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Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A…

Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History

by Kurt Andersen

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265860,990 (4.15)11
  1. 00
    Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News by Kevin Young (TheAmpersand)
    TheAmpersand: A more academic, more difficult, but ultimately more satisfying take on many of the themes dealt with here.

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"Fantasyland" has its strengths, but it feels both overstuffed and, at times, lamentably superficial. One of its problems, I think, is the author's decision to make it a "500-year history," which gives him a lot of ground to cover, perhaps too much. It allows him to make the point that Americans have always, to a certain extent, been extremists, but, even as a (cultural) Catholic, I think he overemphasizes the role of United States' Protestant heritage in the madness we're currently experiencing. He's an agnostic, and I wouldn't be surprised if many readers feel that he plays the religion card a bit too often in "Fantasyland."

Which isn't to say that there's some good stuff here. The book is filled, as one might expect, with odd facts and anecdotes about long-forgotten crazes, beliefs, and religions, and the author does a good job arguing that American delusion comes in both impossibly optimistic and apocalyptic flavors. More to the point, the describes the parallel rise of the extreme right and the extreme left during the tumultuous 1960s. His account of how fringe religious beliefs became respectable in America -- from Billy Graham to prosperity-oriented megachurches to speaking in tongues -- also seems on point, as does his account of how science's prestige has diminished in tandem. Furthermore, Andersen's good at looking through labels in order to discuss what his subjects' core beliefs actually are. On the other hand, his take on the various ways that fakery have invaded American life can seem important in some places -- it's good to remember that Americans would have once considered war reenactors, the modern version of Times Square, and adults in Halloween costumes downright bizarre. We didn't, he seems to be saying, always live this way.

But I also feel that he sometimes fails to differentiate between largely harmless activities undertaken by knowing participants (Dungeons & Dragons, video games) and more dangerous kinds of fantasy (the Satanic Panic, the polarization of the news media, the growth of the extreme right). The author would likely argue that the former are part of the same patchwork of fantasies that have invaded American life, but it also makes him seem a bit too literal-minded. After all, fantasy has its positive uses, too. Even so, his take on why a few dozen million Americans could have pulled the level for Donald Trump is also incisive, even though dozens of such theories have been published in the last year, and, finally, his portrait of a family that's chosen to live in Disneyworld's created community is deliciously creepy and oddly prosaic at the same time.

Andersen spends some time on Walt Disney, and some on P.T. Barnum, and a bit of Karl Rove. Baudrillard comes up once or twice. But at the expense of the book's readability, I wonder if he shoudln't have included more theoreticians here and given his book a more academic bent. That, and narrowing his focus, might have made this one truly essential. "Fantasyland" is mostly a good, fun, occasionally thought provoking-read, but Kevin Young's "Bunk," knotty and disorganized as it can be, is really the one to choose over this one. ( )
1 vote TheAmpersand | Feb 7, 2018 |
If you want a screed about how much America sucks and how the roots of that stem from the religious convictions white Europeans brought over from the outset, this is your book. Andersen concludes that the collapse in shared reality comes from our childishness, which is tied to our religiosity. Fan fiction comes in for condemnation, as does cosplay, and conspiracy theories and belief in UFOs and pretty much everything else that isn’t at least cold-eyed agnosticism. I recognize that my ox is being gored so perhaps I’m not in the best position to judge, but it seemed to me that Andersen confused two very different things: relativism, which is to say that not everything that is true for me is true for you, and evangelicism, which is to say that everything I feel is true is true and if you disagree you are wrong and must be punished. By condemning both together, Andersen makes it hard for people who believe in pluralism to find a place to stand. ( )
2 vote rivkat | Nov 28, 2017 |
Along with a lot of interesting information, this book has some oversimplification, a certain lack of empathy, and a dash of snarkiness. As a long-standing member of the reality-based community, I agree with most of what Andersen has to say. We are a more religious country than other rich nations, and this permeates our politics. We (at least many of us) have always been willing to believe six impossible things before breakfast, and many of us still are -- more, in fact, than fifty years ago. And we certainly find ourselves in a weird and frightening situation. Andersen documents these facts in extensive detail, and makes a compelling case that they are not unrelated. To me, however, the case seems oversimplified: Andersen seems to trace a path from religiousity to credulity to unreasonableness to Donald Trump without giving much weight to other influences (the frontier past, the demographically changing present). And this, I think, weakens this book as an argument. So does what feels to me like a rather dismissive attitude towards religion. If you agree already with most of what Andersen has to say, it's an enjoyable and informative read. But if you don't, I don't think that you are going to be convinced. ( )
  annbury | Nov 1, 2017 |
*I received a copy of this book through a GoodReads Giveaway.*

I'm not sure how to feel about this book, which takes the long few of American history, going back to the 16th-century Protestant Reformation which lead to the Mayflower and groups of discontented Puritans journeying to North America. The primary theme is the American predisposition for fantasy - that is, in the early days, the idea of gold at Jamestown, and is now apparent in the virtual reality games played by millions. The secondary theme is religion and Americans' exceptional belief in a diversity of religions. It's quite clear the author is agnostic (he says as much), and the religious theme gets old pretty quick. However, I did appreciate this breakdown of how we arrive at the current moment politically and culturally. This book definitely resonates with current events, even if it has me questioning my own escapist tendencies. ( )
  wagner.sarah35 | Oct 31, 2017 |
My real rating is 4.5 stars, as the author's attacks on all religion get old; otherwise, his thesis and support hit me right where I live and believe. I highlighted 127 sections, which is not my norm, and I plan on digesting this book for a while.

Thought-provoking, sometimes scary, but with the possibility of hope. We do live in Fantasyland, but we may be able to make it better. ( )
  crankybookwyrm | Sep 15, 2017 |
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"Offers a new understanding of our post-truth world and explains the American instinct to believe in make-believe, from the Pilgrims to P.T. Barnum to Disneyland to zealots of every stripe ... to Donald Trump"--

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