Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges
So. Like. When did the intellectual demise of America begin? Could it have begun with the invention of American morality? Wait. Focus. Two things in two sentences that are incompatible. Intellect and morality. I know, I know. To many, America was never really a mecca of intellect to begin with. It is a place of commerce mixed with playboys, a lot of ditch diggers and fun-galore. Hidden behind all that is morality. You know, “In God We Trust” is printed on the money and ironically is all that American churches are about. Combine moneyed morality with a populace of ditch diggers who all want to be playboys and the skill of mastering the shovel is all that’s left. For the new shovel, dear worst-reader, is the same as wearing a corporate badge or a flag on your lapel. Which means that you have to have an advance degree in shoveling, earn your spot of shovel opportunity first, and then go about your bidness of making a living while laughing (or choking) at those who never found their way to the shovel. Indeed, American morality plus intellect equals a melting pot of spectacle, triumph and… illiteracy.
Being a land defined by commerce and über-fun can be confusing. I mean, there is more to life than that, right? Plus, America is a big country. And we were all raised to believe that there is more to America than the deeds of Henry Ford, Thomas Edison or Joe Blow supporting the local little league team and everybody getting a paycheque. America was once a land of makers, of doers, it had a backbone, and it wasn’t afraid of its or anyone else’s shadow. But then something happened, something drastically changed. That change was a realisation where, not unlike a cartoon where the chaser suddenly finds himself without a floor to stand on, we see a vast and empty chasm below. Like a baby just born we wiggle and wriggle, our limbs cold and dank, we are waiting to fall to the bottom where the difference between the 99% and the 1% might finally be clear. The only problem is, unlike that cartoon where the coyote returns to chase his speeding bird, we can’t return because we are all obsessed with the politics of playboyism and in God We Trust. Illusions be damned.
The book is titled “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.” Chris Hedges starts out by describing how WWE has changed from the day of portraying villainous Soviets or Iranians (cold war and hostage crisis) wrastling truth & justice to today where corporate CEOs “fight” down-on-their-luck wrastlers who have been beaten by the economy. Even though I haven’t seen a wrastling match in over thirty years that’s quite a shift in themes and characters. So dunce audiences still lap up this krapp unaware they are paying to stare into a mirror? What am I asking? Of course they don’t know. Further analysing the spectacle of what blinds America to reality, Hedges adds some great insight into Jerry Springer and Oprah, which to worst-writer are two shows that should, by law, be shown back-to-back 24×7 on their own channel. The channel, btw, should be called “You’re A Fucking Idiot Channel”. But Hedges doesn’t stop there with providing examples of our illusions and the spectacle that is: In God We Trust.
Let’s move on, dear worst-reader, to the darker side of American intellect and morality. It is the part of America that is hidden in plane sight. Chris Hedges focuses on gonzo pornographyand the detail he writes about it is at times disturbing. Keep in mind that Mr. Hedges, according to his bio, graduated from Harvard Divinity School. (The conflict of intellect and morality starting to become real yet?) Hedges details gang-bangs, facials and anal penetration and then connects it all to a young girl who is not very fond of having those things done to her. Surprised? I wonder if she reads In God We Trust on the dollars she’s paid. I mean, is there anyone out there who doesn’t know the obvious: porn objectifies women and frequent porn consumption probably indicates a deeper psychosis than just a lonely guy who can’t get what he wants from his wife. There were a few moments where I thought about skipping this chapter because I kept getting the feeling that Hedges wasn’t the right person to be detailing this stuff. He is, obviously, a man of great intellect and morality. You would think that with such capacities he would know better than to dwell in this subject. It just doesn’t seem necessary to be part of this book. But I pushed on through the chapter and when I was finished it helped me realise the books only fault. Hedges thinks that there is a connection between intellect and morality.
Titillation aside, there is one other thesis in this book that grabbed me. According to Chris Hedges, America’s demise started before Reagan. This comes as a surprise to worst-writer because Hedges says that the real problem started at the end of the Vietnam war, around 1973, and coincided with the first oil crisis. And even though I never considered it this way, right off the bat, I have to agree with Mr. Hedges. It makes a lot of sense to claim that our demise began even before Reagan’s rampant shop-till-you-drop mindset of the 80s set in. It was the the oil crisis that made America turn to credit in order to afford not only gas but everything else. Reagan simply took the next step in our consume-to-survive world and facilitated it all with government policy. Of course, the only way to make Reaganomics really work is to have a populace the lusts after not only porn but Oprah, Jerry and wrastling. But I still don’t make the connection Hedges’ makes between intellect and morality. Nomatter.
In worst-closing, this book is a great read–even though worst-writer thinks America’s problems are not about illusion but more about delusion. Hedges’ connection between intellect and morality also doesn’t work for me. And. If people want to watch WWE and porn, so what. Does Hedges’ morality also want to take away Mickey Mouse? Beyond that, I’ll go as far as to say that porn could provide a service to mankind that no bird-and-the-bees talk ever could. At the least, in an overpopulated world, the control exercised in the so-called money-shot or facial is a great way to add yet another layer of protection to coincide with contraception. The only bad side I can find of pornography and WWE is how one facilitates disease, the other means there has to be a faux newz network. But then again, could girls really get used to facials which would surely darken their princess illusion that there really is such a thing as romantic love or love-ever-after?