29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought Provoking But Uneven
This book is a collection of five 'essays', connected by the twin themes of the triumph of illusion over reality, and greed over decency. Hedges looks at different areas of American culture, ranging from acedemia to the porn industry to make his case. The book ends a discussion on how the combination of illusion and greed augur a bleak future for the US.
Published on Oct 25 2009 by Kurt Berger
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Expected a Litte More
If you were looking for hard insight into the dumbing-down of America and the current obsession with self-made celebrity, you won't find it here. Chris Hedges takes bottom of the barrel cultural mediums and uses them to represent the American population. To make a stereotype, sure one could say that those who spend their lives watching Jerry Springer, gonzo porn,...
Published on Feb 23 2010 by Daikon
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought Provoking But Uneven,
This review is from: Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (Hardcover)This book is a collection of five 'essays', connected by the twin themes of the triumph of illusion over reality, and greed over decency. Hedges looks at different areas of American culture, ranging from acedemia to the porn industry to make his case. The book ends a discussion on how the combination of illusion and greed augur a bleak future for the US.
The first four sections are much stronger than the final. The themes are clear, the examples interesting, and his case coherent. Hedges does a good job in helping the reader understand the human costs of creating illusions. He laments the decline of critical thinking and the rise of what he terms as "pseudo-events." The numerous quotations had me flipping to the bibliography and making notes for further reading.
I found that the book stalled in the last chapter, which was largely a diatribe against corporate America. Hedges seems to lose his flow and theme. While as thought provoking as the earlier chapters, it rambled and ended weakly.
I would recommend reading the book. It asks you to reflect on difference between images and ideals.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extended metaphor,
This review is from: Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (Paperback)The over-riding theme of this collection - condemning the commodification of life - hits hard from all angles. Hedges is writing in the tradition of copia, the practice of approaching an important idea in different ways in order to reach as many readers as possible. For this reason, these essays may seem uneven from piece to piece. However, the breadth of Hedges's thesis calls for this treatment.
The final essay, The Illusion of America, must fall flat by necessity because his hope lies in a simple choice: love over commodity, the dialectic that has dominated great minds of all disciplines throughout civilization. Why make a simple, universal value more complex than it is? to cater to our contemporary craving for a stunning climax, even in non-fiction? The first essay holds possible keys to this disappointment; WWE fans aren't the only victims of commodified entertainment. We all are. It's the air we breathe.
The ideas in this book are far-reaching and immediately useful. They cry out for action, which every reader is able to employ. Democracy is a tool that we must teach ourselves to use, and this book is part of my personal toolkit.
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Expected a Litte More,
This review is from: Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (Hardcover)If you were looking for hard insight into the dumbing-down of America and the current obsession with self-made celebrity, you won't find it here. Chris Hedges takes bottom of the barrel cultural mediums and uses them to represent the American population. To make a stereotype, sure one could say that those who spend their lives watching Jerry Springer, gonzo porn, wrestling, and reality shows are less likely to have read books, but it doesn't explain why they enjoy investing their lives into those things. It doesn't explain where less literacy may equate to narcissistic fantasy. A lot of North American reality shows & game shows are inspired by or are franchises of shows from other parts of the world, and though the youth in other countries may also be obsessed with social networking sites, they do not suffer from high crime rates, low education levels, and fascist nationalism like in America. Hedges doesn't explain nor come up with solutions for any of his observed statements. He also states that Canada and America has a population that is 42% illiterate or semi-illiterate. What he doesn't explain is that both nations have a huge immigrant population. The Canadian census for 1991-2001 shows that 70% of the work force is made up of immigrants. In the latter chapters, he then starts attacking corporations and capitalism in a Naomi Klein'esque way, using disparate, egregious events as proof for socialism. It kind of broke up the feel of the book.
The book does bring up a few good points to ponder about. I just didn't enjoy the way these points were made or brought up.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Real Causes of National Decline,
This review is from: Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (Hardcover)In this series of critical essays on America's current and future national status, Hedges attacks all that its leaders and citizens have come to regard as the cornerstones of its existence. In clear expository fashion, he challenges an assortment of major social, moral, political and economic myths that this society has created in the name of generating wealth, fostering national pride, exploiting the weak, and dominating the world. At the end of these withering assessments, the reader should have no problem understanding Hedges's concerns about this country's dangerously shaky grasp of reality. He believes that the US, through the corporate manipulation of many of its misguided leaders and the willingness of millions of naive citizens to follow, has created the illusion of a world empire that promotes freedom for all while rewarding a select few for accepting risk. In the space of five poignant essays, Hedges employs his expository skills to expose the fallacy of such a culture. Life is not, as the utopian or liberal would have us believe, getting better over time. In fact, just the opposite can be proven. The ability to read is being replaced the desire for digital images in the form of video games; the traditional sense of love and fidelity is being corrupted by the instant gratification of pornography; the importance of renewing national values is giving way to enforcing international superiority; and the deference to wisdom and knowledge is succumbing to arrogance, intolerance and stupidity. To prevent these writings from becoming a murky rant against all that is perceived to be wrong in society, Hedges provides a lot of critical information that confirms the unmistably downward spiral of a once proud country. Lying is supplanting honesty; incivility is trumping decency; the corporate agenda is controlling the individual; and ignorance is triumphing over knowledge. In this wake-up call, Hedges asks his readers to challenge the so-called false narrative of individual security and national prominence by by standing up for what is really important in life: caring for each other. While it might not save a nation hopelessly mired in debt and enamoured with its own importance, it could save our individual souls. His essay, "The Illusion of Love", in its revelations about the sordid world of pornography, is one of the toughest and most graphic passages I have ever read. If you don't believe in the power of evil to destroy, or you think Hedges is given to exaggerating his claims, pay particular attention to this selection. A must read for any of us who are under the Pollyannaish impression that somehow society is bound to change for the better. No good news here except for those of us who are prepared to act by our consciences than by our selfish impulses and fixations.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Our MacHappy Life,
This review is from: Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (Paperback)A left-wing view of America and, by extension, the West. The author looks at professional wrestling, pornography, Ivy League schools that crank out zombies with meaningless degrees and at those tedious corporate cheer-leading sessions that many of us have had to attend. His point? That by living vacuous lives inside a giant machine that provides us with tiresome jobs in exchange for some fantasy time in Vegas or watching porn, we're avoiding the real world and all of the issues that it faces. The ruling elite meanwhile, can get on with, well, ruling. All this time, the American Empire is spending itself into oblivion, bankrupt both economically and morally, but that's okay 'cause we have satellite TV!
I agree with a lot of what Hedges says, but I think he could have provided more of a historical background as to how we ended up where we are and how we can get out of this place rather than just plopping us down in the middle of the mess. Still, a good read with some excellent points.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A short expose well worth the read.,
Wisdom is replaced with meaningless technical language exclusive to a club of experts in the field of social science. Happiness is replaced with the illusion of happiness in the group as promoted by Appreciative Inquiry and Positive psychology. The individual pursuit of meaning in life is replaced with an identification with the success of a corporate identity. Tremendous pressure is placed on workers to stay on task and not let down their fellow workers. Mr. Hedges despairs about the state of American society and an economy that is unsustainable yet he ends his book with a statement of faith. He believes that the goodness of man will prevail. Man's acts of love and kindness have left far more enduring messages from our ancestors than those of greed and violence. This a short expose which is well worth the read.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Narcissism - you have to love it....,
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ....the fall of the US and its empires,
While many reviewers have difficulties with the final three pages, I feel that mountains are being made of mole hills. The author, I feel, has a natural compulsion to end his text with a bit of hope, as trite as it may be. The author did that to the best of his ability.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars This is a primal scream, not an analysis,
This review is from: Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (Paperback)Chris Hedges does a good job of describing a number of illusions under which he feels the American public is suffering to its detriment and ultimately to its ruin. Despite the prominence of the "end of literacy" in the title, Hedges spends little time examining the causes of its decline/death. He goes straight for the "spectacle" part, probably because it's much more entertaining. In point of fact, that's my complaint with Hedges's whole treatment of his subject. He does no dispassionate analysis, preferring instead to entertain with a spectacle of his own making. In short, this is a screed, a cry of the heart, a primal scream from page one to the end. If you agree with his leftist bent, you will find it somewhat entertaining, although tirelessly breathless and way over the top. If you don't agree with his left-leaning mindset, but basically agree with the title and would like to have a solid foundation, give this book a pass. You won't get it here.
The book, to be fair, is not entirely without merit. His treatment of the spectacle-loving part of American life is, like a good magazine article, passionate and entertaining. You get to see Jerry Springer's show up front and personal. It is shocking and enervating. It's no surprise that the wrestling entertainment industry is similarly debauched. The same can be said of the porn industry (which he correctly characterizes as not about sex but about violence to women), although it is a chapter that could have been easily chopped in half and had the same effect. All this and more is offered to the reader to demonstrate that the public lives by, indeed craves, its coveted illusions. And they are nasty, brutal illusions. These spectacles are almost on a par with those of the ancient Roman coliseum. We are not there yet, but we're on the right road. And when you are fixated by your illusions, you don't see the reality they hide.
Mr. Hedges should follow his own advice and rid himself of his own illusion of leftist bliss. The author that so passionately calls for clear-eyed thinking is himself wedded to an illusion that he fails to detect. He thinks he sees the bit of sawdust in the other's eye, but he doesn't notice the log in his own. As an ex-seminarian of the Harvard Divinity School, he should appreciate the weight of that reference.
Where Chris Hedges goes off the rails begins half-way though the book with a chapter entitled "The Illusion of Wisdom." As I said above, Mr. Hedges is a leftist, a hard leftist. There is nothing wrong in that, as long as he can argue his case. But he doesn't. He merely states his complaint and assumes his readers will be persuaded by his by his merely having stated it. I'm guessing that his long years of writing for left-liberal magazines has inured him to the appeal of actually making a cogent argument. He assumes you're already on board. In book length treatment of a topic, however, I don't think he should make that assumption. But we've got to remember that Hedges is not trying to convince anybody of his worldview; he assumes we are already there with him.
Hedges is passionate in his condemnation of the U.S. as a "corporate state." Although he never defines the term (again, because he assumes we're all singing from the same sheet), he probably means that the state is effectively controlled by corporate entities. It can also mean that the state is run as if it were a corporation: that is, with little or no input from the "shareholders," the voting public. Hedges, at almost every point in the last half of the book, leaves the reader with no question that the United States is a long way along to utter corporatism. It is in the thrall of corporate interests. Big business is the bad guy; it is the devil, the evil influence that must be eradicated in all its aspects. Corporate interests keep Americans from true freedom, from self-fulfillment, from helping the poor, from keeping the environment clean and pure, from lower taxes, from true democracy, from just about everything is that just and true and human.
"Individualism," asserts Hedges, "is touted as the core of American culture, and yet most of us meekly submit, as we're supposed to, to the tyranny of the corporate state. ... Our elected officials base their decisions not on the public good but on the possibility of campaign contributions and lucrative employment on leaving office." And because the common man is effectively disenfranchised, political extremism is not far behind. "The rage bubbling up from our impoverished and disenfranchised working class presages a looming and dangerous right-wing backlash." This is scary stuff. Apparently the United States is on the brink of a revolution, not the left-wing kind that Mr. Hedges would welcome, but the "right-wing" kind that would..what?..bring more corporate hegemony?
In Hedges's world everyone is at fault, except the leftists of his liking. But who are they? Who remains once the Democratic party is jettisoned, which it is? He never tells us, although Ralph Nader is quoted approvingly at some length. So too is Lenin.
Capitalism, in Mr. Hedges's telling, is to blame for all the ills of American society. All of them. From the depletion of natural resources to the spoliation of the environment, to global warming, to financial catastrophe, to the depletion of fish stocks, and so on and so on. You won't find unions anywhere in his list of enemies.
This is not a book for the faint of heart. It's difficult to wade your way through this lengthy rant with so little meat to satisfy your hunger for something, anything, solid. But, then again, this is after all a primal scream. It is not a logical, clear eyed analysis that the title might have led you to believe lies within. Basically, Hedges is a romantic obsessed by a vision of ideal community life that excludes--apparently--human beings. He's welcome to it. Despite the challenges facing us, Mr. Hedges's vision of perfection is not one I would want to sign on to.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An American Eye-Opener,
Today's celebrity culture, junk politics and "reality" television symbolize for Hedges the decay of American society and culture. Rather than discuss real issues and examine America's real role in the world as a culture we have been caught up in the illusion that Hollywood is peddling. We care more about which star is dating which starlet than we do about the progress or lack thereof in the restoration of New Orleans.
In pursuit of the almighty dollar the wealthiest of Americans have outsourced most our manufacturing sector and turned our production society into a consumption society. We are a nation of spenders not savers. We consume the latest fad products rather than invest in infrastructure. We have mortgaged what our ancestors have built and stolen from future generations so we can consume beyond our means today.
If you feel you can handle the truth about America then give Hedges Empire of Illusion a thorough read. You'll be unsettled but in a positive way.
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Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle by Chris Hedges (Paperback - Aug 24 2010)
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