CelebrityWhy America Confuses Fantasy for Reality: Celebrity, Hollywood, & Disneyland | Kurt...

Why America Confuses Fantasy for Reality: Celebrity, Hollywood, & Disneyland | Kurt Andersen

Why America Confuses Fantasy for Reality: Celebrity, Hollywood, & Disneyland
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The start of the 20th century was the birth of a strange new reality in the United States. The advent of the moving image, of Hollywood and sudden celebrity, caused a quantum shift in how Americans thought about the experience of life. Actors were elevated to the status of superheroes and demigods, and those left in the obscurity of the masses began to desire that elusive privilege: fame. But where America really went haywire, author Kurt Andersen explains, is when the cult of celebrity and the cult of capitalism merged: it was the opening of Disneyland in 1955. A bizarre reality where advertising met animation. You could buy real wares, from fake characters, in real stores, with make-believe themes. “What happened in Disneyland… did not stay there,” says Andersen. From Mickey Mouse all the way to the White House, Anderson doesn’t find it at all surprising that Americans might have a hard time telling what’s true from what’s false. He calls it the fantasy-industrial complex, and it might just be America’s beautifully branded nightmare. Kurt Andersen’s new book is Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History.

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KURT ANDERSEN :

Kurt Andersen, host of Studio 360 on NPR, is a journalist and the author of the novels Hey Day, Turn of the Century, The Real Thing, and his latest non-fiction book Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History. He has written and produced prime-time network television programs and pilots for NBC and ABC, and co-authored Loose Lips, an off-Broadway theatrical revue that had long runs in New York and Los Angeles. He is a regular columnist for New York Magazine, and contributes frequently to Vanity Fair. He is also a founder of Very Short List. 
Andersen began his career in journalism at NBC’s Today program and at Time, where he was an award-winning writer on politics and criminal justice and for eight years the magazine’s architecture and design critic. Returning to Time in 1993 as editor-at-large, he wrote a weekly column on culture. And from 1996 through 1999 he was a staff writer and columnist for The New Yorker. He was a co-founder of Inside.com, editorial director of Colors magazine, and editor-in-chief of both New York and Spy magazines, the latter of which he also co-founded.
From 2004 through 2008 he wrote a column called “The Imperial  City” for New York (one of which is included in The Best American Magazine Writing 2008).  In 2008 Forbes. com named him one of The 25 Most Influential Liberals in the U.S. Media. Anderson graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College, and is a member of the boards of trustees of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the Pratt Institute, and is currently Visionary in Residence at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. He lives with his family in New York City. 
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TRANSCRIPT:

Kurt Andersen: All kinds of modern, amazing things were happening at the beginning of the 20th century, especially in the United States of America, and the movies and Hollywood were one of those things that we kind of, I think, we have lost track of what a quantum shift watching movies represented for the experience of life. Sure there had been actors and plays before, but first of all the glut of entertainment that suddenly existed and the almost phantasmagorical quality of watching real people moving around that weren’t in front of you but in some netherworld in film, and they were really in London or India or the Yukon or wherever, and time was suddenly changed, it went from childhood to adulthood—everything about the cinema, we have to understand what a huge change that was and how mutable it seemed to make reality. So you take that—the fact of cinema, TV, video, everything we now for five generations have taken as the way things are—it gave us, and especially Americans, obviously French people and English people as well, this idea that reality was mutable. Then on top of that and with that you have this celebrity culture where there are, by orders of magnitude, suddenly more celebrities. In the 19th century and earlier there were famous people, but just a few of them, and now there were hundreds and then eventually thousands of famous people who were now famous for pretending to be somebody else: actors. That was a strange new condition.

And so for a long time, for much of the 20th century, people looked up to movie stars because they seem t…

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