Posted by Tegan O'Neil
On Oct. 14 approximately 100 students gathered in Gannett Auditorium to listen to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Christopher Lynn Hedges give a lecture titled "The Empire of Illusion — Is Us." The lecture was an installment of the "Theater of War in a House of Peace" program; a series of events, concerts, exhibits, performances and lectures dedicated to contemplating the effects of war.
Hedges worked as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans for nearly 20 years. He worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, where he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.
His book, "War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning" (2002) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction. His latest book is titled "The Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle" (2009).
Hedges began the lecture with a comparison of Michael Jackson and the development of American society. "Jackson reflected our own physical and psychological disintegration, especially with many Americans struggling with overwhelming debt, loss of status and deep personal confusion," Hedges said.
Hedges explained how excessive media coverage of celebrities distracts the U.S. from reality and trains us to chase illusions of unachievable fame and happiness. "Celebrity culture has taught us almost unconsciously to generate interior personal screenplays. We have learned ways of speaking and thinking that grossly disfigure the way we relate to the world and those around us," Hedges said.
Tabloid news stories take center stage, while articles with actual substance are pushed to the sidelines. According to Hedges, we are living in an empire of illusion.
"Political candidates are elected in popular votes by citizens, but are ruled by armies of corporate lobbyists in Washington or state capitals," Hedges said.
The government, which is the only institution citizens have to protect their rights, is becoming weaker — a puppet to corporations. "What, for all our faith and hope, has the Obama brand given us?" Hedges asked.
Hedges lamented that the effort to re-inflate the economy has floundered, our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan continues, the for-profit health care industry has prevented Obama from considering single payer not-for-profit health care for all Americans and the country is amassing trillions of dollars in debt, which can never be repaid.
What is most deplorable, Hedges asserts, is that the cost of the empire of illusion is being placed on those who can least afford it. "The cost of our empire of illusion is not being paid for by corporate titans. It is being paid for on the streets of our inner cities, in former manufacturing towns and in depressed rural enclaves," Hedges said.
Nearly 50 million Americans live in poverty and tens of millions of Americans live in a category called near poverty. "There are whole sections of the country that are beginning to resemble the developing world," Hedges said.
Washington has become our Versailles. "Courtiers in face powder deceive us in the name of journalism. Courtiers in our political parties promise to look out for our interests and then pass bill after bill to further corporate fraud and abuse," Hedges said.
He proposed that Americans need an honest debate about what comes next. "In the face of catastrophe, mass culture insists that if we focus on happiness our lives will be harmonious and complete," Hedges said. He maintained that this sort of response is a cultural retreat into illusion.