(Nation Books)


Opinion: The power of deception in politics and consumerism

"Artifice is evidently essential in the political and consumer culture realm."
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/briianchenn/" target="_self">Brian Chen</a>

Brian Chen

June 6, 2022
In our modern society filled with political affairs and corporate entities, the idea of a carefully designed facade for anyone that wants to succeed in the public eye is paramount. Author Chris Hedges delves into this very idea in his piece “Empire of Illusion,” where he identifies that the most important skill in the political and corporate arena is “artifice.” 

As we look further into this idea, we see its truth through flashy propaganda, powerful multi-billion dollar companies with lustrous advertisements, and greedy scientists, which all demonstrate how illusion is the key to soar in jobs that require the acceptance of many other people.

Perhaps one of the most infamous cases of brainwashing propaganda occurred in Germany, where much of the German military was deceived by the well-crafted and clever words from their superiors into committing genocide on the Jews. 

As reported by the National WWII Museum, although the German military was clearly acting inhumanely, they still did it because they believed it was the right thing to do under the convincing deception of their higher-ups, who presented an excuse that the Jews were the cause of Germany’s terrible circumstances in the aftermath of World War I. Despite the complete absence of truth, Hilter’s fabricated truth was able to convince an entire nation to act against human nature. This goes hand in hand with Hedge’s idea that not only is the truth insignificant, but it is also who lies the best that wins.

In addition to the results effective propaganda can bring, Hedge’s idea is also evident in companies with a grand base of consumers. Companies such as the globally ubiquitous fast food chain McDonald’s, create a happy persona with their vibrant yellow theme while marketing food to unhealthy proportions. In the documentary “Supersize Me,” we follow the journey of a healthy American adult that eats McDonald’s for a month to see what would happen. 

Only a few weeks in, we see that he has run into various life-threatening diseases after consulting a doctor. The documentary also often shows cunning designs of McDonald’s advertisements and the many people that are habitual consumers of McDonald’s. The lack of awareness most customers have about the unhealthy side effects of McDonald’s ties in with Hedge’s philosophy that having a great appearance through artifice may just mean everything in the consumer market.

Not only are Hegde’s thoughts prevalent in the restaurant world, it is also inescapable in the automobile scene. According to Britannica, 20th-century American chemist Thomas Midgley Jr. dedicated his life to finding a replacement for gasoline that would both prevent piston knocking and be cheap. 

After many years, he finally found a cheap and effective solution but it had one little problem: it contained the toxic element, lead. Despite the clear environmental and ethical issues about using the product, he brilliantly marketed the new gas to the public. No mention of lead was associated with ethyl. Three of the nation’s largest agencies, General Motors, Standard Oil Company, and DuPont came together to form the company Ethyl Corporation. 

In the 1923 Indianapolis 500, all top three finishers raced on ethyl. When the effects of lead poisoning became evident in Ethyl employees, Midgley also publicly inhaled the toxic vapor under his nose for a minute at a press conference, claiming the chemical was harmless and that he could do this every day. 

Despite holding a firm stance that his product was safe, Midgley was informed on the dangers of his gasoline, since he was extremely ill from the lead poisoning exposure a few months back. This marketing campaign reinforces the idea that a false presentation of the product using the artifice available through advertising is more significant than the product itself.

Without the fake cover of advertisement and propaganda, the Nazis wouldn’t have easily achieved their great power, McDonald’s would not be one of the most globally dominant restaurants, and many wouldn’t have been tricked into buying gas that could possibly lead to their own deaths. Artifice is evidently essential in the political and consumer culture realm. 

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