According to the book Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle by Chris Hedges, “the fantasy of celebrity culture is not designed simply to entertain. It is designed to keep us from fighting back.”
Hedges compares the Plato allegory of the cave to American culture. People in the cave choose to see “reality” through the images projected onto the cave wall from the outside world instead of venturing out and seeing the real world for themselves. The cave wall images represent a distorted reality that those in the cave believe to be reality (or choose to believe as reality). Those who leave the cave for a moment often come back because the darkness is familiar and comforting to them. The light, or reality, blinds them and they “need” to go back on the path of self-disillusionment and, ultimately, self-destruction. Our society chooses to remain in the cave. The light hurts our eyes.
Hedges argues throughout the book that people who buy into the fantasy of our society (celebrities as role models, consumerism as a quick fix to satisfaction and happiness, and the overall sense that people need “justice” by seeking revenge against those who have wronged them) live in the cave. America has become a center of distraction from reality through media, and it’s those who control media (photographers, tv producers, etc.) who essentially control America and how we think (or don’t think).
The idea that we have to “keep up with the Jones’s” and be more like our favorite celebrity damages us more than we are willing to acknowledge. And you know what? Most people won’t acknowledge this because they just don’t care. They want to pretend that the movie of their life is glamorous, wealthy, and beautiful (or will be one day). We are entitled as a nation–the conviction that everyone should have equal opportunity to have the wedding of their dreams, attend any college they want, and have the best clothes and homes money can buy.
But the vast majority of Americans can’t afford this glam lifestyle. All the Jones’s are poor, living from paycheck to paycheck and scraping by to pay off their massive debt, too. So, our media repeatedly tells us that we are “special” and “deserve the best” no matter what our financial situation is. This is why credit cards and personal loans are the demise of our culture. Young people have bought into it entirely. They think that they can spent money and they will make enough money someday to pay it all off. Or rely on the government to pay it off for them (which is stealing, by the way). OR young women believe that they can rack up the credit card debt because their very wealthy husband-to-be will pay it all off. I don’t know how many young women (and several of the high school girls I’ve taught) buy into this idea that Prince Charming will sweep in and make it all better. I don’t know about you, but I’d want to marry someone who’s intelligent enough to see through the selfish spending behavior and understand it for what it really is: an unsatisfied life of living in fantasy.
Entertainment is not just entertainment anymore. It can lead to a sad, unsatisfying life. People choose this life every day. There are things in our world, of course, that people can’t control, but your mind should not be one of them. Unfortunately, “we are still controlled, manipulated and distracted by the celluloid shadows on the dark wall of Plato’s cave.”
Link to brief Plato allegory: