A quick look around the American cable news channels in recent weeks shows a personalized and largely fact free debate around the health care bills before the U.S Congress, the Michael Jackson funeral and subsequent sideshows and the oddball story of whether or not Barack Obama was really born in America, thus calling into question his eligibility for the Presidency.
Books like Chris Hedges’ Empire of Illusion: The Death of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle is the sort of source material that historians in the coming decades may be glad to have access to, simply to determine when the wheels seemed to come off.
Hedges is a lefty, but with a masters degree in theology. In short, he’s able to punch with both rhetorical fists, and it makes for a much more rigorous read than the atheist vs. preachers tomes common to the non-fiction best seller lists of the past few years.
The Pulitzer Prize winning author, journalist and foreign correspondent reports on the absurdist theatre of the World Wrestling Entertainment empire, the pornography industry in southern California, a state currently out of money and running out of water; and he balances dispassion and outrage when chronicling what he calls our “inverted totalitarianism” or a culture in which politics is subservient to economics.
Taken together with debased entertainments, the rise of celebrity and consumer culture and the near passing of print culture America has become a place where intractable problems induce the beleaguered populace to seek comfort in celebrity train wrecks, gossip and spectacle.
“A culture dominated by images and slogans seduces those who are functionally literate, but who make the choice not to read. There have been other historical periods with high rates of illiteracy and vast propaganda campaigns. But not since the Soviet and fascist dictatorships, and perhaps the brutal authoritarian control of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, has the content of information been as skilfully and ruthlessly controlled and manipulated. Propaganda has become a substitute for ideas and ideology. Knowledge is confused with how we are made to feel. Commercial brands are mistaken for expressions of individuality. And in this precipitous decline of values and literacy, amongst those who cannot read and those who have given up reading, fertile ground for a new totalitarianism is being seeded.”
If that sounds over the top, Hedges notes that both the U.S. and Canada share a stat of an illiterate or semiliterate citizenry estimated at around 42 per cent.
Hedges cites many learned figures in media, academia and the social sciences and footnotes abound.
Most give Barack Obama credit for talking to Americans like they were adults, but few give him a chance at fundamental change, due to the machine of which he is beholden.
Hedges notes that Democrats raised much more money from corporations during the last election cycle than Republicans did.
Thus Chris Hedges believes that we have passed the point of saving an America that he grew up in.
He earnestly draws parallels with cultures throughout history born of symbols, charlatans and various systemic collapses and is hard pressed to see a country he loves ending differently.