How did we get here? Read more...
- Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Gr
- Date: Sept 2017
From the cover
Now Entering Fantasyland
This book has been germinating for a long time. In the late 1990s I wrote a few articles pointing toward it—about American politics morphing into show business and baby boomers trying to stay forever young, about un- true conspiracy theories being mainstreamed and the explosion of talk radio as it became more and more about the hosts' wild opinions. In 1999 I published a novel about a TV producer who created two groundbreaking shows— a police drama in which the fictional characters interact with real police arresting real criminals, and a news program featuring scenes of the anchors' private lives.
But the ideas and arguments really started crystallizing in 2004 and 2005. First President George W. Bush's political mastermind Karl Rove introduced the remarkable phrase reality-based community. People "in the reality- based community," he told a reporter, "believe that solutions emerge from judicious study of discernible reality. That's not the way the world really works anymore." He said it with a sense of humor, but he was also deadly serious. A year later The Colbert Report went on the air. In the first few minutes of his first episode, Stephen Colbert, playing his right-wing populist character, per- formed a feature called The Word in which he riffed on a phrase. "Truthiness," he said.
Now I'm sure some of the "word police," the "wordinistas" over at Webster's, are gonna say, "Hey, that's not a word!" Well, anybody who knows me knows that I'm no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They're elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn't true. Or what did or didn't happen. Who's Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I wanna say it happened in 1941, that's my right. I don't trust books—they're all fact, no heart. . . . Face it, folks, we are a divided nation . . . divided between those who think with their head and those who know with their heart. . . . Because that's where the truth comes from, ladies and gentlemen—the gut.
Whoa, yes, I thought: exactly. America had changed in this particular, peculiar way, I realized. Until the 2000s, truthiness and reality-based community wouldn't have made much sense as jokes.
My understanding of how this change occurred became clearer a few years later, when I started work on a novel about a group of kids who in the early 1960s role-play James Bond stories, and then in 1968, as college students, undertake a real-life Bond-like antigovernment plot. During the 1960s, reality and fantasy blurred problematically, for my characters and for plenty of real Americans. In the course of researching and thinking through that story, I came to understand the era and its impacts in a new way. For all the fun, and all the various positive effects of the social and cultural upheavals, I saw that it was also the Big Bang moment for truthiness. And if the 1960s amounted to a national nervous breakdown, we are mistaken to consider ourselves over it, because what people say about recovery is true: you're never really cured.
I realized too that this complicated American phenomenon I was trying to figure out had been not just decades but centuries in the making. In order to understand our weakness for fantasy of all kinds, I needed to follow the tendrils and branches and roots further back—all the way back, to America's beginnings.
You're not going to agree with me about all the various mental habits and beliefs and behaviors I classify here as imaginary or fantastical. You may find me too judgmental about matters of...