Home > Society, Technology, Text Reflection > Text Reflection: Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges

Text Reflection: Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges

October 17, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

How accurate are perspectives on culture if such ideas stem solely from the items that culture creates? Can we look to what’s popular in a culture as an accurate symbol of the psyche of a culture? In Empire of Illusion, Chris Hedges suggests that the contents of our popular culture and symbols of the dirth of intellectual existence and ominous suggestions of a looming disaster.

Hedges uses the term “pseudo-events” to refer to the manufactured news items or events that serve to distract the populace from reality. These narratives are distributed by powerful figures to maintain order and wealth. Hedges uses multiple examples to illustrate this point, most effectively through his in-depth exploration of pornography and the network of products and figures which create a global porn culture.

Speaking to this pornography section, I found his suggestion that absolute power is almost always expressed via sexual sadism to be compelling. He cites the Abu Ghraib torture photos as primary evidence. Another comment likens porn to necrophilia and argues that the females featured in the films to be lifeless receptacles of desire and bodily fluids. Perspectives like this make the section on pornography among the best passages in the text.

Hedges uses the section on porn to establish a foundation of evidence to argue that our society is falling apart. He argues that popular culture is revelatory of both the disaster we approach and the indifference with which we greet such changes. He argues that a return to critical literary is the only corrective pathway. He points to our movement away from a production-culture, where thrift and focus were the major paradigms, and movement into a consumer-culture serves only to support and encourage the “pseudo-events” which serve to wash away value in society.

I agree with Hedges perspective, but wonder whether popular culture is a red herring when critiquing culture. Is our media not intended to provide a sense of escapism? Through their use of laugh tracks, we know the producers of sitcoms recognize the foreign worlds in which their characters function. Afterall, why trigger our laughter if the plot was accurate and stemming from our own existence? We need the laugh track to tell us when to laugh- it serves as trigger and reminder that the events are farce and fancy.

The constant development of critical thinking is always a great idea. We will never have enough critical thinking members of society and any writer who argues this and points to our low-brow points in culture will have an easy argument to frame. In Empire of Illusion, Hedges points to these grimy items of culture as signs of our destruction. He looks to Jerry Springer, WWE wrestling and a swath of trash TV as evidence. Though somewhat dated, his point is largely made. Though I argue that his convictions fail to consider the depth and variety of our culture. To simplify, Hedges’ argument is shallow and doesn’t consider the expansive nature of our culture.

One needs to look beyond our cultural creation. There is a depth for exploration and in looking to these zones a far different perspective can be developed. Yes, our society faces significant challenges and the content of popular culture is largely trash. Porn is disgusting, but aren’t all animal instincts and the items that appeal to it just as nasty? The human race is a dirty, nasty force, but in functioning in the world we have a dual existence of pleasure and production. We are not 100% critical thinkers, but I argue that when faced with signs of tyranny and when truly pushed against the wall we will truly feel compelled to act and make corrections.

Pseud0-events are certainly at play in society. We see our politicians crafting conclusions on the basis of popular perspective and not on personal conviction. Our world is lead by populists, figures who function not as clarified establishments but as slippery abstractions that can easily adjust to meet the changing perspectives of society. Such a system poses challenges to those who aim to evaluate a culture on the basis of its creations. One who does aims for specificity but fails to recognize the wishy-washy nature of the culture in which he or she exists.

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