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

by Kurt Andersen

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3401248,859 (4.05)17
  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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I should first point out that this is a large book ( over 440 pages) and it covers a lot of history and ground. This book is a lament of what the author perceives as the mutation of America into Fantasyland. Where truth does not matter and reason is subordinate to what people feel in their heart. What makes this book worthwhile is that future historians will seek it as a resource tool in 25 years or more trying to understand current American politics and culture. Anderson provides huge topic bandwidth. He writes about our history ( going back 500 years), religion, politics, media, economics, entertainment and other topics. And as an advisory to Trump supporters, Andersen is not a fan of the president as indicated by the quote below from the book.

"Trump was as much or more of an impresario as a performer, and not just in his real estate hucksterism and his deals with the WWE. Before the full emergence of Fantasyland, Trump’s various enterprises will have seen an embarrassing, ridiculous, incoherent jumble for a businessman, let alone a serious candidate for president. What connects a Muslim - mausoleum - themed casino in New Jersey to a short-lived sham professional football league to an autobiography he did not write to hotels and buildings he didn’t build to a mail order meat business to a beauty pageant to an airline that lasted three years to a sham "University" to repeatedly welshing on giant loans to selling deodorants and mattresses and a vodka and toilet waters called Empire and Success to a board game named after himself to a TV show about pretending to fire people? What connects them all, of course, is the new total American embrace of admixtures of the fictional and real and of fame for fame’s sake."

However Andersen does not believe that America went haywire with the Trump election. It started much earlier. He returns back to the days of the pilgrims and shows the evolution or maybe more appropriately called, de-evolution of reason and good judgment throughout our history. He cites various scams, conspiracy theories and fake news and how many Americans have bought into them, mostly eagerly. Andersen, who describes himself as an agnostic, examines various religions and spiritual practices with a jaundiced eye and how they impacted politics and culture.

Andersen has many interested theories and analysis. Not sure I bought into all of them but Fantasyland is thought provoking and more worth one's time and attention to cable talk shows. ( )
  writemoves | Jun 17, 2019 |
A terrifying look at the number of fantasies prevalent now essentially and a look at where they came from as far back as the first American settlements. Assuredly not the single factor explaining where we now are but a significant one. ( )
  snash | Dec 14, 2018 |
Andersen's opinion of the current U.S. could be summarized in the line form a Paul Simon song "still crazy after all these years." He attributes our lack of allegiance to reality to a combination of Enlightenment search for truth and our religious background. He doesn't seem to take into account the economic factors that have influenced the culture. Interesting but a little one-sided.
  ritaer | Nov 21, 2018 |
Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500 –Year History, Kirk Andersen, author and narrator
I was so disappointed. At first, I thought it was a humorous portrayal of history; I thought the author was presenting his facts tongue in cheek. He seemed to be an equal opportunity “mocker” of everything. As he systematically tore down the fabric of our lifestyles, starting with our faith in G-d and continuing to our beliefs in all things supernatural and our desire to remain eternally young, yearning for fantasy and freedom from reality, I thought this is going to be kind of a self-deprecating presentation of humanity. Instead, it was a book intended to “cut off Trumpism”. As Andersen took a series of somewhat random events throughout history, to prove his point, a point which kept going further and further to the left until the last eighth of the book, it became obvious that the whole point was to present bias against the right and President Trump, the Republican Party and anyone associated with it, regardless of their accomplishments, because at this time in history it was more expedient and far more profitable.
Andersen read his own book and his voice and tone were representative of his disdain and disagreement with Trump and those on the opposite side of the political spectrum than his. In his mind, the right and the GOP are all deranged, bipolar, and/or living in a fantasy world, while he and most of those who agree with him, on the left, have the one right way. This book turned into nothing more than a hit piece on the Trump Administration by a partisan who cherry picked his facts, presented only one side of the story, the side that satisfied his viewpoint, used his own interpretations and opinions, rather than presenting the complete truth, and did it while claiming that it was the other side, the “right” side, that was not entitled to their own facts. He writes, several times, the oft quoted statement about being entitled to your own opinions, but not your facts, to make it sound like he is the only one who is presenting real facts. Actually, he is presenting his opinion and leaving out facts that would support any opposing view, mocking religion and creativity that doesn’t support his views, including television shows and journalists and news outlets that represent the right, rather than his preference, the left.
He conveniently debunks the accuracy of the polygraph, and he blatantly accuses Trump of lying while ignoring completely the lies of those on the left. Hillary Clinton who falsely claimed there was a vast right wing conspiracy and to have been shot at flying over Eastern Europe, Elizabeth Warren who claimed to be a Native American Indian, Richard Blumenthal who claimed to be a Vietnam War veteran, Bill Clinton who claimed not to have had sex with Monica Lewinsky, and other hypocrites who lied on the left were ignored or glossed over as unimportant. There have been dangerous calls for a revolution and resistance by the left that were disregarded. Maxine Waters has called for physical attacks and verbal attacks on the right and nothing was said about her insanity. Bernie Sanders called for a revolution. Nancy Pelosi has called for resistance. Madonna has wanted to blow up the White House, etc., but these were unimportant facts to Andersen in his effort to trash the views of the right.
To me, whatever sins they have accused Trump of have paled in light of the behavior on the left. The pot calls the kettle black, and it gets away with it. The media, the world of entertainment and the system of education in America, are complicit and they have been hijacked by the left in the image of Saul Alinsky that has led them to their goal. The money of socialist George Soros has funded them. They have the bully pulpit and it is hard to defeat them or even discuss their atrocious behavior because that behavior will not be covered by those on the left. They spread their lies or half-truths and do not get called out for it. The public only knows the truth that they present, the truth the left wants them to hear, but to question it is to offer yourself up to their mockery. The successes on the right are ignored or mocked or twisted in favor of concentrating on the talking points of the Progressives which only trash the President for some stupid language of his youth and, weirdly, his success in business. Anyone associated with Trump seems to be on a hit list and is destroyed. I wonder how these people sleep at night.
The author calls the President a fraud and a racist in the manner of the left-leaning talking heads who use identity politics to further their Progressive agenda, stoking the hate and the fear. He blames Breitbart, Roger Ailes and Fox News for supporting Trump and those on the right, but he writes little or nothing about the constant condemnation and skewed stories coming out of CNN, MSNBC and other cable news outlets, as well as the New York Times. He ignores the corruption that took place during the Obama administration as in the IRS investigations. He ignores the bias of social media which ran with every hint of negative news on Trump implying, without proof, anything they could to damage him while blocking their positive posts on their sites. He ignores the bias on college campuses. He brings up the fantasies that people create, like the psychiatrist who treated Sybil and the case of sexual abuse against the children in the day care center run by the Martin family to prove that the people on the right have been trained to live in a world of unreality. Even though the stories about the Martins and Sybil were proven to be false, the press and the government raged on, engaging in character assassination and they still engage in that despicable behavior today. He talks about the desire to remain young being so strong that the use of cosmetic surgery is commonplace, breast implants, botox, and any means available is being used to maintain the fantasy of eternal youth. Adults do not want to grow up or accept responsibility for their actions.
He mocks those who believe in G-d. Faith and religion are definitely not on his menu. They are the biggest fairy tale of all. He believes that things like Disneyland and The “X” Files have been instrumental in causing Americans to disregard reality and cling to childhood. He dislikes homeopathic medications and natural medicine. He mocks Mormons, Baptists, most everyone who believes in a higher power than themselves. He complains that Trump exploits us and is destroying America, while Obama and Clinton represented hope and the future. He mocks the wiretapping theory that Trump presented, although it now appears to possibly have been true as facts about the investigation into Trump and those on the right seem almost like a silent coup with government employees secretly engaging in behavior to thwart him and delegitimize his Presidency. The author cites Politifact as a source. It is a left-leaning fact checker, as most of the fact checking sites are. He mocks the Enquirer, Michael Savage and Rush Limbaugh. He says nothing about Keith Ellison, Rachel Maddow or Joe Scarborough or Mika Brezinski or Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg’s foul-mouthed comments. He speaks in such deleterious ways about the President of the United States that is surprising to me that he is not being investigated for undermining the government.
It takes a long time to read this supposed expose because it proclaims to cover 500 years of history, however he has chosen the historic moments that side with his views. He traces religion, the birth of science fiction, the use of magical realism, Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye, Pat Robertson and even brings up Hitler, among so many other ideas to prove HIS point. He criticizes religious leaders for their beliefs that are based on legend, not facts.
At the end, in his remarks, he explains who he really is and what he really believes. He believes that Trump’s election signals doom. This narrative may succeed and really bring doom to the country because the left with Antifa, which he doesn’t mention, with Black Lives Matter, which he doesn’t mention, with Occupy Wall Street which he doesn’t mention, and other groups that are calling for resistance and committing acts of violence against this government and its supporters are being ignored. The degradation of American culture is being aided and abetted by the author and those that support him. We will be doomed if they take over because he and his ilk do not believe in conversation that doesn’t support their own views, not do they believe in compromise. As Andersen worries, so do I, but for the opposite reasons. ( )
  thewanderingjew | Sep 22, 2018 |
"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 |
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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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