By Kam Williams
Pulitzer Prize-winner Chris Hedges is the author of nine insightful assessments of American culture astutely deconstructing the state of the union from a variety of angles, perhaps most notably, War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, and his latest opus, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. On March 1st, the uncompromisingly-frank visionary delivered a spellbinding, if pessimistic, lecture at The College of New Jersey warning of the imminent demise of Western Civilization.
It is Hedges contention that this decline “began when we shifted from an empire of production to an empire of consumption” which “celebrates image over substance,” adding that, in today’s “soundbite society,” reality no longer matters. He prefaced his hour-long remarks with an in-depth post mortem of the macabre spectacle surrounding Michael Jackson’s funeral, offering our obsession with such a terribly troubled soul as proof that the hostile takeover of religion by consumer culture is now complete.
After all, the cult-like worship of Jackson, as a Christ-like figure, ignored the fact that he was a profoundly disturbed individual who couldn’t turn water into wine, just his own black skin and features white. Granted, Michael had never been afforded a normal childhood or a chance to get a sense of himself because he spent his whole life in the limelight, but why would anyone in their right mind choose to idolize such a weirdo, especially when he also freely admitted to sleeping with little boys?
Of far more consequence, Hedges argues, is how such a depraved fascination with pop culture functions as an opiate preventing the masses from properly focusing on its own perilous plight. For, as he puts it, “Collapsing empires always break down due to illusion.” And the danger of illusion, is that like a Peter Pan, or a Michael Jackson, “you never grow up and you stay in this perpetual state of denial.”
He believes that in the U.S., where “an assault on the middle class is underway, class warfare is returning with a vengeance.” Citing the carnage he witnessed while covering Bosnia and other political hot spots as a war correspondent, Hedges reflected on how quickly civilization is capable of crumbling into all-out civil conflict. And “once collapse begins,” he warns, “People with very rosy views of the world don’t live very long.”
A chilling forecast by a brilliant iconoclast intent on sharing his vision of what’s just over the horizon with anybody who’ll listen. Ignore Chris Hedges at your own risk.