Kurt Andersen’s Fantasyland catalogues the history of non-scientific / I’ll believe what I want / reality bubble thinking in America – the way people choose their facts on the internet, TV, and talk radio from shows that align with their ideologies is nothing new.
I suppose there is some comfort in knowing this is nothing new – but Andersen also thinks it’s worse than ever, and headed downhill – so be prepared!
Notes and quotes…
1843 Frank Lloyd Wright has not barged into this book only as an exemplar of the new celebrity culture that exploded in the early twentieth century. He’s here because he was a principal author of another all-American fantasy coming to full fruition—the suburb. America’s century of wholesale suburbanization was another part of its happy fictionalization, a nation morphing into Earth’s biggest theme park.
1875 In fact, America was starting to bowdlerize in various ways at the time, trying to make everything not just more fantastic but nicer. Suburbanization was partly that, as were Hollywood’s new codes to make sure movies weren’t too salty or salacious. You can see it in our very language—particularly where it comes to discriminating between the actual and the unreal and ridiculing fantasies purporting to be authentic. For a century, Americans had a wide-ranging, well-established vocabulary for this, talking about suckers falling for hogwash. After the 1920s, however, we invented fewer and fewer such disparagements. Soon words like balderdash, humbug, and bunkum were shoved to the back of the language attic and semiretired or eliminated, along with hooey, claptrap, and malarkey. We also did a strange thing to a certain set of older words. For as long as they’d been English, incredible, unbelievable, unreal, fabulous, and fantastic were either derogatory or neutrally descriptive, different ways of calling claims unlikely, imaginary, or untrue. But then they were all redefined to be terms of supreme praise, synonyms for wonderful, glorious, outstanding, superb. It was a curious linguistic cleansing and a convenient prelude to the full unfettering of balderdash, bunkum, hooey, humbug, and malarkey later in the century.
- Read Fantasyland by Kurt Andersen