Sunday, May 15, 2011

Empire of Illusion

Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle
by Chris Hedges
(Nation Books, 2009, 240 pages)
"A society becomes totalitarian when its structure becomes flagrantly artificial. That is when its ruling class has lost its function but succeeds in clinging to power by force or fraud." - George Orwell

"We had fed the heart on fantasy/The heart's grown brutal from the fare." - William Butler Yeats
I just finished reading an excellent book about the debauched revels of a dying civilzation, namely that empire slouching towards Weimar Republic collapse we know as America today. The book is Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges. I highly recommend it to all my friends in the marginalized literate minority engaged in fighting off the ever-expanding illiterate mass culture of a politically divisive, corporate-enslaved, debt-ridden, infotainment-distracted (Fox News, American Idol, Charlie Sheen, The Secret, etc.) national consciousness that worships fleeting fame and money.

I like the way Hedges divides his book into five chapters: "The Illusion of Literacy" looking at television "spectacles" such as World Wrestling Entertainment and the Jerry Springer show; "The Illusion of Love" looking at pornography as encountered at the AVN (Adult Video News) Expo in Las Vegas and current DVD releases; "The Illusion of Wisdom" looking at the intrusion of the military-industrial corporate complex into academia and the university system; "The Illusion of Happiness" looking at the mumbo-jumbo self-help/self-actualization industry and it's one-size-fits-all easy-answer solutions to all life's problems; and "The Illusion of America" looking at warning signs for the end days of the American Empire and the very (hypocritical) idea of America as being somehow better and different than the rest of humanity.
As Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who writes online for, concludes:
The more we sever ourselves from a literate, print-based world, a world of complexity and nuance, for one informed by comforting, reassuring images, fantasies, slogans, celebrities, and a lust for violence, the more we are destined to implode. As the collapse continues and our suffering mounts, we yearn, like World Wrestling Entertainment fans, or those who confuse pornography with love, for the comfort, reassurance, and beatuty of illusion. The illusion makes us feel good. It is its own reality. And the lonely Cassanddras who speak the truth about our misguided imperial wars, the economic meltdown, or the imminent danger of multiple pollutions and soaring overpopulation, are drowned out by arenas full of excited fans chanting "Slut! Slut! Slut!" or television audiences chanthing "JER-RY! JER-RY! JER-RY!"

Watch Grit TV's interview with Chris Hedges.

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