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Empire of Illusion
The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle
- Read in 15 minutes
- Contains 9 key ideas
Empire of Illusion (2010) offers a close examination of declining literacy levels in the United States, and the disastrous effects that this educational catastrophe is having on the country. These blinks will explain how TV is pacifying the US citizenry, how corporate power has taken over the country and what this means for the future.
Key idea 1 of 9
Widespread illiteracy is cutting Americans off from reality.
Believe it or not, the United States is currently experiencing an illiteracy epidemic. This serious educational failure is helping make Americans the most illusion-prone people in the world.
In North America, functional illiteracy – the inability to accomplish everyday reading and writing tasks – is rising to alarming levels. In fact, approximately one-third of the US population is barely literate or entirely illiterate. For instance, one study found that 7 million Americans are illiterate, another 27 million can’t read enough to complete a job application and 50 million read at a fifth-grade level!
Americans generally aren’t interested in books. Research has shown that after graduation, about one-third of high school students don’t read another book for the rest of their lives. And the same goes for 42 percent of those with a college degree.
This trend was actually foreshadowed by two classic works of dystopian fiction. In the first book, 1984, George Orwell painted a picture of a totalitarian regime in which books were off-limits and information strictly controlled.
But it was one of his contemporaries that really hit the mark. His name was Aldous Huxley and his novel Brave New World portrayed a future society obsessed with entertainment, one in which banning books wasn’t necessary because nobody wanted to read anyway.
However, a lack of interest in reading doesn’t mean that Americans don’t get enough information; the only problem is that the country’s primary form of mass communication, television, is excellent at manipulating images and distorting reality.
One study found that a TV is on for approximately seven hours a day in any given American home. The average american watches TV for about four hours a day – so, by the time a US citizen is 65, they’ll have spent nine years of their life in front of a television!
TV continues to be hugely popular because it communicates through familiar clichés, presents predictable and easy-to-digest content, such as reality shows and sitcoms, and gives viewers the illusion of an exciting life while comforting them in their passivity.