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Porn glorifies the cruelty and domination of sexual exploitations in the same way popular culture…glorifies the domination and cruelty of war. It is the same disease. It is the belief that ‘because I have the ability to use force and control to make others do as I please, I have a right to use this force and control.’”Write a paragraph (125-150 words) either refuting or defending this assertion. You will need to reference examples outside of the chapter to support your position.You will read your classmates’ posts. Then you will post a reply to your original post on how others’ perspectives have opened your eyes to new ways of looking at your stance.
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Table of Contents
Title Page
Dedication
Praise
I – The Illusion of Literacy
II – The Illusion of Love
III – The Illusion of Wisdom
IV – The Illusion of Happiness
V – The Illusion of America
Notes
Acknowledgements
Bibliography
Index
Copyright Page
2
For Eunice,
soles occidere et redire possvnt: nobis cvm semel occidit
brevis
lvx, nox est perpetva vna dormienda. da mi basia mille.
3
People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own
destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of
innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a
monster.
—JAMES BALDWIN
4
I
The Illusion of Literacy
Now the death of God combined with the perfection of the image
has brought us to a whole new state of expectation. We are the image.
We are the viewer and the viewed. There is no other distracting
presence. And that image has all the Godly powers. It kills at will. Kills
effortlessly. Kills beautifully. It dispenses morality. Judges endlessly.
The electronic image is man as God and the ritual involved leads us not
to a mysterious Holy Trinity but back to ourselves. In the absence of a
clear understanding that we are now the only source, these images
cannot help but return to the expression of magic and fear proper to
idolatrous societies. This in turn facilitates the use of the electronic
image as propaganda by whoever can control some part of it.
—JOHN RALSTON SAUL, Voltaire’s Bastards1
We had fed the heart on fantasy,
The heart’s grown brutal from the fare.
—WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS, The Stare’s Nest By My Window
JOHN BRADSHAW LAYFIELD, tall, clean-cut, in a
collared shirt and white Stetson hat, stands in the center of
the ring holding a heavy black microphone. Layfield plays
wrestling tycoon JBL on the World Wrestling
Entertainment tour.2 The arena is filled with hooting and
jeering fans, including families with children. The crowd
yells and boos at JBL, who has had a long career as a
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professional wrestler. Many chant, “You suck! You suck!
You suck!”
“Last week I made Shawn Michaels an offer, and I
have yet to hear back from the Heartbreak Kid,” drawls
Layfield. Michaels, another WWE wrestler, is a crowd
favorite. He is a self-professed born-again Christian with a
working-man persona. “So earlier today I made Shawn
Michaels an offer that was a lot easier to understand,”
Layfield continues. “I challenge Shawn Michaels to a
street fight tonight! So Shawn, I know you’re back there.
Now what’s your answer?”
“HBK, HBK, HBK!!!” the crowd intones. A pulsing
rock beat suddenly shakes the arena as action shots of the
Heartbreak Kid flash across the Titantron, the massive
screen suspended over the ring. The crowd cheers, leaping
up as Shawn Michaels, in jeans and an army-green shirt,
whirls onstage, his long, blond hair flying. Pyrotechnics
explode. The deafening sound system growls, “I know I’m
sexy . . . I got the looks . . . that drive the girls wild. . . .”
Michaels bursts into the ring, fists pumping, stalking
back and forth. The ref steps in to begin the match.
“HBK! HBK! HBK!” chants the crowd.
“Hold on, hold on, referee,” Layfield says, putting his
hand on the referee’s shoulder. People in the crowd begin
to heckle.
“Shawn,” he says, “you got a choice to make. You can
either fight me right now in this street fight, or you can do
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the right thing for you, your family, and your extended
family, and take care of them in a financial crisis you
never dreamed would happen a year ago today.”
Michaels stands silently.
“You see, I know some things, Shawn,” continues
Layfield. “Rich people always do. Before this stock market
crashed, nobody saw it coming, except, of course, my
wife, but that didn’t help you, did it? See, I was hoarding
cash. I was putting money in gold. While most Americans
followed the leader—blindly, stupidly followed the leader
—I was making money. In fact, Shawn, I was prospering
while you were following the herd, losing almost
everything, right, Shawn?”
“Fight!! Fight!! Fight!! Fight!!” urges the crowd.
Michaels looks hesitantly back and forth between the
heaving crowd and Layfield.
“You lost your 401(k). You lost your retirement. You
lost your nest egg. You lost your children’s education
fund,” Layfield bellows into the mic, his face inches from
Michaels’s. “You got to support your extended family,
Shawn, and now you look around with all this
responsibility, and you look at your beautiful wife, she’s a
beautiful lady, you look at your two little wonderful kids,
and you wonder: ‘How in the world . . . am I going to send
them . . . to college?’ ”
Layfield pauses heavily. Michaels’ face is slack,
pained. Small, individual voices shout out from the crowd.
7
“Well, I’ve got an answer,” Layfield goes on. “I’m
offering you a job. I want you to come work—for me.”
“No! No! No!” yells the crowd. Michaels blinks
slowly, dazed, and lowers his eyes to the mat.
“See, there’s always alternatives, Shawn. There’s
alternatives to everything. You can always wrestle until
you’re fifty. You might even wrestle till you’re sixty. In
fact, you could be a lot like these has-beens who are
disgracing themselves in high school gyms all over the
country, bragging about their war stories of selling the
place out while they’re hawking their eight-by-tens and
selling Polaroids. Shawn, you could be that guy, or you
could take my offer, because I promise you this: All the
revenue that you’re goin’ to make off your DX T-shirts
will not compare to the offer that I . . . made . . . to you.”
He tells the Heartbreak Kid to look in the mirror,
adding, “The years haven’t been kind to you, have they,
Shawn?” He reminds him that one more bad fall, one more
injury, and “you’re done, you’re done.”
The crowd begins to rally their stunned hero, growing
louder and louder. “HBK! HBK! HBK!”
“What else can you really do besides this?” Layfield
asks. “You get a second chance in life.”
Layfield sweeps off his white Stetson. “Go ahead,” he
screams into Michaels’s face. “Ever since you walked out
here . . . people have been wantin’ you to kick me in the
face. So why don’t you do it? I’m gonna give you a free
8
shot, Shawn, right here.”
The crowd erupts, roaring for the Heartbreak Kid to
strike.
“HBK!! DO IT!! DO IT!! HBK!! HBK!!!”
“Listen to ’em. Everybody wants it. Shawn, it’s what
you want. You’re twitching. You’re begging to pull the
trigger, so I’m telling you right now, take a shot! Take it!”
The Heartbreak Kid takes one step back, his stubbled
face trembling, breathing rapidly like a rabbit. The crowd
is leaping out of their seats, thrusting their arms in the air,
holding up handmade banners.
“HBK!!! HBK!!! HBK!!!”
“Do it, Shawn,” Layfield hollers, “before it’s too late.
This is your second chance, but understand this,
understand this—”
“HBK!!! HBK!!! HBK!!!”
“—Listen to me and not them! If you take this shot . . .
then this offer is off the table . . . forever.”
The crowd stops chanting. Different cries are heard:
boos, shouts to attack, shouts to stop. There is no longer
unity in the auditorium.
Layfield holds his head outstretched until the
Heartbreak Kid slowly turns his back. Layfield leers.
Shawn Michaels climbs through the ropes out of the ring
9
and walks heavily back to the dressing room, his dull gaze
on the ground.
“Lookin’ forward to doin’ business with ya, Shawn,”
Layfield shouts after him.
The crowd screams.
Layfield, like most of the wrestlers, has a long,
complicated fictional backstory that includes a host of
highly publicized intrigues, fights, betrayals, infidelities,
abuse, and outrageous behavior—including goose-stepping
around the ring and giving the Nazi salute during a
wrestling bout in Germany. But tonight he has come in his
newest incarnation as the “self-made millionaire,” the
capitalist, the CEO who walked away with a pot of gold
while workers across the country lost their jobs, saw their
savings and retirement funds evaporate, and fought off
foreclosure.
As often happens in a celebrity culture, the line
between public and fictional personas blurs. Layfield
actually claims to have made a fortune as a stock market
investor and says he is married to the “richest woman on
Wall Street.” He is a regular panelist on Fox News
Channel’s The Cost of Freedom and previously appeared
on CNBC, not only as a celebrity wrestler but as a savvy
investor whose conservative political views are worth
airing. He also has written a best-selling book on financial
planning called Have More Money Now. He hosts a
weekend talk-radio program syndicated nationally by Talk
Radio Network, in which he discusses politics.
10
The interaction between the crowd and Layfield is
vintage professional wrestling. The twenty-minute bouts
employ the same tired gimmicks, the same choreographed
moves, the endless counts to two by the referee that never
seem to get to three without the pinned wrestler leaping up
from the mat to continue the fight. There is the desperate
struggle of a prostrate wrestler trying to reach the hand of
his or her partner to be relieved in the ring. This
pantomime, with his opponent on his back and his arm
outstretched, can go on for a couple of minutes. There are
a lot of dirty shots when the referee is distracted—which is
often.
The bouts are stylized rituals. They are public
expressions of pain and a fervent longing for revenge. The
lurid and detailed sagas behind each bout, rather than the
wrestling matches themselves, are what drive crowds to a
frenzy. These ritualized battles give those packed in the
arenas a temporary, heady release from mundane lives.
The burden of real problems is transformed into fodder for
a high-energy pantomime. And the most potent story
tonight, the most potent story across North America, is one
of financial ruin, desperation, and enslavement of a
frightened and abused working class to a heartless,
tyrannical, corporate employer. For most, it is only in the
illusion of the ring that they are able to rise above their
small stations in life and engage in a heroic battle to fight
back.
As the wrestlers appear and strut down the aisle, the
crowd, mostly young, working-class males, knows by
heart the long list of vendettas and betrayals being carried
into the ring. The matches are always acts of retribution for
11
a host of elaborate and fictional wrongs. The narratives of
emotional wreckage reflected in the wrestlers’ stage
biographies mirror the emotional wreckage of the fans.
This is the deep appeal of professional wrestling. It is the
appeal of much of popular culture, from Jerry Springer to
“reality” television to Oprah Winfrey. The narratives
expose the anxiety that we will die and never be
recognized or acclaimed, that we will never be wealthy,
that we are not among the chosen but remain part of the
vast, anonymous masses. The ringside sagas are designed
to reassure us. They hold out the hope that we, humble and
unsung as these celebrities once were, will eventually be
blessed with grace and fortune.
The success of professional wrestling, like most of the
entertainment that envelops our culture, lies not in fooling
us that these stories are real. Rather, it succeeds because
we ask to be fooled. We happily pay for the chance to
suspend reality. The wrestlers, like all celebrities, become
our vicarious selves. They do what we cannot. They rise
up from humble origins into a supernatural world of
tyrants, divas, and fierce opponents who are huge and
rippling with muscles—mythic in their size and power.
They face momentous battles and epic struggles. They win
great victories. They garner fame and vanquish their
anonymity. And they return to befriend and confer some of
their supernatural power on us. It is the stuff of classical
myths, including the narrative of Jesus Christ. It is the
yearning that life conform to a recognizable pattern and
provide ultimate fulfillment before death.
“For the truth is,” wrote José Ortega y Gasset, “that life
on the face of it is a chaos in which one finds oneself lost.
12
The individual suspects as much but is terrified to
encounter this frightening reality face to face, and so
attempts to conceal it by drawing a curtain of fantasy over
it, behind which he can make believe that everything is
clear.”3
Clashes in the professional wrestling ring from the
1950s to the 1980s hinged on a different narrative. The
battle against the evil of communism and crude, racial
stereotypes stoked the crowd. The bouts, which my
grandfather religiously watched on Saturday afternoons,
were raw, unvarnished expressions of the prejudices of the
white working class from which he came. They appealed
to nationalism and a dislike and distrust of all who were
racially, ethnically, or religiously different. During these
matches, some of which I watched as a boy, there was
usually some huge hulk of a man, known invariably as
“The Russian Bear,” who would say things like “Ve vill
bury you.” Nikolai Volkoff, who wrestled during these
years under the name Boris Breznikoff, used to sing the
Soviet National Anthem and wave the Soviet flag before
matches to bait the crowd. He eventually teamed up with
an Iranian-born wrestler, Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri,
known as The Iron Sheik. In the midst of the Iranian
hostage crisis, the Iron Sheik bragged in the ring about his
devotion and friendship with Ayatollah Khomeini. The
Iron Sheik was regularly pitted against a wrestler known as
Sergeant Slaughter, All-American G. I. During the first
Gulf War; the Iron Sheik reinvented himself, as often
happens with wrestlers who shed one persona and name
for another, as Colonel Mustafa, an Iraqi who was a close
confidant of Saddam Hussein. In wrestling, villains were
13
nearly always foreigners. They were people who wanted to
destroy “our way of life.” They hated America. They
spoke in strange accents and had swarthy skin.
But that hatred, once directed outward, has turned
inward. Wrestling fans, whose numbers have been swelled
by new immigrants and are no longer limited to the white
working class, began to come in too many colors. The
steady loss of manufacturing jobs and decline in social
services meant that blue-collar workers—people like my
grandparents—could no longer find jobs that provided a
living wage, jobs with benefits, jobs that could support a
family. The hulks of empty manufacturing centers began to
dot the landscape, including the abandoned mills in Maine,
where my family lived. The disparity between the elite, the
rich, and the rest of the country grew obscenely. The
growing class division and hopelessness triggered a
mounting rage toward the elite, as well as a sense of
powerlessness. Communities began to crumble. Downtown
stores went out of business and were boarded up. Domestic
abuse and drug and alcohol addiction began to plague
working-class neighborhoods and towns.
The story line in professional wrestling evolved to fit
the new era. It began to focus on the petty, cruel,
psychological dramas and family dysfunction that come
with social breakdown. The enemy became figures like
Layfield, those who had everything and lorded it over
those who did not. The anger unleashed by the crowd
became the anger of people who, like the Heartbreak Kid,
felt used, shamed, and trapped. It became the anger of
class warfare. Figures such as Layfield—who arrives at
professional matches in a giant white limousine with
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Texan “hook ’em” horns on the hood—are created by
wrestling promoters to shove these social disparities in the
faces of the audience, just as the Iron Sheik mocked the
crowd with his hatred of America.
Wrestlers work in “stables,” or groups. These groups,
all of which have managers, are at war with the other
groups. This motif, too, is new. It represents a society that
has less and less national cohesion, a society that has
broken down into warlike and antagonistic tribes. The
stables cheat, lie, steal one another’s women, and ignore
all rules in the desperate scramble to win. Winning is all
that matters. Morality is irrelevant. These wrestling clans
have their own logos, uniforms, slogans, theme songs,
cheerleaders, and other badges of communal identity. They
do not, however, stay consistent in their “good guy” or
“bad guy” status. A clan, like an individual wrestler, can
be good one week and evil the next. All that matters is
their own advancement. Week after week, they act out
scenarios that are psychological windows into what has
happened to our culture.
Ray Traylor was a prison guard in Georgia before
debuting as a professional wrestler in 1985. Known on the
wrestling circuit as Big Boss Man, he was portrayed as a
brutal, sadistic wrestler devoid of human compassion.
Traylor showed up at the ring with a nightstick, a flak
jacket, handcuffs, and a ball and chain. During a match in
1992 a digitized voice came over the loudspeaker. It
warned the Boss Man that someone from his past was
coming to exact revenge. Sure enough, the Boss Man was
ambushed in the ring by Nailz, a wrestler who claimed to
be a former inmate brutalized by the Boss Man during his
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time as a correctional officer. Nailz, a six-foot, eight-inch
brute with severe post-traumatic stress disorder, appeared
in the arena wearing an orange prison jumpsuit. The two
began a bitter, long feud. It was a feud many in the crowd
knew too well. It was the feud between prisoners and
guards. It was the feud between those who had once been
incarcerated and who wanted to do to their keepers what
had been done to them. Traylor later adopted a new
persona in the ring, also known as the Boss Man, but now
a hated security guard, dressed in a SWAT-like outfit, for
Vince McMahon’s Corporation, which owns the wrestling
franchise. McMahon, in tune with the passions of his
audience, is always trying to exploit, threaten, and cheat
the wrestlers who work for him.
The Boss Man’s most infamous stunt was publicly
taunting a wrestler named Big Show when it was
announced that Big Show’s father had cancer. The Boss
Man, at least in the scripted melodrama, hired a police
impersonator to go into Big Show’s locker room moments
before a match and tell him his father had died. Big Show,
shown weeping, withdrew from the match, and the Boss
Man won by forfeit. A grainy black-and-white video,
purportedly lifted from a surveillance camera in the Boss
Man’s locker room, showed Traylor asking the
impersonator for a detailed report on how Big Show
reacted.
“What he do, what he do?” the Boss Man asked,
eagerly shifting from side to side.
The police impersonator pinched the bridge of his nose
and bowed his head. “My daddy! My daddy!”
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“My daddy! My daddy!” the Boss Man squealed.
“Waaaa! My daddy gone!”
In the ring he imitated Big Show and wailed to the
crowd, “My daddy! My daddy! Waaaa! Waaa!” Stalking
the ring in mirrored sunglasses, he read a ditty to the
booing, enraged crowd:
With the deepest regrets and tears that are soaked
I’m sorry to hear your dad finally croaked.
He lived a full life on his own terms,
Soon he’ll be buried and eaten by worms.
But if I could have a son as stupid as you
I’d wish for cancer so I could die too.
Boss Man then supposedly smashed Big Show’s family
heirloom, his grandfather’s gold pocket watch, with a
hammer and anvil. A video of the Boss Man was played to
the crowd, showing him at the graveside service of Big
Show’s father, in a Blues Brothers-inspired police car with
a huge loudspeaker on the roof. The Boss Man blared
through the speaker as he drove up the cemetery path,
“He’s dead as a doornail, and no matter how much you cry
and cry, nobody but nobody gonna bring him back. . . .
You’re nothin’ but a momma, and speakin’ of yo’ momma,
hey, Ms. Wight [Big …
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