America’s Identity Crisis in an Age of Consumerism and Spectacle
Chris Hedges sees, in America, a nation that has lost its way. He sees a country that places prosperity above principle, celebrity above substance, spectacle above nuance and introspection. He sees a "timid, cowed, confused" populace disconnected...
December 5, 2009 | Source: Statesman.com | by Brad Buchholz
Chris Hedges sees, in America, a nation that has lost its way. He sees a country that places prosperity above principle, celebrity above substance, spectacle above nuance and introspection. He sees a “timid, cowed, confused” populace disconnected from language, governed by consumerism, ambivalent toward the common good, enamored by an American myth that has no basis in the American reality.
“We are a culture that has been denied, or has passively given up, the linguistic and intellectual tools to cope with complexity, to separate illlusion from reality,” Hedges writes in his new book, “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.” “We have traded the printed word for the gleaming image. Public rhetoric is designed to be comprehensible to a ten-year-old child or an adult with a sixth-grade reading level.
“Most of us speak at this level, are entertained and think at this level. We have transformed our culture into a vast replica of Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island, where boys were lured with the promise of no school and endless fun. They were all, however, turned into donkeys – a symbol, in Italian cutlure, of ignorance and stupidity.”
Hedges paints a bleak picture in this book – all the more sobering when one considers that this Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist has spent decades covering violence and war around the globe, in Africa and the Balkans, South America and the Middle East. He states, plainly, that the age of American eminence is over. Our standard of living is going to drop. Our consumptive tendencies are going to change. Yet the biggest problem, as Hedges sees it, is American denial – an eagerness to cling to the good-times, anything-we-want illusion, “the the dark message of corporatism,” at the expense of this perilous end-of-empire reality.
For all his years in journalism, Hedges has never been hesitant to step outside the lines and draw conclusions in a pointedly “progressive” point of view. He lost his job at The New York Times, in fact, for speaking out against the war in the months before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Nationalism and myth were at the heart of his breakout book, “War is the Force that Gives Us Meaning,” which was a finalist of the National Book Critics Circle award for non-fiction in 2002.
The son of a Presbyterian minister, Hedges attended divinity school before embarking on a career in journalism. An avowed socialst, he claims to have voted for Dennis Kucinich in the Democratic presidential primary of 2008 and Independent candidate Ralph Nader in the election. He does not associate the word “hope” with the word “Obama.” He does not own a television. As a gesture of protest, he once wrote he would not pay federal income taxes in the event of a U.S. invasion of Iran.