Image and Illusion Essay
In Christopher Hedges article the “Empire of Illusion” he stresses that America's present culture
and society have drastically declined in many ways. Hedges overall view is that America has been
“dumbed down” through feel good illusion, replacing reality with fiction, and literacy with images.
Celebrities have replaced Gods and religion, television has replaced a large amount of reading and
writing, and politics have been replaced with “junk politics”. And the mainstream media stands at the
forefront of all of these topics.
In the movie “The Century of the Self” it shows the media unconsciously
manipulating young women who smoked cigarettes which gave them more of an appealing character
than someone who stood for peace, during a time when it was not lady like for women to be smoking in
public. A hand selected group of rich debutantes were told to light up cigarettes during a Easter day
parade simultaneously, when a signal was given, the media was there to capture this. Adding a clever
twist to the wording, the media put out a headline stating “Torches of Freedom” with woman smoking
the cigarettes symbolizing the torches. It instantly boosted the sales of cigarettes amongst women
throughout America, and the plan to tap into the unconscious aggressive mind of the masses was
successful. In my opinion this was a “textbook” example of how to unconsciously and persuasively
control the masses through illusion, surely one of the first in America and a foundation for others to
build off of.
“We are a culture that has been denied, or has passively given up, the linguistic and intellectual tools to cope with complexity, to separate illusion from reality. We have traded the printed word for the gleaming image. Nearly one third of Americans are illiterate or barley literate. But the average American watches at least four hours of television a day”(Hedges pg. 44).
American society today has turned to television for means of mass communication. Americans
seek television for comfort and a temporary escape from their daily lives.“Television is a language of
familiar, comforting cliches and exciting images. Television confers authority and power. It is the final
arbitrator for what matters in life”(Hedges pg.45). Television is filled with catchy slogans and fancy
images to makes us believe that we need certain products. Celebrity gossip and factious shows, that
consume us as if it were reality.
In contemporary America celebrities are larger then life. “We measure our lives by those who
we admire on the screen or in the ring. We seek to be like them. We emulate their look and behavior.
We escape chaos of real life through fantasy. We see ourselves as stars of our own movies”(Hedges
pg.16). America has television shows, magazines, books, and places that honor celebrities. Every
news stand is plastered with celebrity gossip like people magazine and the enquirer. Masses follow
their favorite celebrity’s on twitter, to get a constant update of their daily agenda. Take Philadelphia for
example, a place with so much American history, even there they have a statue of Rocky Balboa a
factious character. In many ways that statue draws more public interest and fame then the Benjamin
Franklin's statue. The fact that some Americans subconsciously gravitate towards a factious charter
from a movie with a sub-par plot, rather then a real man of paramount significance to America is
asinine! This is a prime example of the “thicket of unreality”.
Americans follow celebrity news and their work as if were their religion. “We all have Gods,
Martin Luther said, it is just a question of which ones. And in American society our gods are
celebrities. Religious belief and practice are commonly transferred to the adoration of
celebrities”(Hedges pg.17). As much as it seems far fetched, this is a valid point....
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