* Caveat: While this post has a clear political content, yours truly intends to stick with the music/arts focus of this blog
Are we doomed to live in a society where the world’s ruling elites seem determined to turn humans into disposable commodities, where entire mountain ranges get a facelift in order to line the pockets of a handful while the people get sick from polluted water and coal dust-infested air, where a form of slavery is overtly reestablished with the complicit silence of the corporate state, where the mass-media-driven distraction of consumerism and entertainment hides the dire reality of an increasingly disenfranchised people gradually stripped of their most basic rights? This ominous script is already unfolding in the beleaguered America depicted in Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco’s scathing book Days of Destruction Days of Revolt. If that sounds all gloom and doom, it’s because it is. Set successively in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, Camden, New Jersey, Immokalee, Florida, and Liberty Square, New York City, the book explores the broken lives of individuals bearing the brunt of a corporate oligarchy desperate to secure its survival at any cost. Sacco’s graphic illustrations give the book a gritty quality that makes the text even more compelling. What Hedges calls the “sacrifice zones” feel like war-torn places usually associated with countries devastated by the combination of political corruption and endemic poverty. Except this is the United States of America today. At least, part of it. Through his trained eye as a war reporter who has covered conflicts in the Balkans, the Middle East, Africa and Central America, Hedges leads us into the lives of ordinary Americans grappling with living conditions unimaginable in the world’s most opulent country. Granted, anyone remotely familiar with US past and current history knows that the American dream has not exactly been fulfilled, and on that score, the book drives the point home with unassailable force. But with the dramatic example of America, Hedges hits on something broader, reminding us in Orwellian fashion (often quoted in the book) that a security state driven by profitmaking can and will take on its own citizens, even physically so, for the sheer survival of an idea. That financial value trumps any other value, including human value. From the annihilation of Native American culture in South Dakota to the destruction of mountains in West Virginia to the tent parks of Camden, New Jersey on through the enslavement of migrant farmworkers in Florida, Hedges and Sacco deliver a hard-hitting report. Sacco’s comics are equally powerful, capturing complex emotions and situations with minimal photographic snapshots. I’m looking at one right now: A man, Larry Gibson, overlooks a mountain blasted into a moonscape by the coal industry, flanked by his dog, who looks on with equal distress. Through it all, it is the resistance of these (extra)ordinary people that is particularly striking given the horrid circumstances.
The book ends on a more hopeful note, taking us into the heart of the Occupy movement and giving us a genuine insider’s look into its organic organization. The people we meet there are living embodiments of Thoreau’s civil disobedience philosophy. Pretty amazing. Sometimes, the text feels slightly redundant – a criticism mitigated by Hedges’ sincere anger – crowding out comics that might have worked better and are generally too sparse, i thought. I also wish the authors had looked at the aftermath of Katrina but that might be a subject for another book.
I grew up and live in a country once lauded and envied for its social protections and cultural model. While the scale and magnitude are definitely not comparable, there are glaring examples of similar destruction in France, from urban decay to corporate assaults on the environment to dwindling paychecks. You name it. No matter where you stand politically, the record is overwhelming. Hedges and Sacco are calling for revolt. Now, I don’t have a damn clue what forms that should take but I guess the smallest acts of defiance, including reading thought-provoking books in the 21st century, will always make more sense than speculating on our own destruction.
But I promise, next time I’ll talk about jazz.
Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco, Days of Destruction Days of Revolt, Nation Books, 2012
En français: Jours de destruction jours de révolte, Futuropolis, 2012, traduit par Sidonie Van den Dries et Stéphane Dacheville