Saturday, 8 May 2010

The Self-Inflicted Blindness of the American Empire

The American Gospel, of course, foolishly insists that only US was free of imperial behavior. (It was our Superego’s way of persuading the National Id that we never acted imperiously either to the red American indigenes or the black American slaves.) Citizens who still insist on our unblemished state need to consult the autobiography of Woodrow Wilson’s Marine General. Chris Hedges’ “Empire of Illusion” (Nation Books, 2009) brings the sad self delusion up to date.

He bases his overall critique about the infantilization of our voting public on my former NCTE colleague Neil Postman’s book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death:Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business”(Penguin, 1985). Sadly, Neil passed away from lung cancer at age 71, a terrible loss to media criticism.

He chided his generation for preferring George Orwell’s “1984” where people are controlled by pain To Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” where nonreaders are “amused to death”. H.L.Mencken’s “booboisie” had become Alfred Neumann’s Mad mag anti-hero in one generation. For example, the once able city mayor Jerry Springer induces morons to shriek “JER-RY,JER-RY” in weekday TV shoutouts.

How did Las Vegas become the cultural capital of America? Postman explained:”At different times in our history, different cities have been the focal point of a radiating American spirit. In the late eighteenth century, for example, Boston was the center of a political radicalism that ignited a shot heard round the world.” In the mid-nineteenth century New York “became the symbol of a melting pot America.” In early twentieth century Chicago came to symbolize “the industrial energy and dynamism of America”.

“Today,” Postman continued,” we must look to the city of Las Vegas, Nevada, as a metaphor of our national character and aspiration, its symbol a thirty-foot high cardboard of a slot machine and a chorus girl. For Las Vegas is a city entirely devoted to the idea of entertainment, and as such proclaims the spirit of a culture in which all public discourse increasingly takes the form of entertainment.

Our politics, our religion, news, athletics, education, and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business, largely without protest or even much popular notice.”( P.65.)This is the urban morass to which local guru Robert Venturi took Yalies to “learn” about the values of architecture!

Chris Hedges has examined American mores to understand how we managed to lend in such an intellectual ditch. He begins with astonishingly rapid growth of the media porn business. He also examines how our mainstream media have become corporate puppydogs, with notable exceptions like Amy Goodman, Bill Moyer and Jim Hightower. The next sector of his enlightenment is the corruption of university psychology departments who have devised corporatist syllabi that induce their employees to give over all policy decisions to executive control.

These agendas of self destruction—first abandon literacy, then love, next comply with media ignorance, and finally accepting without revolt the militarization of the industrial culture. Blackwater types go berserk in Iraq. Uncontested contracts loot the treasury. Mainly the blue collar and the poor Americans die, not to forget thousands of indigenes. All promoted with clichés of freedom when control over oil is what really matters.

Corrupted by such a fatuous daily media education, only a specialist handful are aware that we have 761(!) military bases throughout the world. Or that the U.S. military spends more than all the rest of the world combined! In fiscal 2008 that came to $623 billion (2010, estimated $700 billion). The nearest to that is China’s piddling $65 billion.

The Defense industries deploy their factories across as many electoral districts as possible, as if their lobbying had not given them another leverage. We have been lying to each other for so long that Chris Hedges has no real program for self restoral. Like Neil charged in his most cogent book, we have abused our culture mercilessly as we amused ourselves into early oblivion.

No comments: