Chapter 1 Summary
In the first chapter, “The Illusion of Literacy,” Chris Hedges summarizes plot lines from WWE, or World Wrestling Entertainment. He shows how these plots mirror the fears and fantasies of American culture at large. For example, during the Cold War, there were wrestlers who took on personas of stereotyped Cold War adversaries. In the recession, the villains of the WWE take on the role of the capitalists who “walked away with a pot of gold while workers across the country lost their jobs, saw their savings and retirement funds evaporate, and fought off foreclosure.”
Wrestling is but one example of Americans' obsession with “celebrity culture,” and it exemplifies how “the line between public and fictional personas blurs.” Hedges argues that
established truths...rules, and authenticity mean nothing. Good and evil mean nothing. The idea of permanent personalities and permanent values...has evaporated. It is all about winning.
Hedges compares this to Plato’s allegory of the cave. People in contemporary society stare at illusions, mistaking these shadows for reality. Hedges explains how “Plato feared the power of entertainment, the power of the senses to overthrow the mind, the power of emotion to obliterate reason.” In today’s society, people are described by the author as
chained to the flickering shadows of celebrity culture, the spectacle of the arena and the airwaves, the lies of advertising, the endless personal dramas, many of them completely fictional, that have become the staple of news, celebrity gossip, New Age mysticism, and pop psychology.
Hedges suggests that there is a great danger posed to any society that obsesses with these shadows. Hedges then identifies the people who create the shadows that “dominate our lives”:
(The entire section is 524 words.)