Living in a Culture of Cruelty: Democracy as Spectacle

Bailouts are not going to address the ways in which individual desires, values and identities are endlessly produced in the service of a culture of cruelty and inequality. Power is not merely material, it is also symbolic and is distributed through a society in ways we have never seen before. No longer is education about schooling. It now functions through the educational force of the larger culture in the media, Internet, electronic media and through a wide range of technologies and sites endlessly working to undo democratic values, compassion and any viable notion of justice and its accompanying social relations. What this suggests is a redefinition of both literacy and education. We need, as a society, to educate students and others to be literate in multiple ways, to reclaim the high ground of civic courage, and to be able to name, engage and transform those forms of public pedagogy that produce hate and cruelty as part of the discourse of common sense. Otherwise, democracy will lose the supportive institutions, social relations and culture that make it not only possible but even thinkable. (Truthout / Posted by
[1] Barbara Ehrenreich, “Is It now a Crime to Be Poor?,” New York Times (August 9, 2009), p. wk9.
[2] David Bauder, “Fox’s Glenn Beck: President Obama is a Racist,” Associated Press (July 28, 2009).
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[3] Limbaugh cited in Casey Gane-McCalla, “Top 10 Racist Limbaugh Quotes,” NewsOne (October 20, 2008).
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[4] Savage quoted in Thinkers and Jokers (July 2, 2007).
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[5] Coulter quoted in Don Hazen, “The Tall Blonde Woman in the Short Skirt With the Big Mouth,” AlterNet (June 6, 2006).
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[6] These quotes are taken from an excellent article by Eric Boehlert in which he criticizes the soft peddling that many in the press give to right-wing fanatics such as Michael Savage. See Eric Boehlert, “The New Yorker raises a toast to birther nut Michael Savage,” Media Matters for America (August 3, 2009).
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[7] See Chris Hedges, “America the Illiterate,” CommonDreams (November 10, 2008).
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Terrence McNally, “How Anti-Intellectualism Is Destroying America,” AlterNet (August 15, 2008).
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[8] For an excellent collection on military video games, see Nina B. Huntemann and Matthew Thomas Payne, eds. “Joystick Soldiers: The Politics of Play in Military Video Games” (New York: Routledge, 2010).
[9] Arts and Entertainment, “Torture Will Just Have to Do,” The Hamilton Spectator (August 12, 2009), p. Go 3.
[10] Jane Mayer, “Whatever It Takes: The Politics of the Man Behind 24,” The New Yorker (February 26, 2007), p. 68.
[11] Alessandra Stanley, “Suicide Bombers Strike, and America Is in Turmoil. Just Another Day in the Life of Jack Bauer,” New York Times (January 12, 2007), p. B1.
[12] See Judith Butler, “Frames of War.” Also, Slavoj Zizek, “The Depraved Heroes of 24 are the Himmlers of Hollywood,” The Guardian (January 10, 2006).
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[13] Faiz Shaker, “US Military: Television Series ’24’ is Promoting Torture in the Ranks,” Think Progress (February 3, 2007).
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[14] Chris Hedges, “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle” (New York: Knopf Canada, 2009). p. 10.
[15] Eric Lichtblau, “Attacks on Homeless Bring Push on Hate Crime Laws,” New York Times (August 8, 2009), p. A1.
[16] National Coalition of the Homeless, “Hate, Violence, and Death on Main Street,” 2008, (Washington, DC, National Coalition of the Homeless, 2009).
Online at:, p. 34.
[17] Ibid., Eric Lichtblau, “Attacks on Homeless Bring Push on Hate Crime Laws.”
[18] National Coalition of the Homeless, “Hate, Violence, and Death on Main Street,” 2008, (Washington, D. C., National Coalition of the Homeless, 2009).
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[19] Ibid., Eric Lichtblau, “Attacks on Homeless Bring Push on Hate Crime Laws.”
[20] Mark Slouka, “Dehumanized: When Math and Science Rule the School,” Harper’s Magazine (September 5, 2009), p. 40.
[21] Ibid., Mark Slouka, “Dehumanized,” p. 40.
[22] Mark Reinhardt and Holly Edwards, “Traffic in Pain,” in “Beautiful Suffering: Photography and the Traffic in Pain,” ed. Mark Reinhardt, Holly Edwards, and Erina Duganne (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), p.9.
[23] Chris Hedges, “America Is in Need of Moral Bailout,” Truthdig (March 23, 2009).
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Henry A. Giroux holds the Global TV Network chair in English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Canada. Related work: Henry A. Giroux, “The Mouse that Roared: Disney and the End of Innocence” (Lanham: Rowman and Lilttlefield, 2001). His most recent books include “Take Back Higher Education” (co-authored with Susan Searls Giroux, 2006), “The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex” (2007) and “Against the Terror of Neoliberalism: Politics Beyond the Age of Greed” (2008). His newest book, “Youth in a Suspect Society: Beyond the Politics of Disposability,” will be published by Palgrave Mcmillan in 2009.

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