in society or stick to the status quo? What does Curtis’ HyperNormalisation teach us about modern paradoxes of our society and the illusions we deem true for our own comfort?


Too Difficult to Grasp

The real world is as complex as it gets, and nowadays it’s impossible to comprehend all factors that shape our reality. Our minds aren’t capable of grasping all politics, economy, and ever-appearing new technological advancements, since successful studying each of these subjects individually would take a lifetime.

Fact vs fake
Fact vs fake

In Curtis’ HyperNormalisation, we get an insight into how governments and corporations create a “fake world” – a simplified version of what and why is going on. Curtis balances on the boundary between conspiracy and documentation, yet HyperNormalisation can give us a new perspective on current events and our own lives.

The film is available on YouTube, yet the picture contains graphic imagery and strong, often violent shots. HyperNormalisation is certainly not a family-friendly Sunday watch, and we do not recommend children to see the documentary. In this article, we’ll cover the key takeaways from HyperNormalisation and present Curtis’ argumentation of the illusion of reality.

We’re surrounded by media and technology. They all play a major role in connecting people, with almost 4 billion active social media users. At the same time though, they can be a dangerous tool that allows manipulation and control over the public. Misinformation campaigns are ubiquitous on social media platforms, and the Cambridge Analytica data scandal has shown us how successful ad targeting can change the course of elections. Check our article on how social media creates a polarized society.

After the hippie revolution, some internet utopians imagined that cyberspace is a place without power, where everybody is equal and not governed by any external forces. The outcome of the ubiquity of the internet turned out to be quite contrary. It didn’t take long for corporations to enter cyberspace and use it to their advantage, with over $100 billion spent for online advertising each year.

The world is a convoluted system, comprising a myriad of inter-dependable factors. International relations, politics, the economy – they are all used to shape our perception of reality.


Controlling the Eye of the Public

surveillance concept

Hypernormalisation in the Soviet Union is the perfect example of how people can give up on what’s real for the sake of keeping their minds clear of doubt. Though the Soviet system was unquestionably failing, keeping the people in poverty and confusion left them no liberty to come up with an alternative to the faulty status quo.

In HyperNormalisation, Curtis uses a myriad of BBC archives, taking us back to mid-1970s, when the world got too convoluted for an ordinary citizen to grasp. The film’s narration is quite different from what we’ve grown accustomed to. The loose narrative comprises anecdotes, historical events, and conspiracies.

In 1975, New York experienced a major financial crisis. According to Curtis, this crash gave birth to the idea that markets can run the world. The invisible, ever-changing financial system was to become one of the driving forces that shape our society.

The internet was an unprecedented opportunity for markets to take control of the public eyes. Curtis argues that banks and corporations used this new technology to create hidden, interconnected systems of power. As we clearly it see today, we live in an inter-connected global village. Billionaire shareholders and poor Indian farmers exist in the same universal reality, having the very same respect for money.

The United States has become a new empire that puts pressure and controls the world through invisible actions, without a single, all-controlling person pulling the strings. We no longer need to brutally conquest other nations to force them to believe in the same stories and speak the same language. For example nowadays, try to make a big career in business without a command of English, or without the understanding of the market – and full compliance with its rules. It’s hardly possible.

Another great strategy to shape our reality through “fake reality” is to keep people in a constant state of confusion, as Vladimir Putin has successfully implemented it in Russia. Curtis argues that Putin’s rise to power was a mastermind strategy that doesn’t seem to have any worthy opponents, somehow making it unstoppable and, what is worse, unpredictable. When nobody knows what’s real, what is actually going on, and who is on whose side, people won’t be able to comprehend the situation and even think about a change.

Controlling the eye of the public by invisible forces, such as the financial system, confusion, or comfortable lies, allows hidden agents to shape our society.


The Middle East

Apart from Russia, Western politics is yet another sphere where, according to Curtis, hidden forces create a “fake reality.” HyperNormalisation dives deeper into the West’s involvement in the crisis in the Middle East.

Muammar Gaddafi
Muammar Gaddafi

By solely putting historical facts together, Curtis shows explicitly how the public opinion was shaped by Western politicians to match their agenda, regardless of what was actually happening.


The relations with Muammar Gaddafi, the Revolutionary Chairman of the Libyan Arab Republic, have been changing throughout the years. Sometimes, he was portrayed as a dangerous totalitarian terrorist, a most-wanted criminal who posed a serious threat to Western civilization. Later, he was seen as a public intellectual promoting the idea of “a third way,” only to be demonized again. Gaddafi changed his image according to how he was portrayed by the media.

Curtis argues that Gaddafi was a pawn in the hands of Western public relations masterminds. For instance, he was blamed for two terrorist attacks in Europe in the 1980s, though the European security services traced the cause of the events to Syria. Several US soldiers were killed in those attacks. Despite obvious evidence – and such that the public knew (or at least should know) about – the US foreign policy put the blame on Gaddafi, making him a scapegoat-like marionette.

HyperNormalisation argues that many military operations are carried out solely for PR reasons, only to strengthen the illusion of “fake world.” We believe in lies, half-truths, and manipulation because they help us make sense out of the complex reality. It’s easier to know the US-Middle East relations when the media and politicians give us an obvious answer. The reality, however, is not so plain.



Curtis’ narrative doesn’t follow the usual storyline and is more like a regular visit to the internet – you search for a ratatouille recipe, and the next moment you find yourself watching UFO sighting videos. Yet, despite the myriad of characters – from US politicians, through Gaddafi, to Trump – Curtis believes that every chapter of the film makes sense in the end.

HyperNormalisation shows us that reality is not always what we think it is. Our political and social systems are shaped by PR-masterminds and financial systems. We’ve grown into a global village run by money and lies. The world has become too complex for an individual to comprehend, hence we use made-up stories to make sense out of this mess.

The internet has given more power to the people, but it is also another tool for mass manipulation and the control of the public eye. It’s next to impossible to understand the complex systems that run the world, which makes it even more difficult to find a viable way out of this mess. Are we doomed for living in a “fake reality” of lies, or can we somehow elbow our way to truth?

Photos: Shutterstock / Photomontage: Martina Advaney

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