Chris Hedges presents the social gutter of America in Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. Hedges argues that we have become a disposable culture. We throw away our education, environment, and values in exchange for stereotypes that make us feel empowered. This massive stereotype replaces reality, never explains it, and is corporate owned.
Hedges visits the sources of popular culture to let it speak for itself. He interviews people in the porn industry, pro-wrestling, reality televisions shows, psychiatrists who claim to “engineer happiness”, and others. Most people believe they understand their culture because they’re bombarded by media images, but what goes on behind the scenes, away from the glamour and spotlight, will disturb any sane person.
A pattern of exploitation becomes clear; an agenda becomes obvious. An intellectual and moral wasteland sets us up for a totalitarian state. We cannot argue for ourselves if we lack the rhetorical skills and social conviction to do so. We cannot be and think for ourselves if our self-image is determined by a board of directors trying to make a maximum profit.
“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, among those who cannot read and those who have given up reading, fertile ground for a new totalitarianism is being seeded.”
Hedges stays objective and doesn’t resort to a “holier than thou” manner. His reflections are insightful and lead readers to make their own judgments. There will surely be areas in which readers will disagree with varying degrees, it’s impossible not to since this book covers such a broad range of contemporary culture, but in the least he’ll persuade you to challenge your ideas. I recommend this book to anyone who is socially aware and is interested in the ugly un-reality that is peddled to us all.
Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize recipient. His other works include War is a Force that gives us meaning and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.