“We have transformed our culture into a vast replica of Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island, where boys were lured with the promise of no school and endless fun. They were all, however turned into donkeys – a symbol of ignorance and stupidity”
In Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle Chris Hedges pulls no punches in condemning the corruption, materialism and lies that he believes US culture is enslaved to. I think it’s an important book – a sort of intellectual version of a Michael Moore film.
Hedges’ uses the pretend world of professional wrestling and the increasingly degrading porn industry as illustrations of the power of this illusory world. Also included in his critique is gimmicky US church culture which sells a shallow form of hope without helping people engage with reality.
But he also hones in on weightier targets such as the lack of intellectual independence in Harvard, Yale and America’s other elite universities who have sold their souls to big business. He savages the corruption and power of US Corporations and their manipulation of the government.
Hedges compares the US to other empires which have corroded through corruption and immorality throughout history:
‘Our culture of illusion is, at its core, a culture of death. It will die and leave little of value behind.’
Similiarly to many Biblical prophets, the message of this book is mainly deconstructive. It speaks the truth to power. It is a call to resistance. But what about renewal – is there any hope?
Well, not much – but there is some. Hedges states in the book’s final paragraph: ‘Hope exists. It will always exist…’ and he goes on to say (reminding me of I Corinthians 13):
‘The power of love is greater than the power of death. It cannot be controlled. It is about sacrifice for the other – something nearly every parent understands – rather than exploitation. It is about honouring the sacred. And power elites for millenia have tried and failed to crush the force of love. Blind and dumb, indifferent to the siren calls of celebrity, unable to bow before illusions, defying the lust for power, love constantly rises up to remind a wayward society of what is real and what is illusion. Love will endure, even when it appears darkness has swallowed us all, to triumph over the wreckage that remains.’
This book argues powerfully that in the darkness of this world there is much to resist. But hope is displayed in authentic, sacrificial love. This is what will bring true renewal.