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Book Excerpt: ‘Empire of Illusion’

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Posted on Jul 30, 2009

By Chris Hedges

Read this brilliant and humorous chapter from Chris Hedges’ new book and marvel as the Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent makes sense of reality television.

Adapted from “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle,” available from Nation Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2009.

Celebrity worship banishes reality.  And this adulation is pervasive.  It is dressed up in the language of the Christian Right, which builds around its leaders, people like Pat Robertson or Joel Olsteen, the aura of stardom, fame and celebrity power.  These Christian celebrities travel in private jets and limousines.  They are surrounded by retinues of bodyguards, have television programs where they cultivate the same false intimacy with the audience, and, like all successful celebrities, amass personal fortunes. The frenzy around political messiahs, or the devotion of millions of women to Oprah Winfrey, is all part of the yearning to see ourselves in those we worship.  We seek to be like them.  We seek to make them like us.  If Jesus and The Purpose Driven Life won’t make us a celebrity, then Tony Robbins or positive psychologists or reality television will.  We are waiting for our cue to walk onstage and be admired and envied, to become known and celebrated. 

“What does the contemporary self want?” asked critic William Deresiewicz:

The camera has created a culture of celebrity; the computer is creating a culture of connectivity. As the two technologies converge —broadband tipping the Web from text to image; social-networking sites spreading the mesh of interconnection ever wider—the two cultures betray a common impulse. Celebrity and connectivity are both ways of becoming known. This is what the contemporary self wants. It wants to be recognized, wants to be connected: It wants to be visible. If not to the millions, on Survivor or Oprah, then to the hundreds, on Twitter or Facebook. This is the quality that validates us, this is how we become real to ourselves—by being seen by others. The great contemporary terror is anonymity. If Lionel Trilling was right, if the property that grounded the self in Romanticism was sincerity, and in modernism was authenticity, then in postmodernism it is visibility.

 

 

Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle

 

By Chris Hedges

 

Nation Books, 240 pages

 

Buy the book

 

We pay a variety of lifestyle advisers—Neal Gabler calls them “essentially drama coaches”—to help us look and feel like celebrities, to build around us the set for the movie of our own life.  Martha Stewart built her financial empire, when she wasn’t insider trading, telling women how to create and decorate a set design for the perfect home.  The realities within the home, the actual family relationships, are never addressed.  Appearances make everything whole.  Plastic surgeons, fitness gurus, diet doctors, therapists, life coaches, interior designers, and fashion consultants all, in essence, promise to make us happy, to make us celebrities.  And happiness comes, we are assured, with we look and how we present ourselves to others.  There are glossy magazines like Town & Country which cater to the absurd pretensions of the very rich to be celebrities.  They are photographed in expensive designer clothing inside the lavishly decorated set-pieces that are their homes.  The route to happiness is bound up in how skillfully we show ourselves to the world.  We not only have to conform to the dictates of this manufactured vision, but we also have to project an unrelenting optimism and happiness.

The Swan was a Fox reality makeover show.  The title of the series referred to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Ugly Duckling,” in which a bird thought to be homely grew up and became a swan. “Unattractive” women were chosen to undergo three months of extensive plastic surgery, physical training, and therapy for a “complete life transformation.”  Each episode featured two “ugly ducklings” who compete with each other to go on to the Swan beauty pageant.  “I am going to be a new person,” said one contestant in the opening credits.

In one episode, Cristina, twenty-seven, an Ecuador-born office administrator from Rancho Cordova, California, was chosen to be on the program. 

“It’s not just the outside I want to change, but it’s the inside, too,” Cristina told the camera mournfully.  She had long black hair and light brown skin.  She wore baggy gray sweatshirts and no makeup.  Her hair was pulled back.  We discovered that she was devastatingly insecure about being intimate with her husband because of her post-pregnancy stretch marks.  The couple considered divorce.

“I just want to be, not a completely different person, but I want to be a better Cristina,” she said.

As a “dream team” of plastic surgeons discussed the necessary corrections, viewers saw a still image of Cristina, in a gray cotton bra and underwear, superimposed on a glowing blue grid.  Her small, drooping breasts, wrinkled stomach, and fleshy thighs were apparent.  A schematic figure of an idealized female form revolved at the left of the screen.  Crosshairs targeted and zoomed in on each flawed area of Cristina’s face and body. The surgical procedures she would undergo were typed out beside each body part. Brow lift, eye lift, nose job, liposuction of chin and cheeks, dermatologist visits, collagen injections, LASIK eye surgery, tummy tuck, breast augmentation, liposuction of thighs, dental bleaching, full dental veneers, gum tissue recontouring, a 1,200-calorie daily diet, 120 hours in the gym, weekly therapy, and coaching.  The effect was suggestive of a military operation.  The image of a blueprint and crosshairs was used repeatedly through the program. 

Cristina was shown writing in her diary: “I want a divorce because I think that my husband can do better without me.  And it would be best for us to go in different directions.  I am not happy with myself at all, so I think, why make this guy unhappy for the rest of his life?”

At the end of the three months, Cristina and her opponent, Kristy, were finally allowed to look in a mirror for “the final reveal.”  They were brought separately to what looked like a marble hotel foyer.  Curving twin staircases with ornate iron banisters framed the action.  A crystal chandelier glittered at the top of the stairs.  Sconces and oil paintings in gold frames hung on the cream-colored walls.

The “dream team” was assembled in the marble lobby.  Massive peach curtains obscured one wall.

“I think Cristina has really grown into herself as a woman, and she’s ready to go back home and start her marriage all over again,” said the team therapist.

Two men in tuxedos opened a set of tall double doors.  Cristina entered in a tight black evening gown and long black gloves.  She was meticulously made up, and her hair had been carefully styled with extensions.  The “dream team” burst into applause and whoops. 

“I’ve been waiting twenty-seven years for this day,” Cristina told host Amanda Byram tearfully.  “I came for a dream, the American dream, like all the Latinas do, and I got it!”

“You got it!” cheered Byram.  “Yes, you did!”

Reverberating drumbeats were heard.  “Behind that curtain,” says Byram, “is a mirror.  We will draw back the curtain, the mirror will be revealed, and you will see yourself for the first time in three months.  Cristina, step up to the curtain.”

Short, suspenseful cello strokes were heard.  There was a tumbling drumroll. 

“I’m ready,” quavered Cristina.

The curtain parted slowly in the middle.  An elaborate full-length mirror reflected Cristina.  The cello strokes billowed into the Swan theme song.

“Oh, my God!” she gasped, covering her face.  She doubled over.  Her knees buckled.  She almost hit the floor.  “I am so beautiful!!!”  she sobbed.  “Thank you, oh, thank you so much!!  Thank you, God!!  Thank you, thank you, thank you so much for this!!  Look at my arms, my figure … I love the dress!  Thank you, oh!!  I’m in love with myself!”


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By Don Salmon, August 3, 2009 at 11:28 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Chris appears to have googled “positive psychology” and thrown together an assortment of unrelated and in some cases, radically opposed facts.  Chris cites “the law of attraction” as a major component of positive psychology. The “law of attraction” is a metaphysical theory completely outside the realm of contemporary science, and is frequently mentioned by leading exponents of positive psychology as the very opposite of everything they are trying to do.

Contrary to what is often reported in the popular media, Seligman, Lyubomirsky, Csikszentmihayli and other scholars are quite cautious in their scientific articles (they may, admittedly, not always be as cautious when speaking with the media). They repeatedly make comments to the effect that they wish to do no more than balance a century of more of emphasis in psychiatry and clinical psychology on pathology.  Leftists who sympathize with Chris have often taken clinical psychology and psychiatry to task for focusing on individual ills rather than understanding individual suffering in the context of societal ills (such as corporate domination and exploitation).  Now, Seligman (the “founder” of positive psychology) and his colleagues wish to examine not only individual happiness, but the traditional virtues that researchers have found to be common in wisdom traditions in Eastern, Western, African and other cultures for thousands of years, those that emphasize not mindless acceptance of majority views, but wisdom, discernment, compassion, courage, following one’s individual conscience no matter what the consequences, etc. And they hope one day that positive psychology will mature in such a way that such virtues and strengths may develop in the institutions of society – our business, educational, medical, and perhaps even our political structures. 

I’ve saved Chris’ article as it is such a good parody of what people think about positive psychology rather than what it actually is.

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By Don Young, August 3, 2009 at 12:47 am Link to this comment
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My attention was caught by Hedge’s use of the word “Spectacle” in the subtitle of his book “Empire of Illusion” and so I read (somewhat quickly) through Hedge’s chapter looking for a reference to Guy Debord’s book dealing with “Illusion” titled “Society of the Spectacle”.  I was disappointed not to find any reference to Debord’s book and hope it was just because i read too quickly. If anyone who has not read Debord’s book wants to pursue Hedge’s chapter further, I highly recommend the book.  And the whole book is about the length of Hedge’s one chapter!

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By Virginia777, August 2, 2009 at 9:24 am Link to this comment

I think Chris Hedges is right, but as in his columns here on TD about this issue, he tends to go overboard about the evils of pop culture and to blame the victims (believing that their indoctrination is hopeless and that we now have millions of mindless dupes wandering around America).

Ok, there are a lot of dupes wandering around America, but does that mean that their indoctrination is permanent?

I don’t think it is, its just indoctrination. As soon as the truth gets out, as soon as we start to demand change from the Media, when we create our own sources for information,

better yet, when we take the perpetrators of misinformation to task! make real penalties for spreading lies and misinformation to the American people.

Then change can happen.

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By mike turner, August 2, 2009 at 7:26 am Link to this comment

C.H. nails’em twixt the eyes. Geee….and who the heck can AFFORD all that elective plastic surgery? The retarded spewing out of money….with no regard for the work & sweat it takes 90% of humanity just to survive month to month is repugnant. But….that was the mantra of the Bush/Cheney corporate machine: utterly fake window dressing, twisting the very symbols & values they manipulate & sell via the rivers of corporate money….basically accounting writeoffs….which the TV/Radio media now sucks up like crack rock. It reminds me of the old truism that an forthright enemy is preferable to demons passing themselves off as religious icons. What there is is a very sophisticated inversion of good & evil.

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By Outraged, August 1, 2009 at 5:01 am Link to this comment

Re: WriterOnTheStorm

Your comment: “The point of simulation and spectacle is not diversion from some diabolical elitist plot as Hedges intimates.  Simulation and spectacle are not a means to an end. The medium is the message, as McLuhan famously said.”

Assuming your contention is accurate, and “the medium is the message” what is the message?

If in fact, there is no “elist plot” yet only as YOU assume there exists “This trace of Utopianism in Hedges’ work is what makes me distrust the soundness of his thinking. One has the feeling that he’s got an agenda beyond the social observation, an agenda that can cloud his judgement”.  How is it that “we” can establish that YOU do not have an “agenda”?

Also, your comment:
“it is important to remember that ultimately, both reality and meaning are social constructs, not absolutes. Every society, wether modern or primitive, Marxist or capitalist, will insist upon its celebrities.”

REALITY is not a “social construct”.  While it may not or may BE considered a social construt, reality itself is NOT a social construct.  Some realities ARE absolutes (or do you deny the earth revolves around the sun…?).  You confuse reality with subjectivity and even more plausibly with relativity.  Your claim that all societies “insist” upon celebrities, is also debatable.

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By Caute, August 1, 2009 at 4:16 am Link to this comment

All this would be indeed be shocking if we did not see the same stupidity, vulgarity and cruelty repeated throughout history. Man’s circumstances change, but not his essence. Schopenhauer tells us that intelligent people have always said the same things and so too have the stupid.

It is small wonder that sex so dominates the landscape when a human exists solely for genetic replication. We cannot tell the truth because the truth is unbearable. What shall we say to a person? That they reside on a rock, molten at the core, hurtling around a fireball, that on this rock’s crust a thin mold has appeared and in this mold knowing, thinking beings have emerged? That the function of these knowing organisms is to battle countless others for food, water and air, the purpose of which is to breed another generation to do the same?
That they are temporary storage units for DNA and an ‘oh by the way’ that everything will be vaporized in the End?

Every person is born on death row, time and place of execution unknown.

We are, as the Latins were wont to say, ‘Nervis alienis mobile lignum’ wooden puppets moved by extraneous forces.

Look at how relaxed a tomato is in its natural environment. A human does exactly what a tomato does but the tomato is in bliss because it does not need to make things up.

A person who thanks those that ‘brought him into this world’ is like a Ford car that waves goodbye and smiles as it leaves the factory.

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By Howie Bledsoe, August 1, 2009 at 4:11 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Off to go shopping for something that doesnt make my butt look so big.
Toodles

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By Anarcissie, July 31, 2009 at 7:57 pm Link to this comment

Jackie9—according to all the reports I’ve seen, the program is voluntary, and the person shipped out must have somewhere to go where identifiable persons will provide shelter and assistance.

New York City has been putting the homeless out of sight for some time.  Many of them are sent to the Atlantic-Bedford Armory in Brooklyn because the nearby neighborhoods, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights, are deemed low-class enough for them.  The plan of shipping them somewhere where relatives or others will take care of them seems far more humane than warehousing them in large public buildings in depressed industrial zones.

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By J. Leslie, July 31, 2009 at 7:55 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Brilliant, yes! But humorous? No.

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By Jackie9, July 31, 2009 at 3:02 pm Link to this comment

NYC, a place that has become the ultimate disney-reality show setting, is sending the homeless off with one-way tickets to whatever relatives will take them. I don’t for a minute believe this is for their benefit. It seems sinister to me, a way to further manipulate statistics for crime and homelessness and to “get them off the island” so they won’t have to be seen or felt by anyone living here, or more importantly, the tourists.

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By TAO Walker, July 31, 2009 at 2:28 pm Link to this comment

It looks like the recent chemically mediated demise of Michael Jackson, the BADdest “celebrity” of them all (aided and abbetted of course by papered professional experts licensed to write and administer prescription DRUGS), is a near-perfect predictor for the looming fate of homo domesticus en masse, inmates relentlessly upping their already heavy dosages of techno-soporifics and religiossified analgesics in a vain effort to deaden the increasingly unbearable pain of their captivity.  The lucky ones, like Kenny Rogers’ gambler, “....‘ll die in their sleep.”

The “profit” still to be wrung out of their terminal misery, however, is sure to limit the “lucky” to damned few.  Even those slots, in-fact, may already be filled.

Tiyoshpaye Way anyone?

ALL together now….

HokaHey!

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By WriterOnTheStorm, July 31, 2009 at 1:25 pm Link to this comment

Hedges has a compelling writing style all his own, but these ideas are, for the most part, diluted versions of those elucidated 25 years ago in ‘Fatal Strategies” and “In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities” by Jean Baudrillard.

Baudrillard, a philosopher, postulated that constant simulations of reality in the media had finished off the notion of reality itself, and that useful meaning is always negated through its inevitable commodification. Hedges, a political animal, uses those ideas to suggest that somewhere, there is reality and meaning, and we could experience it if only our political masters stepped out of the way.

This trace of Utopianism in Hedges’ work is what makes me distrust the soundness of his thinking. One has the feeling that he’s got an agenda beyond the social observation, an agenda that can cloud his judgement. The point of simulation and spectacle is not diversion from some diabolical elitist plot as Hedges intimates.  Simulation and spectacle are not a means to an end. The medium is the message, as McLuhan famously said.

Hedges may mourn the death of reality and the loss of meaning in the commodity society, but it is important to remember that ultimately, both reality and meaning are social constructs, not absolutes. Every society, wether modern or primitive, Marxist or capitalist, will insist upon its celebrities. There will always be those who are held up as models and are thus perceived and treated as charmed by the rest. And this will always lead to intensifying competition to attain this moral and often sexual duty-free zone. It’s a survival tactic scrawled like graffiti upon our DNA.

Exalted social status, and the fierce, even deadly competition to achieve it, is not unique to capitalism. This is why Hedges is barking up an empty tree here. And while Alain de Botton is no doubt correct to assert that status anxiety has increased by multiple factors in the last century, I doubt if many would trade its pitfalls and uncertainties for the daily struggles against the cold and famine that characterized life for the masses before the industrial revolution that gave birth to hypercapitalism.

Apart from a few untested theoretical alternatives, such as Hakim Bey’s Temporary Autonomous Zone, it appears that all roads lead to the same place. And from the outskirts of town, where us outliers gather around our campfires to watch and wonder, it’s easy to see who’s coming, and who’s going.

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By Linda, July 31, 2009 at 1:17 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Compare the comments to this article on this site to alternet.  Big eye opener!

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By Susan McLoughlin, July 31, 2009 at 12:42 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It occurred to me about 15 years ago that my place in my society was no longer that of ‘citizen’ but had become that of consumer. I wasn’t sure how it had happened but it was clear that the political infrastructure was not even pretending any longer to be accountable to the citizenry but had passively acquiesed to the idea that a ravenous consumer culture was the only thing that could keep the engine running and corporate ruthlessness was the most viable means of establishing such a culture. 

I could not agree more that the citizenry is being very successfully anaesthetized by the extremely powerful and relentless media. In some ways it is not unlike the ghastly womb created in the film The Matrix. Are we really awake? Are we sure?

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By cyrena, July 31, 2009 at 12:30 pm Link to this comment

By C. Curtis Dillon, July 30 at 8:46 am
•  “The concern I have (and I think Chris does as well) centers on the effort required to reverse this trend.  Is America truly gone and the people so anesthetized that there is no way to turn them around?  Is the cult of celebrity so deeply ingrained in the collective psyche that no amount of “true reality” can bring them back?  If that is true, than the few of us who are still “awake” will be treated to the spectacle of our beloved country swirling around the drain and disappearing forever.  That would be a real tragedy.”
http://www.truthdig.com/arts_culture/
item/20090730_book_excerpt_empire_of_illusion/?ln
This is the concluding paragraph to an excellent post by C. Curtis Dillion, one that I hope to share.
Meantime, just musing on these questions, I suspect that those of us who are still “awake” have already been treated to the spectacle of our beloved country swirling around the drain and disappearing forever.
Thing is, how ‘beloved’ is our country really? Sometimes I have to question our unquestioning belief in that concept of the US as a beloved democracy, because it certainly didn’t start out that way. The reality of this country’s origins (specifically the Instiution of slavery) belies some elements of that ideology.
Be that as it may, I don’t want to believe that America is ‘truly gone’ but I accept that the America that we’re talking about over the past several decades is probably gone, but I don’t think it has to be a tragedy. It will depend on what we’re able to fashion out of the realities of the 21st Century. In other words, reversing the trend. I don’t know if that’s doable or not. Depends on how many of us are still awake and willing to contribute to the effort.

I admit the reality of that doesn’t look good, because the cult of celebrity and Alice-in-Wonderland mentality IS very ingrained. The Era of Oprah symbolizes just how ingrained.

But…there’s hope, and this work by Chris Hedges is part of the effort. There are otherefforts as well..

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By JIM KRING, July 31, 2009 at 11:00 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

We punted our responsibilities? Most of us were never in the game to begin with. Here is a suggestion, read anything ever written by Noam Chomsky, please! I suggest you start with Manufacturing Consent and move forward from there. And to the commentor who mentioned that Oprah; The above mentioned Mr. Chomsky asked his wife to go back to school and finish her degree so she could support their family in case he lost his job at MIT and was sent to prison for speaking out about the lies concerning the Vietnam War! And this was the mid 1960’s mind you. Oprah supports Obama and oh what a brave woman she is. All $425 million of her estimated worth! Please!!!! You need to pick a more inspirational figure head. George Carlin used to say “everything was fine until the politicians and the high priests took control! I am nearly 50 years old and still undoing the shackles placed upon my mind by the church, public school system, corporate despots, the military and last but certainly not least the boob tube. there is a button marked “BRIGHTNESS” but it does’nt seem to be working! God bless you all! And keep fighting the good fight!

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By haroldmh, July 31, 2009 at 10:42 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Joe Bageant provides a clarifying view, a clear understanding, in his book “Deer Hunting With Jesus” which you should not miss.

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By Anarcissie, July 31, 2009 at 7:16 am Link to this comment

I am shocked—shocked.  I had no idea people were watching trashy stuff on television!  What is this world coming to?

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By bogi666, July 31, 2009 at 6:24 am Link to this comment

The corporate-government-religiosity,CGR, is and orchestrated chorus which has forged Americans into being NARCISSISTIC-CONSUMERIST-GLUTTONS whom rely on external phenomena for their reality. It is the One World System, New World Order, of the anti-Christ as defined in Biblical terms.The celebrity evangelists are the agents of the anti-Christ. The anti-Christ is not against Christ but an entity pretending to be Christ using false doctrines to insult, calling them foul names and demean their congregations of fools and then beg the fools for money and they give it to them. According to the bible over 90% of those claiming to be Christians are actually being taught to worship the Anti-Christ which relies on the superficial illusions of reality based on external factors. This also provides the allure of Christianity with the false doctrines of “I’m not responsible, god told me to do it and/or Satan made me do it. The coalition of government-business-churches institutionalizes the false doctrines of"I’m not responsible…...” which gives it legitimacy to society.

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By progwoman, July 31, 2009 at 6:12 am Link to this comment

Sad to say, these are the very people who tell you they are “not political,” as if choosing sides would endanger their aspirations.

Incidentally, I would not cast Oprah in this mold. While there is an aspect of her programming that reaches out to women who are insecure and not self-aware, she has encouraged an army who would be reading romance novels to take on much heavier fare, such as literary novels and books about spirituality (maybe you don’t like these, but they sure beat Left Behind. And can you imagine Springer suggesting that anyone read a book?) I think serious reading is an excellent counter to all this celebrity junk, and I assume you do, too, since you keep turning out these thoughtful books.Also, Oprah reveals her own vulnerabilities rather than hide behind a mask like Springer and all those televangelists. Finally, Oprah lost tons of followers, many of whom thought she didn’t identify black, when she endorsed Obama. That took some courage, I think.

Now we’re up against the pressures to turn the Obamas into just another celebrity family. The day before his health care address, I caught an anchor and a correspondent on MSNBC trash-talking for probably five minutes about the baggy jeans he wore to throw out a baseball. I hope he keeps wearing them.

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By Purple Girl, July 31, 2009 at 5:47 am Link to this comment

The Sensationaism of Racism over the Gates/Crwley incidence and the fanfare surrounding the ‘Birth ceritficate’ controversy are both distraction way from the Crimes of Cheney and his Congressional enablers.
“Is President Obama a Legitimate President?”- deflects away as to the question “Was Cheney a Legitmate President?”
What also is blatantly obvious is the Question- Are citizens obliged to acquiesce to the Will of a Public Servant? Not merely at the Local law enforcement level, but at a Federal Gov’t level. Prof Gates was expected to willing forfeit his rights as a taxpaying homeowner, to the whimes of the ‘authority’ figure. In a bigger picture, isn’t that insinuating that the American people should not question the decisions and actions of their “leaders”- aka stop bitching about that Domestic wiretapping?
Why are is the Repug Party so willing to show their hand on racist ideologies? Willing to ignite the country into a social war over race relations? This is a Huge Card to play- even for Repugs. Willing to be seen as the Party of White Supremists? Because the alternative is far more detrimental- The Party of Treason, Abuse of Power, War crimes and crimes against Humanity.
These Congressional ‘supporters’ of the ‘Birthers’ and the “apologists” are working these shiny objects to distract the public from their complicity in High Crimes.
This is What Repugs Do everytime they face exposure on a more egregious transgression- throwing shadows.
The Repugs would rather be considered Racists, then deemed Traitors or Criminals.

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By David Murdoch, July 30, 2009 at 4:32 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Psalms 49:16-20 Be not afraid when one becomes rich, when the glory of his house increases. For when he dies he will carry nothing away; his glory will not go down after him. Though, while he lives, he counts himself happy, and though a man gets praise when he does well for himself, he will go to the generation of his fathers, who will never more see the light. Man cannot abide in his pomp, he is like the beasts that perish.

God bless,

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By ThomasG, July 30, 2009 at 9:04 am Link to this comment

The Empire of Illusion is the Right-Wing CONSERVATIVE EXTREMIST REPUBLICAN MOVEMENT.  The cause was an illusion, but the negative effects were and are very real and lasting.

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By C. Curtis Dillon, July 30, 2009 at 5:46 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Corporatism (another name for fascism I’m told) seeks to mold us into willing, obedient slaves.  The cult of celebrity keeps us enthralled and anesthetized to the rape and plunder of our lives by the “ruling class”.  Of course, there is no royalty in this class, just a group of crooks and swindlers who have achieved enough economic power to directly influence our political and economic systems for their continued benefit.  This process has been going on since day one of our republic.  The difference now is the amount of control they exercise.  In the past, they did not have the resources to influence all aspect of our society but that has changed in the age of Reagan.  The rules and regulations passed to frustrate their domination have been systematically removed so we now have huge media conglomerates controlled by the same people who run our major banks and corporations.  They have also procured and distorted our political process so it is no longer representative of our desires.  The fact that so many still believe our country is on the right track is testament to how complete their domination has become.

However, the ultimate blame for this state of affairs rests with us, the citizens of America.  We punted our responsibilities as members of a free society.  Democracy requires more from us than voting when the urge moves us.  It demands that we are involved and informed.  Fox news is not how that happens.  We have to read and ask questions.  We have to engaged by attending town hall meetings and political events.  We have to force our way into the dialog by writing or phoning our representatives and demand that they listen to our concerns.  It often means we have to join groups of similar-minded citizens to push our agenda.  But we did none of these.  And, because we have been such dismal failures as citizens of our democracy, the forces of corporatism and celebrity stepped into the void.  They now control the dialog and drive the direction of America.  Unfortunately, they are only interested in their own wealth and influence and are not concerned about the long-term impact of this self-interest on the rest of us.  If the American ideal is destroyed, they will simply take their private jets somewhere else.  That is how it always works.

The concern I have (and I think Chris does as well) centers on the effort required to reverse this trend.  Is America truly gone and the people so anesthetized that there is no way to turn them around?  Is the cult of celebrity so deeply ingrained in the collective psyche that no amount of “true reality” can bring them back?  If that is true, than the few of us who are still “awake” will be treated to the spectacle of our beloved country swirling around the drain and disappearing forever.  That would be a real tragedy.

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By Chris Fretwell, July 30, 2009 at 5:07 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

And thats the American dream?!Good grief

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