October 30, 2016
Last night I watched a documentary I could not possibly recommend enough: Hypernormalization by BBC journalist Adam Curtis. It was released just a few weeks ago. You can find it on the web and watch it for free. But do not consider it “date night” viewing.
The film describes the various ways our perception of global political events are “shaped.” Since Mr. Curtis’ documentary also intends to shape us, it likely contains some mis-statements of fact or other errors and definitely shows his own point of view. Nonetheless, it reveals, in a highly dramatic and disturbing way, how numerous public conversations about people, ranging from Saddam Hussein to Donald Trump, have been distorted. Some viewers will feel alarmed; others already read newspapers, watch TV news, or ingest other forms of information with wary, suspicious eyes.
After a disturbed night of sleep because I watched the documentary so late, I awoke this morning thinking about the many concentric levels of so-called impression management. It occurs in the psychology profession through groups like the American Psychological Association or the American Psychoanalytic Association. It occurs internationally in the profession, like through the International Psychoanalytic Association. Similar influences occur in all the professions, trades, or any nationally organizing groupings of people.
On a more local level, it occurs between participants in small communities — members of churches, synagogues, or mosques, neighborhood groups, friendship circles, or the web of our personal relatives. Of course it also occurs within our own minds, evident in the stories we tell ourselves about, well, our selves. Some have narrations of self-denigration. Others speak to themselves of their greatness. Some view themselves as excessively sacrificial, or too self-interested, or too invasive, and so on, ad infinitum.
Maybe the most disturbing feature of the Adam Curtis documentary concerns the impact of global narration management on our own self-images. I remember a colleague telling me a few years ago how she had noticed watching TV commercials made her feel bad about herself. Many have said advertising firms intend to project such an emotional reaction, prompting us to purchase items or services promised to improve our self-worth, or lessen our fear, or increase our popularity.
Not sure where I was heading initially, I now reach the conclusion I write the blog today to encourage caution. We tend to be aware of how our local and even national groups affect our internal worlds. We may not be tracking how global information management may be affecting us. Freud famously (and arrogantly) said he offered the third great narcissistic injury on humankind: Copernicus humbled humanity by demonstrating the earth was not the center of the universe; Darwin elicited humility by showing how we are descended from apes; Freud, with his elucidation of the nature of the unconscious mind, demonstrated how even what we think we are doing, thinking, or feeling may be driven by forces of which we remain unaware. How worrisome to think that even such a deeply hidden part of our souls could be “managed” by global interests. In memory of the recently departed Tom Hayden, I end with his well-worn but too often unheeded admonishment:
Sending all best wishes on this cloudy, rainy So Cal day,
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