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Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle [Kindle Edition]

Chris Hedges
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (242 customer reviews)

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Book Description

We now live in two Americas. One—now the minority—functions in a print-based, literate world that can cope with complexity and can separate illusion from truth. The other—the majority—is retreating from a reality-based world into one of false certainty and magic. To this majority—which crosses social class lines, though the poor are overwhelmingly affected—presidential debate and political rhetoric is pitched at a sixth-grade reading level. In this “other America,” serious film and theater, as well as newspapers and books, are being pushed to the margins of society.

In the tradition of Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism and Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, Pulitzer Prize-winner Chris Hedges navigates this culture—attending WWF contests, the Adult Video News Awards in Las Vegas, and Ivy League graduation ceremonies—to expose an age of terrifying decline and heightened self-delusion.



Editorial Reviews

Review

"Remarkable, bracing and highly moral, Empire of Illusion is Hedges' lament for his nation."
Maclean's

"Each chapter of Empire of Illusion makes a strong case for how different illusions — of literacy, love, wisdom, happiness — taken together are destroying the American mind, culture and the nation itself."
National Post

"Each chapter torches one of our cultural illusions."
The Globe and Mail

"Hedges is a fan of big ideas, and in Empire of Illusion, he draws upon the culture of professional wrestling and pornography, the elite university, positive psychology and the financial crisis to fashion a social theory of everything."
Winnipeg Free Press

About the Author

Chris Hedges is currently a senior fellow at The Nation Institute and a Lecturer in the Council of the Humanities and the Anschutz Distinguished Fellow at Princeton University. He has reported from more than 50 countries, and worked for The New York Times, where he spent fifteen years. He currently writes for numerous US publications including Foreign Affairs, Harper's magazine, The New York Review of Books, Granta and Mother Jones.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
703 of 722 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An anguished, angry cry of outraged reason July 16, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Chris Hedges' newest book may be a screed, but it's an uncomfortably accurate one, delving into the addictive, corrupting hold of comforting & distracting illusion over too many Americans. From the even vaster wasteland of TV, brought to us by endless channels, to the drug of sensation at its lowest common denominator from the porn industry, to the "think happy thoughts" snake oil of both New Age & fundamentalist belief systems --

But you have to stop & catch your breath, or else be swept away by the torrent of mediocrity & cheerfully willful ignorance that passes for contemporary culture & thought. Once you're aware of how thoroughly blanderized & infantilized our culture has become, it's all too easy to succumb to despair or cynicism. And with good cause!

Hedges wisely selects just a few specific examples as indicators of something far more pervasive & widespread. Particularly disturbing is the chapter on the so-called "adult" entertainment industry, which is anything but adult. The graphic description of the ways in which women are used & discarded as commodities is sickening, yet we're clearly just getting the tip of a very slimy iceberg.

And Hedges connects this aspect of dehumanization to the horrors of Abu Ghraib, showing how sexuality & torture intertwine. Most disturbing of all is how accepted & mainstream this sort of "entertainment" has become -- we're not talking about erotica or old-fashioned porn, which at least portrayed sex as mutually enjoyable for men & women; what we see now is humiliation, suffering, pain, almost all of it inflicted on women for the pleasure of emotionally stunted men.
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319 of 331 people found the following review helpful
By Chris
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Hedges describes how corporate entertainment encourages people to desire to be rich and famous, devote themselves to material things, reckless self-gratification and reckless consumer spending. It encourages people to care much more about news relating to celebrities than genuinely important news. Hedges analyzes episodes of WWE wrestling, Survivor, The Swan and Jerry Springer to back up his arguments about pop culture.

Chapter 2 is about porn. Porn actresses are portrayed by porn mediums as nothing more than wild beasts whose only desire is to satisfy the sadistic fantasies of men. Most porn actresses are heavy drinkers and drug addicts as a result of the mental pain and serious physical damage to their private areas, front and back, caused by their line of work. Most of them appear to work in escort services on the side. Hedges give an account of one porn movie featuring an actress who engages in the very unhealthy activity of engaging in sex acts with 65 different men over the six hour shoot of the film. Porn is one of the biggest industries in this nation; a great many of our male citizens appear to take pleasure in the degrading and brutal version of sex found in modern porn.

The last chapter is a sort of general overview of the dismal state of this country. Hedges writes that our financial crisis is rooted in the destruction of American manufacturing since the 1970's. An example of the decline of American manufacturing ability, he observes, occurred when the city of New York in 2003 offered a several billion dollar contract for a company to build subway cars. No American company took the offer, which was eventually given to Canadian and Japanese companies.
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220 of 231 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertainment is a Force That Gives Us Meaning July 3, 2009
Format:Hardcover
Chris Hedges, the Pulitzer-Prize winning author of "War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning" and "I Don't Believe in Atheists", is back with another diatribe about our morally-bankrupt society. Whether you agree with all of his assertions or not, "Empire of Illusion" is a necessary, thought-provoking work on the role of entertainment in American culture.

Particularly fascinating is Hedges's take on professional wrestling. Whenever an academic brings up wrestling, it is usually as an example of low-brow culture. Hedges doesn't snub his nose, however: He merely observes and reports.

His thesis that wrestling storylines have "evolved to fit the new era...by focusing on the family dysfunction that comes with social breakdown" is on the money: Gone are the simple bouts of good vs. evil. "Morality is irrelevant," he writes. "Wrestlers can be good one week and evil the next. All that matters is their own advancement." The "illusion" here isn't that wrestling is fake. The "illusion" is that the wrestlers are idealized versions of what we want to become. He asserts that this mirrors a fundamental change in society.

Hedges traces this change through other American institutions (reality television, celebrity culture, the adult industry, universities, psychologists), arguing that we are "unable to distinguish between illusion and reality". We forgo morals for an elusive and unattainable happiness. He states that we "will either wake from our state of induced childishness...or continue our headlong retreat into fantasy".

The subtitle--"The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle"--is somewhat of a misnomer. Even with the alarming illiteracy rate in this country, it's a stretch to say that literacy has literally come to an end.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended!
A compelling read! Highly recommended!
Published 21 days ago by William Kay
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as his others
As usual, Hedges writes with clarity and adds some very interesting stories to boot. But in the end, unlike his other books, this one doesn't strike you as hard (or me). Read more
Published 26 days ago by BronxRev
5.0 out of 5 stars You will never look at a screen the same again.
I have read this book several times. The tragedy is that we have become a screen culture, televisions, computers, phones, tablets, etc. Read more
Published 1 month ago by VINCENT WILYARD
5.0 out of 5 stars Chris Hedges, torch bearer, master of disillusion
Chris Hedges opens windows and shines light into the very scary, very dark cellar of the crumbling house we live in. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Wild Dove
5.0 out of 5 stars Chris Hedges hits the proverbial "nail on the head" with Empire of...
What a page-turner! I could not put this book down! Where do I start? Chris Hedges hits the proverbial "nail on the head" with Empire of Illusion. Read more
Published 3 months ago by S. Williams
2.0 out of 5 stars Mostly illusion, not much reality
Just open the book,small type,smaller type,uninterrupted prose with no tables,no graphs and no data. You can find the illusion but not the reality. Read more
Published 3 months ago by James S. Kelley
5.0 out of 5 stars good book
Chris Hedges is a man of gravitas. He gives great insight on American society. He informs readers about what many cherish is actually corroding society in this book. Read more
Published 3 months ago by steve
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Explains how we are duped by the upper class of the oligarchy.
Published 3 months ago by Dean G. Rose
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Delivered on time as promised.
Published 3 months ago by Academic Al
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great book. Must read for all!
Published 4 months ago by James Gallardo
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More About the Author

Chris Hedges is a cultural critic and author who was a foreign correspondent for nearly two decades for The New York Times, The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor and National Public Radio. He reported from Latin American, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He was a member of the team that won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for The New York Times coverage of global terrorism, and he received the 2002 Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism. Hedges, who holds a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School, is the author of the bestsellers American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle and was a National Book Critics Circle finalist for his book War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. He is a Senior Fellow at The Nation Institute and writes an online column for the web site Truthdig. He has taught at Columbia University, New York University, Princeton University and the University of Toronto.

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