Hegemony is tricky concept to understand and is rarely used outside the crumbling-plaster towers of academia (they took away our ivory years ago), but it's incredibly important to the work I do, and I think it helps one understand the world much better.
To way over-simplify it, hegemony refers to when a group of people have the power to make their view of the world seem like the only one. For instance, in American the ideal of democracy is hegemonic -- pretty much every discussion on politics takes democracy as a given, and it's incredibly rare to hear anyone in mainstream America suggest we should have any type of government besides democracy. Or in a much sillier example, it explains why we still use the shitty qwerty keyboard.
But what I really think the concept of hegemony is handy for is understanding politics. And with the Super bowl coming up this weekend, the nexus of sports and politics.
For instance, this weekend, the Indiana branch of the occupy movement is setting its sights square on the big game with an Occupy the Super Bowl movement. Specifically, they're protesting the possible passage of a "right to work" law in Indiana that, like all of the Orwellian-named laws of this ilk, will destroy the ability of people to join and form unions and weaken the already-existing unions.
The NFL's media gatekeepers have already cried foul, shedding giant crocodile tears over the fact that someone would dare "politicize" the Super Bowl, a day that is supposedly free of politics. Yet, as Dave Zirin expertly points out (as he so often does), the Super Bowl is already one of the most politicized events in our nation. The opening coin flip will be conducted by General David Petraeus, leader and architect of much of the ill-fated Iraq invasion. There will be military fighter planes flying over the stadium. There will be a giant flag unfurled across the field large enough to compete with Newt Gingrich's ego. There will be commercials advertising our military and your chance to join them in their fantastic adventures abroad.
And this right here is the essence of hegemony. American imperialism has become such a hegemonic ideal that all of those obvious paeans to America's illegal wars do not even register as politics. No, as long as you glorify the American war machine it's not political at all. But the second you suggest maybe not everything is perfectly fine and rosy in this li'l nation of ours, then you are inappropriately politicizing a supposedly non-political event.
So again, when you can make something into a giant 6-hour commercial for the US military and then complain that some people holding home made signs outside the front gate are the ones politicizing the event, you know your ideas have achieved a hegemonic position in this society. It also demonstrates that you have world-class chutzpah, but that's a different subject...