Posts tagged postmodern
Posts tagged postmodern
American Psychosis: What happens to a society that cannot distinguish between reality and illusion?
by Chris Hedges
The United States, locked in the kind of twilight disconnect that grips dying empires, is a country entranced by illusions. It spends its emotional and intellectual energy on the trivial and the absurd. It is captivated by the hollow stagecraft of celebrity culture as the walls crumble. This celebrity culture giddily licenses a dark voyeurism into other people’s humiliation, pain, weakness and betrayal. Day after day, one lurid saga after another, whether it is Michael Jackson, Britney Spears or John Edwards, enthralls the country … despite bank collapses, wars, mounting poverty or the criminality of its financial class.
The virtues that sustain a nation-state and build community, from honesty to self-sacrifice to transparency to sharing, are ridiculed each night on television as rubes stupid enough to cling to this antiquated behavior are voted off reality shows. Fellow competitors for prize money and a chance for fleeting fame, cheered on by millions of viewers, elect to “disappear” the unwanted. In the final credits of the reality show America’s Next Top Model, a picture of the woman expelled during the episode vanishes from the group portrait on the screen. Those cast aside become, at least to the television audience, nonpersons. Celebrities that can no longer generate publicity, good or bad, vanish. Life, these shows persistently teach, is a brutal world of unadulterated competition and a constant quest for notoriety and attention.
Our culture of flagrant self-exaltation, hardwired in the American character, permits the humiliation of all those who oppose us. We believe, after all, that because we have the capacity to wage war we have a right to wage war. Those who lose deserve to be erased. Those who fail, those who are deemed ugly, ignorant or poor, should be belittled and mocked. Human beings are used and discarded like Styrofoam boxes that held junk food. And the numbers of superfluous human beings are swelling the unemployment offices, the prisons and the soup kitchens.
It is the cult of self that is killing the United States. This cult has within it the classic traits of psychopaths: superficial charm, grandiosity and self-importance; a need for constant stimulation; a penchant for lying, deception and manipulation; and the incapacity for remorse or guilt. Michael Jackson, from his phony marriages to the portraits of himself dressed as royalty to his insatiable hunger for new toys to his questionable relationships with young boys, had all these qualities. And 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 nationwide celebration of image over substance, of illusion over truth. And it is why investment bankers blink in confusion when questioned about the morality of the billions in profits they made by selling worthless toxic assets to investors.
In the late 1960s, George Bush Jr was at Yale, branding the asses of pledges to the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity with a hot coathanger. Michel Foucault was at the Societé française de philosophie, considering the question, ‘What is an author?’
The two, needless to say, never met. Foucault may have visited Texas on one of his lecture tours, but Junior, as far as it is known, never took his S&M revelry beyond the Ivy League – novelists will have to invent a chance encounter in a basement club in Austin. Moreover, Junior’s general ignorance of all things, except for professional sports, naturally extended to the nation known as France. On his first trip to Paris in 2002, Junior, now president of the United States, stood beside Jacques Chirac at a press conference and said: ‘He’s always saying that the food here is fantastic and I’m going to give him a chance to show me tonight.’
Foucault found his theories embodied, sometimes unconvincingly, in writers such as Proust or Flaubert. He died in 1984, while Junior was still an ageing frat boy, and didn’t live to see this far more applicable text. For the questions that he, even then, declared hopelessly obsolete are the very ones that should not be asked about Decision Points ‘by’ George W. Bush (or by ‘George W. Bush’): ‘Who really spoke? Is it really he and not someone else? With what authenticity or originality? And what part of his deepest self did he express in his discourse?’
Decision Points holds the same relation to George W. Bush as a line of fashion accessories or a perfume does to the movie star that bears its name; he no doubt served in some advisory capacity. The words themselves have been assembled by Chris Michel (the young speechwriter and devoted acolyte who went to Yale with Bush’s daughter Barbara); a freelance editor, Sean Desmond; the staff at Crown Publishing (who reportedly paid $7 million for the book); a team of a dozen researchers; and scores of ‘trusted friends’. Foucault: ‘What difference does it make who is speaking?’ ‘The mark of the writer is … nothing more than the singularity of his absence.’
If you’ve ever had a fleeting interest in postmodernism, read this essay on why George W. Bush’s memoir represents the epitome of postmodern storytelling.