‘The American Dream … Is a Lie’: Reviewing a Review of the Corporate State

It’s best to begin reviewing before the book is finished. Otherwise, you feel that the final moments are the most memorable and the whole exercise becomes entirely retrospective.

I started the write-up while metaphorically trudging in the swamps of south Florida with Hedges’ and Sacco’s descriptions and images. They found a ray of light to close out the book, and it is the only piece that dates a project otherwise timeless in its portrayals of the Sacrifice Zones.

Their style at points veers toward the didactic, but on balance this is an excellent work… those were among my impressions. Also, this reviewer made several attempts to interview Hedges, ringing him up at his Princeton residence, one time reaching a Eunice, who was presumed to be an assistant until my surveying of this survey directed the eyes to the dedication: “to Amalie and Eunice.”

Anyway, here is a snippet:

Days is a travelogue of the oppressed and dispossessed, whose misery makes our dream possible. Mountains must be blown up for our office parks; the natives and the underclass, reminders of our original sins of enslavement and extirpation, must be removed from sight by the freeways. Yet amind all the devastation and brokenness, dignity remains.

The authors never fail to not excise their opinions based on what they see: Sacco does it with imagery, Hedges with words. The effect, nonetheless, gave me no compunction whatsoever against having and inserting opinions of my own. Typically, a book review lays out the premise, a narrative, some juicy quotes, and more or less captures the tone of the tome.

For my purposes, if Hedges is going to be a bit heavy-handed, why not me? Now, that is not a license to jump off the deep end. But how else does one review a book containing declarations like “White supremacy, wielded by those of privilege, has remained one of the uninterrupted constaints in American life”?

The question of revolution… as in real social change, it appears throughout the work and my review. Personally, the prospects of Greece-like uprisings seem remote so long as a majority of people are comfortable enough or too intimidated to even believe they have power. At one point, Hedges asks a man in southern West Virginia, a five-foot-tall straw-hatted fellow who has fought his entire life to hold onto his ancestral land with the same tenacity of the Lakota we meet in the first chapter, “Days of Theft.”

(Each location is prefaced by what kind of days befall it: days of theft for the Lakota, days of siege for Camden, days of destruction for Welch, West Virginia, and days of slavery for the workers of Immokalee, Florida.)

The mountain man is named Larry Gibson. He is quoted as saying: “When it comes right down to it, I been callin’ fer a revolution across this country fer a long time now. I think it was Thomas Jefferson who said, I think it was ’im, who said we should have a revolution every twenty years to keep the country in check. We ’bin way overdue.” Asked what it would look like, Gibson says something about holding those in power in contempt.

Lucas Benitez is an organizer in Immokalee. He says: “Many people are desperate. They work hard and having nothing to show for it. You see in these Occupy movements young people who burned their eyelashes off studying and have no job and huge debts. There are differences,” Benitez adds. “We are poor. We are isolated.” Occupy, in fact, becomes the lodestar of the Great Hope for this book, which in hindsight appears tragic.

Two forces competed for my attention while reviewing: the stories told through Sacco’s cels and Hedges’ prophecizing, and the critiques of our political, economic, social, and environmental systems, which all appear to be in a state of advanced decay — if not total freefall collapse as Hedges sometimes avers. (Not that he hasn’t done his homework: there are 127 books cited, by my count.)

I examined the sources in the bibliography to get a sense of the intellectual spine upholding the dreary meat this book carries around, snapshots of a bruised country. It’s going to have to get a lot worse for a lot more of us until the revolt comes.

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