Fantasyland (Andersen) - Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for Fantasyland … then take off on your own:

1. Kurt Andersen refers to the "fantasy-industrial complex," a nod to President Eisenhower's "military-industrial complex." What does Andersen mean by the term, and do you think he is accurate in his assessment ... or that he overreaches?

2. The overarching thesis of Fantasyland is that Americans have come to believe that "opinions and feelings are the same as facts." Does the author make a convincing argument? What evidence does he marshal to support his premise?

3. Andersen presents a historical perspective, starting with the landing at Plymouth Rock. How does his portrayal of the Puritans converge with, or — diverge from — your understanding of colonial history? What did you learn in your history courses in school?

4. Follow-up to Question 3: Andersen writes about 17th-century colonist Anne Hutchinson, saying that she was uniquely American "because she was so confident in herself, in her intuitions and idiosyncratic, subjective understanding of reality." She lacked self-doubt. Don't many of us have those very traits — which we often refer to as "self-confidence"? Don't we, in fact, see those traits as positive? So … how can we know whether what we believe in is opinion or fact? How do we separate out fact from alternative facts … truth from fake news … reality from fantasy? How can we self-check our own subjectivity?

5. Andersen points to the 1960s era in which the culture of fantasyland "becomes a permanent feature of the American mental landscape." What does he hold up as examples?

6. As Andersen writes toward the end of the book, "You're entitled to your own opinions and your own fantasies, but not to your own facts — especially if your fantastical facts hurt people." Can you give specifics of some of those fantasies that cause damage to others?

7. Talk about the ways in which Hollywood (radio, film, and TV), fantasy games and reenactments, the internet, Oprah Winfrey, and even hair dye have contributed to the prevalence of fantasy in everyday life.

8. According to Andersen, our propensity for delusions/illusions has led to the presidency of Donald Trump. Do you agree … or disagree with his analysis?

9. Andersen skewers many public figures, both liberal and conservative. Does he take aim at particular individuals or institutions that you hold dear? If so, which ones?

10. Despite some attempt at even-handedness, modern Republicans come in for a lot of the blame in Fantasyland. Why does Andersen point the finger at the Right? Do you agree … or disagree?

11. Follow-up to Question 4: What does Andersen propose as a solution to the American fantasyland?

(Questions issued by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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