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

Why America Confuses Fantasy for Reality: Celebrity, Hollywood, & Disneyland | 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 to have real potency in this world
where individuals seem more and more part of a mass. Here were the people, because they were famous
and because we watched them and stared at them and dreamed about them, they were like
superheroes or demigods. So by the end of the 20th century or before
the end of the 20th century, who wouldn’t—if you’re an American steeped in this movie
and television culture—want to be famous? Maybe there’s no reason for you to be famous
but, my god, only famous people have real agency in the world. So we got to that point, where fame is its
own end. You also—again, there’s advertising everywhere,
but advertising and the advertising industry were really an American invention, starting
way back in the 1800s when, for instance, the presidential candidate William Henry Harrison
was the first marketed, advertised presidential candidate. He was this rich guy who they wanted to rebrand
as a humble guy who had grown up in a log cabin, so log cabins became his icon, his
branding symbol, and they made real big ones and little ones and liquor and facial creams
in log cabin containers, and they made chants and songs, and he won by a landslide over
a guy who was actually of humble origins. So advertising as part of this fantasy-industrial
complex that is so American and so defining of America has been a big part of what we’re
talking about as well. Disneyland: I love Disneyland, but when it
was created in the 1950s, not just as a little amusement park to promote Walt Disney’s
animated films but as this other version of reality that was real—it was there, you
could go there and buy things at these old-fashioned shops on Main Street USA with actors, but
they were selling you stuff. What happened in Disneyland, starting in 1955,
did not stay there, and that Main Street USA most of all became a kind of model for how
you build shopping centers, how you build suburbs, how you theme everything from restaurants
to hotels to shops to clubs. So the Hollywood idea and what came before
in pop culture and what came after and, as it expanded to sort of subsume all of American
life, is a big part of how we as Americans have become so iffy about telling what’s
fake from what’s real, what’s true from what’s false.

About the author


  1. This is an old point from European (contimental) philosophy and even popular culture. We see America as some sort of Disneyland full of people completely detached from reality. Or in postmodern terms, the "hyperreal".

  2. I have no doubt this dude is very intelligent, but I feel like I just watched a five minute video of a man ramble on and on without ever actually saying anything.

  3. Like when Barack Obama sends representatives from the White House to the funerals of criminals who attack police officers and we call the other side "racist"?

  4. What is a quantum shift? He lost a lot of credibility in my eyes when he used that phrase and then made it sound like it was something huge.

  5. This explains how the left believes money grows on trees and they can get everything for free without having to actually do anything and the delusion they live under that the Muslims are our friends and Islam is a religion of peace.

  6. This is why I watch Bojack Horseman.
    Popular culture is shit mostly.
    People are shitty in general so they make shitty people famous.
    Fk mainstream ideas in general.
    Some of them work but that is a line I will draw carefully.

  7. Most people around the world confuse fantasy for reality. Little, and big, lies are taught and reinforced throughout adolescence, and most hold these lies as unquestioned truth for life. Govt is exceedingly successful at this, through public schooling and media propaganda.

  8. The brain just has a very difficult time separating its experience watching a movie and its experience watching reality.
    Long term effects persist.

  9. Great message but bad messenger. This guy desperately needs to join Toastmasters so that he can work on his speech delivery.

  10. This kinda-sorta makes sense, but America has had this problem since LONG before film. Churches aren't exactly a new thing, you know. They've been sucking people in dozens of times every year to try to coax as many of them as possible to genuinely believe in fairytales, and they've been at it for centuries. It only makes sense that when fiction in film gets to a churchy culture, all the vampires and swamp-monsters and aliens will feel just as real as the god-monsters and devil-monsters and all that stuff. If you want a society that fosters better distinction between reality and fantasy, you can start by getting rid of the churchy wackos who are trying to convince you that reality is the only thing that is actually not real.

  11. Vaudeville performers dominated early TV, now only the hyper happy presenter is regarded as normal. Show more emotion or else you are boring.

  12. Tell this to Filipinos. They almost always vote for celebs. Too much pageantry that the joke is that now politicians want to turn into actors rather than the other way around.

  13. Yup makes total sense. I fucking hate all these moronic "Celebrities" like the Kardashians and Jersey Shore fuckers that become famous because… I have no fucking idea!?
    I am just so damn tired of the stupid people… I know it sounds arrogant and pompous and blah blah, but I don't care anymore. We have a delusional dipshit "celebrity" as president and people actually think he's fit for the job. I'm just so done being nice to you people.

  14. I kinda like the original fairy tales better then the Disney versions. And I love that the German TV airs old movie versions of them during the Christmas holidays. The older versions may be less about magic and not obsessed with "the pretty princess" and more focussed on the underlying message of the story and the stability and continuity the royals gave to their society. And I live in a modern monarchy so you can totally understand where they were coming from…which totally got lost in the disney versions. Somehow its copied without the actual purpose of the story….its hollowed out and made unrealistic. And weirdly enough the weird fairy tales that didn't make the switch to Disney I like the best….its more real….sometimes a bit creepy and from another time but still more real then the disney stuff. You would think that would be more popular….instead of "in order for you to marry the prince you need a fairy god mother with magic to give you nice shit to look pretty and get the guy"…its more rooted in reality….you just have to be a smartass who is in the right place at the right time who he falls in love with and after that it doesn't matter who/what you are….its more about love/destiny….less magical spell and illusions. What message about love are the disney fairy tales actually sending?

  15. Daily consumption of entertainment is how many people temporarily escape from the drudgery of their daily lives. It's creating a nation of idiots.

  16. It's funny when people use "quantum" to emphasize some sort of a big leap or a significant change. Quantum simply refers to something that can be quantified and measured, and in physics we use it to explain elementary and composite particles, which of course are wonderfully small.

  17. I think I counted 8 instances the word "and" in a row – in one sentence. Sure your content may well be clear, but your speech is incoherent, ciao

  18. Fantasy industrial complex? OK. Hitler Speech Sportpalast 1933 FULL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zu9aBznOIC8&t=149s
    I will take Davy Crockett, thank you very much. The planet is now politically stabilized. Specifically, representative forms of government are not progressing any longer. USA is in balance with everyone else and anyone who thinks that is a bad thing is a fool.

  19. It is very distracting to listen to this speaker with his studering and false sentence starts. This could have been scripted or edited. Message is good. Delivery is poor.

  20. Very interesting @ 3:04. I didn't know that about William Henry Harrison. Born into wealth, rebranded as from humble origins (a complete falsehood), and he won in a landslide against a fellow who ACTUALLY WAS from humble origins. I think if there is one thing I could change to make the world a better place, it would be to stop all advertising. No marketing of tobacco products, alcohol, junk "food", fast food, pharmaceuticals, and no manipulative political ads. Good products, services, candidates, etc. could be marketed by word of mouth from personal experience, not by ad agencies who make money by getting us to spend our money the way they want us to spend it. There are so many areas of life which would be positively affected by this single change, the improvements in our health, our political system, our sense of community, our quality of life, and our life support system ("the environment") would be immeasurable.

  21. @2:43 or so…Movie Stars appeal to the Trickster Archetype (Jung) or MIME as the younsters say…Coyote my Grandmother say.

  22. If someone confuses fantasy and reality it is a sign of madness. Is America the first nation to be conclusively worthy of a verdict of certifiable insanity?

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