Visions and Ventures Revisited

Chris Hedges: "Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle

Foreign correspondent and author Chris Hedges launched the 2010 symposium with an unblinkingly bleak look at corporate media’s role in America’s cultural decay. Using Michael Jackson’s funeral—“a variety show with a coffin”—as a touchstone, Hedges examined how media shape a superficial celebrity culture and condition “a view of the self as a marketable commodity.”

“Legislation demanded by corporations has thrust the knife in the back of the American working class.”

With two decades of experience as a war correspondent, he decried the decay of TV news reports into “mini-dramas complete with heroes, villains and surprise endings.” Our infatuation with the soap opera, Hedges argued, has distracted us from the real stories—such as the steady decline in purchasing power of the bottom 90% of American families, and the U.S. government’s unsustainable and reckless borrowing.

The distraction is designed. The corporations that literally own the media all but literally own the government, Hedges said. Those corporations have a vested interest in distracting working families from the man behind the curtain.

Blaming Obama, Bush and Clinton administrations alike, Hedges said flatly, “Legislation demanded by corporations has thrust the knife in the back of the American working class.”