Chris Hedges the Prophet on Print Culture Turning to Image Culture

Former New York Times war correspondent, Chris Hedges, has, over the past couple of years, taken on the mantle of a secular prophet—an emperor has no clothes truthteller—writing scathing (and I think powerful) books and essays documenting the messes that we find ourselves in and our ridiculous responses to them.

Here he is talking about America’s cultural shift from being a print-based culture to an image-based culture:


For me, the highlight of this interview clip comes at the 6:45 mark where Hedges says the following:

We are awash in electronic hallucinations, and the worse it gets the more we retreat into those hallucinations—which is what dying cultures always do. They sever themselves from reality because reality becomes so difficult to face. And we’re no exception from that.

Hedges has also written about collective escapism elsewhere, comparing American civilization to Easter Island’s (when its civilization went into permanent decline):

The desperate islanders developed a belief system that posited that the erected stone gods, the moai, would come to life and save them from disaster. This last retreat into magic characterizes all societies that fall into terminal decline. It is a frantic response to loss of control as well as despair and powerlessness. This desperate retreat into magic led to the Cherokee ghost dance, the doomed Taki Onqoy revolt against the Spanish invaders in Peru, and the Aztec prophecies of the 1530s. Civilizations in the last moments embrace a total severance from reality, a reality that becomes too bleak to be absorbed.

The modern belief by evangelical Christians in the rapture, which does not exist in biblical literature, is no less fantastic, one that at once allows for the denial of global warming and of evolution and the absurd idea that the righteous will all be saved—floating naked into heaven at the end of time.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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4 Responses to Chris Hedges the Prophet on Print Culture Turning to Image Culture

  1. I’m not sure I buy the idea that writing has gone away. The existence of a journalist elite that writes and reports is certainly shrinking, if not eventually going away.

    But it seems to me that blogs and other form of written expression mean that there is for more writing you can read if you choose than before. The amount of video has also exploded, and people have likely expanded their watching more than reading.

    But I’m not convinced the written word is dead. Isn’t a little ironic that Hedges message is coming via a youtube video?

    • santitafarella says:

      Well, prophets are bleak, aren’t they?

      But I’m inclined to agree with you. For most people at any time in history, books have not really been all that important.

      On the other hand, it seems that television and the image culture has upended any attempt at (or pretense to) rational politics: Lincoln-Douglas debates are out; Sarah Palin’s wink is in (sort of).


  2. I forgot to add that I think one faces a lot writing to potentially look at. It’s hard to separate wheat from chafe.

  3. Pingback: Chris Hedges the Prophet on Print Culture Turning to Image Culture (via Prometheus Unbound) | Brucetheeconomist's Blog

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