One word sum up Hedge's Empire of Illusion
. If you've ever wondered what the word is that describes something which describes itself (think: "multisyllabic" or "trochee" or "portmanteau" or "sesquipedalian, etc.), it is autological
. In a book which so fervently rails against "spectacle" it so often falls into the realm of spectacle itself: an area which it never attempts to escape from. The book abounds in broad generalizations, half-truths, cherry-picked narratives which seem to illustrate his points, but ultimately lack in an evidence which would support his points. The book, which carries the grandiose subtitle'The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle
,' fails to rise above repeated attempts to shock: appeals over and over to emotion, to generalized statements which do more harm than they do inform.
Hedge's argument is broken into five mostly-disparate sections: the Illusions of (1) Literacy, (2) Love, (3) Wisdom, (4) Happiness, and most grandiose of all: (5) America. To anyone who reads my reviews, it is no secret my love for illusions: how they color life, literature, world-view, their benefits and dangers. What was most disappointing in this book is that the "illusions" Hedges refers to are perhaps believed by no one: who believes pornography is about love? who believes that our political systems is independent of our economic and corporate systems? who believes we have not declined in overall literacy levels, in a country where most adults don't read (or read far below their should-be reading level - Hunger Games
? and perhaps most appalling Fifty Shades of Grey
, which lacks basic grammatical coherence?)? I suspect by far most of us, at least those of us who would read this book, are long disillusioned on these points.
And that is what made this book so laborious: there is nothing new. Despite the slim size, the book feels long, it is repetitive, even it's attempts at shock become dull and worn down by overuse. From the almost wholesale appropriate of Barthes' cultural analysis of professional wrestling, to the worn out rhetoric of class warfare, Hedges' rhetoric is visibly recycled at every turn. The discussion of pornography, which fails to convince is actually an illusion of love, is almost completely concerned with women in hetero-normal pornography, ignoring male actors and porn targeted toward LGBT or marginal communities. Is there anything original in the general claim that porn actresses are objectified? or that they come from broken home situations? or that they are often drawn into drugs and prostitution? No - all these ideas have been regurgitated for decades, and Hedges adds nothing to the wealth of the homogeneous bile of generalizations in the topic. The discussion of Wisdom
, or rather the ivory tower of university life in America, transcends generalizations to the realm of outlandish, unsubstantiated and flat-out offensive claims. After bitterly censuring universities' large funding of athletics (one can imagine Hedges was not much of an athlete), he goes on to condemn professors as corporate mouthpieces used as tools to suppress student skepticism and inquiry pertaining to the status quo. In addition to being broadly applied with no evidence what-so-ever, it is a disgusting attack on academics, and ironic given his compulsion to remind the reader of the Ivy League pedigrees of his fringe source material. From there he continues his diatribe about the frigidly unfeeling elite class, whose goal is to suppress the bottom "90 percent" of Americans. If you're thinking you have chewed this bland rhetoric before, you have probably read a newspaper in the last half century.
What begins as a pathetically unoriginal philippic on class warfare becomes bizarre propaganda against the demonic "Christian Right" which Hedges claims are going to unstage the present governmental system with a demogogue and turn our country into a feudal state. At about this point I decided to struggle through the remaining 20-or-so pages, to arrive at the saccharine conclusion that "love conquers all
" - perhaps the most half-baked, unoriginal platitude produced by our society which so loves platitudes. In addition to ending the book as it began, with a rip-off, Hedges conclusion manages to be the ultimate non sequitur in a book which never fails to "not follow." From loosely distinguished arguments to poor or irrelevant examples, and lack of any evidence, to the bizarre logic holding together the five sections, this book lacks all surprise except for how quickly it can race to the bottom of any philosophical or political insight. The only surprise at all is that Hedges somehow managed to win the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction in 2009 for this pulp. It must have been a tight race between this and 101 Ways to Know You're a Gold Digger