Published on Oct 8, 2017
Americans are inherently a little crazy. But now the crazy is being enabled by politicians in the White House and by the internet. How exactly did it get so bad?
Americans have always been magical thinkers and passionate believers in the untrue. We were started by the Puritans in New England who wanted to create and did create a Christian utopia and theocracy as they waited for the eminent second coming of Christ and the end of days. And in the south by a bunch of people who were convinced, absolutely convinced that this place they’d never been was full of gold just to be plucked from the dirt in Virginia and they stayed there looking and hoping for gold for 20 years before they finally faced the facts and the evidence and decided that they weren’t going to get rich overnight there. So that was the beginning. And then we’ve had centuries of buyer-beware charlatanism to an extreme degree and medical quackery to an extreme degree and increasingly exotic extravagant implausible religions over and over again from Mormonism to Christian Science to Scientology in the last century.
And we’ve had this antiestablishment “I’m not going to trust the experts, I’m not going to trust the elite” from our character from the beginning. Now all those things came together and were super-charged in the 1960s when you were entitled to your own truth and your own reality. Then a generation later when the Internet came along, giving each of those realities, no matter how false or magical or nutty they are, their own kind of media infrastructure. We had entertainment, again for the last couple hundred years, but especially in the last 50 years permeating all the rest of life, including Presidential politics from John F. Kennedy through Ronald Ragan to Bill Clinton. So the thing was set up for Donald Trump to exploit all these various American threads and astonishingly become president, but then you look at this history and it’s like no we should have seen this coming.
The idea of America from the beginning was that you could come here, reinvent yourself, be anybody you want, live any way you wanted, believe any thing you wanted. For the first few hundred years, like everywhere else in the world, celebrity and fame were a result of some kind of accomplishment or achievement, sometimes not a great accomplishment or achievement, but you did something in the world to earn renown. America really was the key place that invented the modern celebrity culture, which was, beginning a century ago, more and more not necessarily about having won a war or led a people or written a great book or painted a great painting, but about being famous, fame for its own sake. We created that, we created Hollywood, we created the whole culture industry and that then became what I call the fantasy industrial complex where, certainly in the last few decades more than ever more than anybody thought possible before, fame itself, however you’ve got it, was a primary goal for people. And again, as so many of the things I talk about in Fantasyland, not uniquely to America but more here than anywhere. And then you get reality television, which was this unholy hybrid of the fictional and the real for the last now generation where that blur between what’s real and what’s not is pumped into our media stream willy-nilly. There are now more reality shows on television than there were shows on television 20 years ago. And that’s another way for nobodies to become famous overnight.