Those that fail to create a believable illusion are deemed failures. Truth is irrelevant. Those who succeed in politics, as in most of the culture, are those who create the brands and pseudo-events that offer the most convincing fantasies. And this is the art Obama has mastered. Random facts or obscure bits of data and trivia are used to bolster illusion and give it credibility or are discarded if they interfere with the message.
The worse reality becomes—the more, for example, foreclosures and unemployment skyrocket—the more people seek refuge and comfort in illusions. When opinions cannot be distinguished from facts, when there is no universal standard to determine truth in law, in science, in scholarship, or in reporting the events of the day, when the most valued skill is the ability to entertain, the world becomes a place where lies become true, where people can believe what they want to believe.
This is the real danger of pseudo-events and why pseudo-events are far more pernicious than stereotypes. They do not explain reality, as stereotypes attempt to, but replace reality. Pseudo-events redefine reality by the parameters set by their creators. The shift in values is a shift from a fixed morality to the artifice of presentation. The old cultural values of thrift and moderation honored hard work, integrity and courage. The consumption-oriented culture honors charm, fascination, and likeability.
It is about performance. It is about lies. It is about keeping us in a perpetual state of childishness. But the longer we live in illusion, the worse reality will be when it finally shatters our fantasies. They beg demagogues to come to their rescue. This is the ultimate danger of the Obama brand.
It effectively masks the wanton internal destruction and theft being carried out by our corporate state. These corporations, once they have stolen trillions in taxpayer wealth, will leave tens of millions of Americans bereft, bewildered, and yearning for even more potent and deadly illusions, ones that could swiftly snuff out what is left of our diminished open society. Did it echo off the walls of the crowded morgues filled with the mutilated bodies of the Muslim dead in Baghdad or Kabul? Was it broadcast from the tops of minarets in the villages and towns decimated by U.
Was it heard in the squalid refugee camps of Gaza, where 1. How does it look for Obama to call for democracy and human rights from Egypt, where we lavishly fund and support the despotic regime of Hosni Mubarak, one of the longest-reigning dictators in the Middle East? They grasp that nothing so far has changed for Muslims in the Middle East under the Obama administration. The wars of occupation go on or have been expanded. Israel continues to flout international law, gobbling up more Palestinian land and carrying out egregious war crimes in Gaza.
The speech at Cairo University, which usually has trucks filled with riot police outside the university gates and a heavy security presence on campus to control the student body, is an example of the facade. Student political groups, as everyone who joined in the standing ovation for the president knew, are prohibited.
We are not trying to end terror or promote democracy. We are ensuring that our corporate state has a steady supply of the cheap oil to which it is addicted. And the scarcer oil becomes, the more aggressive we become. This is the game playing out in the Muslim world. The Bush White House openly tortured. The Obama White House tortures and pretends not to. It has sought to continue the practice of rendering prisoners to unknown and unknowable locations outside the United States, and sought to keep secret many though not all of the records regarding our treatment of those detainees.
The rage comes because we have constructed massive military bases, some the size of small cities, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Kuwait, and established basing rights in the Gulf States of Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates. The rage comes because we have expanded our military empire into neighboring Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.
It comes because we station troops and special forces in Egypt, Algeria, and Yemen. And this vast network of bases and military outposts looks suspiciously permanent. The Muslim world fears, correctly, that we intend to dominate Middle East oil supplies and any Caspian Sea oil infrastructure. And it is interested not in our protestations of good will but in the elemental right of justice and freedom from foreign occupation.
We would react, should the situation be reversed, no differently. We can blame the violence on a clash of civilizations. We can naively tell ourselves we are envied for our freedoms. We can point to the Koran. But these are fantasies that divert us from facing the central dispute between us and the Muslim world, from facing our own responsibility for the virus of chaos and violence spreading throughout the Middle East.
We can have peace when we shut down our bases, stay the hand of the Israelis to create a Palestinian state, and go home, or we can have long, costly, and ultimately futile regional war. We cannot have both. Bush, is the newest brand used to peddle the poison of permanent war. But those who bury the dead do. The pernicious idea that democracy lies in the choice between competing brands and the freedom to accumulate vast sums of personal wealth at the expense of others has collapsed.
The conflation of freedom with the free market has been exposed as a sham. And class warfare, once buried under the happy illusion that we were all going to enter an age of prosperity with unfettered capitalism, is returning with a vengeance. And this crisis will lead to a period of profound political turmoil and change. Those who care about the plight of the working class and the poor must begin to mobilize quickly, or we will lose our last opportunity to save our embattled democracy. The most important struggle will be to wrest the organs of communication from corporations that use mass media to demonize movements of social change and empower protofascist movements such as the Christian Right.
These corporations used mass communication, as well as an understanding of the human subconscious, to turn consumption into an inner compulsion. Old values—thrift; regional identity that had its own iconography; aesthetic expression and history; diverse immigrant traditions; self-sufficiency; and media that were decentralized to provide citizens with a voice in their communities—were all destroyed to create mass corporate culture.
New desires and habits were implanted by corporate advertisers to replace the old. Individual frustrations and discontents could be solved, corporate culture assured us, through the wonders of consumerism and cultural homogenization. American culture—or cultures—was or were replaced with junk culture and junk politics.
The very slogans of advertising and mass culture have become the idiom of common expression, robbing us of the language to make sense of the destruction. We confuse this manufactured commodity culture with American culture. How do we recover what was lost? How do we reclaim the culture s destroyed by corporations?
How do we fight back now that the consumer culture has fallen into a state of decay? What can we do to reverse the cannibalization of government and the national economy by the corporations? All periods of profound change occur in a crisis. It was a crisis that brought us the New Deal, now largely dismantled by the corporate state. We can go in either direction. Events move at the speed of light when societies and cultural assumptions break down. Our bankrupt liberalism, which naively believes Barack Obama is the antidote to our permanent war economy and Wall Street fraud, will either rise from its coma or be rolled over by an organized corporate elite and their right-wing lapdogs.
The corporate domination of the airwaves, of most print publications, and an increasing number of Internet sites means we will have to search, and search quickly, for alternative forms of communication to thwart the rise of totalitarian capitalism. It offers the phantom of objectivity. It creates the notion that the universe of discourse is limited to two positions. Issues become black or white. They are not seen as complex with a multitude of factors. Corporate and government propaganda, aimed to sway emotions, rarely uses facts to sell its positions.
And because progressives have lost the gift of rhetoric, once a staple of a university education, because they naively believe in the Enlightenment ideal that facts alone can move people toward justice, they are largely helpless. This is not true. Human-rights and labor groups, investigative journalists, consumer watchdog organizations, and advocacy agencies have, in the face of this manipulation, inundated the public sphere with reports and facts.
But facts alone, Ewen says, make little difference. And as we search for alternative ways to communicate in a time of crisis, we must also communicate in new forms. We must appeal to emotion as well as to reason. The power of this appeal to emotion is evidenced in the photographs of Jacob Riis, a New York journalist, who, with a team of assistants at the end of the nineteenth century, initiated urban-reform photography. His stark portraits of the filth and squalor of urban slums awakened the conscience of a nation. It is a recovery of this style, one that turns the abstraction of fact into a human flesh, one that is not afraid of emotion and passion, which will permit us to counter the force of corporate propaganda.
We may know that fossil fuels are destroying our ecosystem. We may be able to cite the statistics. But the oil and natural gas industry continues its flagrant rape of the planet. It is able to do this because of the money it uses to control legislation and a massive advertising campaign that paints the oil and natural gas industry as part of the solution. A group called Energy Tomorrow, for example—an advocacy arm of the American Petroleum Institute—has been running a series of television ads. She argues, before each image, that oil and natural gas are critical to providing not only energy needs but also health care and jobs.
As each ad closes you see in the lower right-hand corner, in very small letters, API, the American Petroleum Institute, the lobbying group for ExxonMobil and all the other big oil companies. For the average viewer there is nothing in the ad to indicate this is being produced by the oil industry. And facts alone will be powerless to thwart the mendacity spun out through billions of dollars in corporate advertising, lobbying, and control of traditional sources of information.
We will have to descend into the world of the forgotten, to write, photograph, paint, sing, act, blog, video, and film with anger and honesty that have been blunted by the parameters of traditional journalism. The distinctions among artists, social activists, and journalists have to be erased. These distinctions diminish the power of reform, justice, and an understanding of the truth. And it is for this purpose that these distinctions are there. One of the major problems of the present is that those structures designed to promote a progressive agenda are antediluvian.
It champions unfettered capitalism and globalization as eternal. This is the classic tactic power elites use to maintain themselves. But the fantasy, despite the desperate raiding of taxpayer funds to keep the corporate system alive, is now coming undone. The lie is being exposed. And the corporate state is running scared. That is not something we should view as an impossible task.
The World As It Is
It is a very possible task. There is evidence of how possible that task is, especially if you look at the development of the underground press in the s. The underground press, which started cropping up all over the country, was not a marginal phenomenon. It leeched into the society. It developed an approach to news and communication that was ten steps ahead of the mainstream media. Who controls the past controls the present, who controls the present controls the future, as George Orwell said. This is a succinct explanation of the ways in which power functions.
All of these things are filled with an understanding that communicating ideas and producing forms of public communication that empower people, rather than disempowering people, relies on an integrated understanding of who the public is and what it might be. We have a lot to learn from the history of rhetoric. We need to think about where we are going. We need to think about what twenty-first-century pamphleteering might be. We need to think about the ways in which the rediscovery of rhetoric—not lying, but rhetoric in its more conventional sense—can affect what we do.
We need to look at those historical antecedents where interventions happened that stepped ahead of the news. And to some extent this is happening. The battle ahead will be fought outside the journalistic mainstream, he said. The old forms of journalism are dying or have sold their souls to corporate manipulation and celebrity culture.
We must now wed fact to rhetoric. We must appeal to reason and emotion. We must not be afraid to openly take sides, to speak, photograph, or write on behalf of the disempowered. And, Ewen believes, we have a chance in the coming crisis to succeed. He did what a lot of inner-city kids desperate to make money do. He sold drugs. He was arrested and sent to jail three years later for dealing marijuana and PCP on the streets of Trenton, New Jersey, mostly to white kids driving in from the suburbs. It was a job that saw him robbed at gunpoint and stabbed in the chest.
Brown, when he got out after three and a half years, was done with street life. His boy, now twenty-four, is a high school teacher in Texas. Brown would not leave the streets of Trenton but his son would. It made him proud. It gave him hope. He hurried down the block toward the home to see what was wrong.
What was wrong was him. On the basis of a police photograph, he had been identified by an eighty-two-yearold woman as the man who had robbed her of nine dollars at gunpoint a few hours earlier. The only other witness to the crime insisted the elderly victim was confused. That witness told the police Brown was innocent. I had not committed a crime in twenty years. But this time he was charged with armed robbery.
If convicted, he would be locked away for many years. His grown son and his three young boys would live, as he had, without the presence of a father.
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The little ones—eleven-yearold twins and a ten-year-old—would be adults when he got out. When he met with his state-appointed attorney, the lawyer, like most state-appointed attorneys, pushed him to accept a plea bargain, one that would see him behind bars for at least the next decade. Brown pulled the pictures of his children out of his wallet, laid the pictures carefully on the table in front of the lawyer, looked at the faces of his children, and broke down in tears.
He shook and sobbed. He refused the plea bargain offer. He sat in jail for the next two years before getting a trial. It was a time of deep despair. Jail had changed since he had last been incarcerated. The facilities were overcrowded, with inmates sleeping in corridors and on the floor. The gangs taunted those who, like Brown, were not affiliated with a gang. Gang members knocked trays of food to the floor. They pissed on mattresses. They stole canteen items and commissary orders. And there was nothing the victims could do about it.
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I got it in jail. I was so scared. I was scared I would not see my kids grow up. It cost me fifteen dollars—well, not really dollars. I had to give him about ten soups and a package of cigarettes. On the street this would be three or four hundred dollars. He had a trial after two years in jail and was found not guilty. He opens it to show me a folded piece of paper. But innocence and guilt are funny things in America. You get lots of it. You maintain the lavish lifestyle of jets and spas and million-dollar bonuses. You live a life of unchecked greed and have too much in a world where most have too little.
If you are moral scum in America, we take care of you. But if you are poor, if you are, say, Tearyan Brown and African American and thirty-nine years old now, with four kids and no job, and you live in the inner city, you are in trouble.
No one comes to help you. This is what being poor means. Brown found that life had changed when he got out. He had lost his job as a forklift operator. And there were no new jobs to be found. The mother of his three youngest boys goes to court with him. She explains that he paid regularly while he had work. She explains that when she works on the weekends Brown takes the kids. She asks that he be forgiven until he can get a job and begin paying again. But there are no jobs. Welfare will pay his apartment for another four months. He is barely making it. I ask him what he will do when he loses the rent subsidy.
They need a father. He does calisthenics. He is a vegetarian. He volunteers at a food pantry. He attends the Jerusalem Baptist Church with his little boys. But he lives in a world that is falling apart. The gangs on the streets of Trenton carry Glock nine-millimeter pistols and AK assault rifles. When the Trenton police stop a car or raid a house filled with suspected gang members, they approach with loaded M16s.
A local newspaper, the Trentonian, reports the daily chronicle of crime, decay, and neglect. Mickey Rome, dressed in a black bathrobe with a red scarf around his neck, was found to be wearing a bulletproof vest, with three guns stuck in his waistband, and a crack pipe, crack cocaine, and prescription pills in his pockets. He had been convicted in of killing a seventeen-year-old boy with a shotgun blast to the head.
He served less than three years for the murder. The boy was nine when the rapes took place. It is too dangerous. The desperation is palpable. Benefits are running out. More and more people are out of work. You see people starting to do anything to get food, to hustle or rob, to go back to doing things they do not want to do. People are getting eviler. He is reading a book about the Bible. It is about Jesus and God. In America that is about all the poor have left. And when God fails them, they are on their own. Jackson, robbed of his childhood and surrounded by vultures who preyed on his fears and weaknesses, was so consumed by selfloathing he carved his African American face into an ever-changing Caucasian death mask and hid his apparent pedophilia behind a Peter Pan illusion of eternal childhood.
He could not disentangle his public and his private self. He became a commodity, a product, one to be sold, used, and manipulated. And his fantasies of eternal youth, delusions of majesty, and desperate, disfiguring quests for physical transformation were expressions of our own yearning. He was a reflection of us in the extreme. His memorial service—a variety show with a coffin—had an estimated The ceremony, which featured performances or tributes from Stevie Wonder, Brooke Shields, and other celebrities, was carried live on nineteen networks, including the major broadcast and cable news outlets.
It was the final episode of the longrunning Michael Jackson series. The crowd clapped. It was a haunting echo of what destroyed her father. Simpson offered a tamer version of the same plot. So does Britney Spears. We fed on his physical and psychological disintegration, especially since many Americans are struggling with their own descent into overwhelming debt, loss of status, and personal disintegration.
News reports on television are minidramas complete with a star, a villain, a supporting cast, a good-looking host, and a dramatic, if often unexpected, ending. Bradbury understood that life, once it was packaged, scripted, given a narrative, and filmed, became the most compelling form of entertainment.
And Jackson was a great show. He deserved a great finale. They are the puppet masters. No one achieves celebrity status, no cultural illusion is swallowed as reality, without these armies of cultural enablers and intermediaries. The producers at the Staples Center in Los Angeles made sure the eighteen thousand attendees and the television audience even the BBC devoted three hours to the tribute watched a funeral that was turned into another maudlin form of uplifting popular entertainment.
The memorial service for Jackson was a celebration of celebrity. There was the queasy sight of groups of children, including his own, singing over the coffin. Fame reduces all of the famous to the same level. Fame is its own denominator. And every anecdote seemed to confirm that when you spend your life as a celebrity, you have no idea who you are.
We seek to be like them. We emulate their look and behavior. We escape the messiness of real life through the fantasy of their stardom. We, too, long to attract admiring audiences for our grand, ongoing life movie. We try to see ourselves moving through our lives as a camera would see us, mindful of how we hold ourselves, how we dress, what we say. We invent movies that play inside our heads with us as stars. We wonder how an audience would react.
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. Neal Gabler, who has written wisely about this, argues that celebrity culture is not a convergence of consumer culture and religion so much as a hostile takeover of religion by consumer culture. He believed he could control race and gender. He transformed himself through surgery and perhaps female hormones from a brown-skinned African American male to a chalk-faced androgynous ghoul with no clear sexual identity.
And while he pushed these boundaries to the extreme, he did only what many Americans do. Twelve million cosmetic plastic surgery procedures were performed last year in the United States. They were performed because, in America, most human beings, rich and poor, famous and obscure, have been conditioned to view themselves as marketable commodities. They are objects, like consumer products. They have no intrinsic value.
They must look fabulous and live on fabulous sets. They must remain young. They must achieve notoriety and money, or the illusion of them, to be a success. And it does not matter how they get there. Education, community-building skills, honesty, transparency, and sharing are qualities that will see you, in a gross perversion of democracy and morality, ridiculed and voted off any reality show. Those cast aside become, at least to the television audience, nonpersons.
Celebrities who can no longer generate publicity, good or bad, vanish. Life, these shows teach, is a brutal world of unadulterated competition and constant quest for notoriety and attention. And life is about the personal humiliation of those who oppose us. Those who win are the best. Those who fail, those who are ugly or poor, are belittled and mocked. Compassion, competence, intelligence, and solidarity are useless assets when human beings are commodities.
Those who do not achieve celebrity status, who do not win the prize money or make millions in Wall Street firms, deserve their fate. The cult of self, which Jackson embodied, dominates our culture. Jackson, from his phony marriages to his questionable relationships with young boys, had all these qualities. This is also the ethic promoted by corporations. It is the ethic of unfettered capitalism. It is the misguided belief that personal style and personal advancement, mistaken for individualism, are the same as democratic equality. It is the celebration of image over substance.
We have a right, in the cult of the self, to get whatever we desire. We can do anything, even belittle and destroy those around us, including our friends, to make money, to be happy, and to become famous. Once fame and wealth are achieved, they become their own justification, their own morality. How one gets there is irrelevant. The heads of these corporations, like the winners on a reality television program who lied and manipulated others to succeed, walked away with hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation and bonuses. The ethic of Wall Street is the ethic of celebrity. The obsession with the trivia of his life conceals the despair, meaninglessness, and emptiness of our own lives.
It deflects the moral questions arising from mounting social injustice, growing inequalities, costly imperial wars, economic collapse, and political corruption. The wild pursuit of status, wealth, and fame has destroyed our souls, as it destroyed Jackson, and it has destroyed our economy. The fantasy of celebrity culture is not designed simply to entertain.
It is designed to drain us emotionally, confuse us about our identity, make us blame ourselves for our predicament, condition us to chase illusions of fame and happiness, and keep us from fighting back. And in the end, that is all the Jackson coverage was really about: another tawdry and tasteless spectacle to divert a dying culture from the howling wolf at the gate. They have confused a personal ability to be heard and earn a comfortable living with justice.
This is about who is going to stand behind the people. What these leaders talk about and what needs to happen in the community is disjointed. He lives in the troubled Chicago neighborhood of Englewood, where he works as a freelance journalist and a high school football coach. He is the legal guardian of a sixteen-year-old nephew. And he often echoes the denunciations of black leaders by the historian Houston A.
Baker Jr. He argues they have lost touch with the reality of most African Americans. These elite African American figures, Baker argues, long ago placed personal gain and career advancement over the interests of the black majority.
They espouse positions palatable to a white audience, positions that ignore the radicalism and structural critiques of inequality by W. African American communities are more likely than others to be redlined declared poor-risk areas from whose inhabitants loans should be withheld by banks and preyed on by unscrupulous mortgage lenders, which is why such a high percentage of foreclosures are in blighted, urban neighborhoods. What service can they provide? My belief is those individuals coming home, these ex-felons, have more credibility to stop the violence in the inner city than the police do.
It is their sons and nephews and their immediate families that are being the provocateurs of that violence. But if we are asking them to stop crime, what incentive are we providing them to do that? How much is the drug industry worth in the United States? How many African American and Hispanic men are incarcerated for being the same kind of capitalist? If you would have killed personal wealth, you would have killed personal wealth.
They took the pension funds of state, city, and local governments and misappropriated that capital. And black politicians and intellectuals, including Obama and Gates, are the delivery systems for the message. We blame the victims, those for whom jobs and opportunities do not exist, while we orchestrate the largest transfer of wealth upward in American history. It ignores the harsh reality visited on the poor by the cruelty of unfettered capitalism. It ignores the institutional racism that makes sure the poor remain poor. You have basically guerrilla warfare going on in the inner city of Chicago.
There is no structure or hierarchy where you can go talk to one person in the neighborhood that can then go down the pecking order to bring peace. You have different groups that have different motivations, and that factionalism is at the base of the violence. The president called Chicago White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle to congratulate him for pitching a perfect game. He portrayed them as tools and puppets of the white mainstream.
Courtiers come in different colors in America, but their function is the same. They are hedonists of power. They are invited into the inner circles of the elite, including the White House and Harvard University, as long as they faithfully serve the system. They are offered comfort and privilege, but they pay with their souls.
He remembers that with each modest advance, the white population promptly raises the argument that the Negro has come far enough. Each step forward accents an ever-present tendency to backlash. It kills as brutally and indiscriminately in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan as it did under George W. It steals from the U. Treasury to enrich the corporate elite as rapaciously. The sad reality is that all the well-meaning groups and individuals who challenge our permanent war economy and the doctrine of preemptive war, who care about sustainable energy, fight for civil liberties, and want corporate malfeasance to end, were once again suckered by the Democratic Party.
They were had. It is not a new story. The Democrats have been doing this to us since Bill Clinton. It is the same old merry-go-round, only with Obama branding. And if we have not learned by now that the system is broken, that as citizens we do not matter to our political elite, or that we live in a corporate state where our welfare and our interests are irrelevant, we are in serious trouble.
Our last hope is to step outside of the two-party system and build movements that defy the Democrats and the Republicans. They were right. If a few million of us had had the temerity to stand behind our ideals rather than our illusions and the empty slogans peddled by the Obama campaign, we would have a platform. We forgot that social reform never comes from accommodating the power structure but from frightening it. These mass movements were the engines for social reform, the correctives to our democracy, and the true protectors of the rights of citizens.
We have surrendered this power. This specific ISBN edition is currently not available. View all copies of this ISBN edition:. Synopsis About this title Drawing on two decades of experience as a war correspondent and based on his numerous columns for Truthdig, Chris Hedges presents The World As It Is , a panorama of the American empire at home and abroad, from the coarsening effect of America's War on Terror to the front lines in the Middle East and South Asia and the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Review : "Indicative of the longtime war correspondent's experienced eye and commitment to social justice Buy New Learn more about this copy. About AbeBooks. Other Popular Editions of the Same Title. Search for all books with this author and title. Customers who bought this item also bought. Stock Image. Published by Nation Books New Hardcover Quantity Available: 1.
It is only a matter of time. And not much time.
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When things start to go sour, when Barack Obama is exposed as a mortal waving a sword at a tidal wave, the United States could plunge into a long period of precarious social instability. At no period in American history has our democracy been in such peril or has the possibility of totalitarianism been as real. Our way of life is over. Our profligate consumption is finished. Our children will never have the standard of living we had. And poverty and despair will sweep across the landscape like a plague.
This is the bleak future. There is nothing President Obama can do to stop it. It has been decades in the making. It cannot be undone with a trillion or two trillion dollars in bailout money. Our empire is dying. Our economy has collapsed.
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