Is Hedges overwrought? Is he exaggerating the crisis at hand? If so, it's not by very much. As a war correspondent of some 20 years, he's seen the brutal results of illusionary thinking first-hand. This book is born of bitter experience, as Hedges bears witness to the ongoing destruction of the human soul, which is lost in a world of glittering superficiality which can't conceal its innate cruelty, ugliness & emptiness.
Empire of Illusion came into my hands over a long dinner in Astoria. The carcass of a quality tapas spread and octopus massacre lay in between myself, a New York City civil servant, and an emergency room doctor. The combination of my background and recent experience prompt many big city people to ask questions about potential conflicts of thought, action, norms, etc. They are usually on point.
In one of these conversations, it was made clear I would appreciate this read, a thick and powerful study of America from the outside in and the inside out - narrated with a sharp and intelligent tone fitting of the city.
This is the kind of book that one unaffiliated fears reviewing or being seen reading and being associated with a political poarty or more frighteningly getting slapped with the new categorization technique that stops all civil discourse: progressive, conservative, elitist, extremist, communist, and so on. Let's orchestrate a simultaneous gasp; I don't fit any of those categories.
My nightly Hulu queue would earmark me a Democrat, and a snarky one at that. My affinity for public transportation and accessible education would make me a naive progressive. I'm failing to recall a conservative attribute...maybe my illusion of self-sustenance, but this is exactly my point. I fail to clearly categorize myself, which presents a struggle for the reader hoping I kick one leg over the fence to their side soon before they hear something offensive.
And if I can claim to be completely unfriendly to affiliations, some will slap an anarchist or disillusioned sticker on my byline and know my grade before they read on.
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.
- Chris, reviewer on Amazon
I took the same approach to the Empire of Illusion. It unnerved me to hear strong stances on media straight from one agenda and hear something rather harsh about those with whom he seemed to agree.
I also felt like Hedges stats and rhetoric gave me enough fire while reading that I would pause frequently to angrily debate with the others in my head. This made subway rides rather unproductive for my reading and awkward for those sitting across from me.
I love that people think differently. It keeps me steadily reevaluating why I act the way I do. Nature's checks and balances. But as that relates to our manmade civilization and the betterment of our lives, why do we replace this healthy balance with impassionate cliques that take part in time and money-sapping political theater?
If we all had airtight memories and the enviable autistic sensibility to call out bullsh*t (this is a family-friendly blog, for Pete's sake), I would hope this socio-political climate would be much more like a pleasant, consistent SoCal weather than a radically varying Indiana autumn season.
'Creative destruction is the essential fact about unfettered capitalism.'
- Empire of Illusion, quote by Joseph Schumpeter
As I finished this book, I was led to envision my life without electricity or widespread interconnectivity. He called our culture "Peter Pan culture (190)." Thankfully Hedges bids the reader adieu singing "All you need is Love," the one thing that stays surprisingly afloat in every civil collapse.
This 20-year veteran of war correspondence leaves the reader with a mission to practice senseless kindness, because the powers that deplete don't know how to conquer it.
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.