Pseudo-events

I was just reading Daniel Boorstin’s The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events, and I wanted to share parts of this mind provoking thinking. 

…The pseudo-events which flood our consciousness are neither true nor false in the old familiar senses. The very same advances which have made them possible have also made the images-however planned, contrived, or distorted-more vivid, more attractive, more impressive, and more persuasive than reality itself. We cannot say that we are being fooled. It is not entirely inaccurate to say that we are being “informed.” This world of ambiguity is created by those who believe they are instructing us, by our best public servants, and with our own collaboration. Our problem is the harder to solve because it is created by people working honesfly and industriously at respectable jobs. It is not created by demagogues or crooks, by conspiracy or evil purpose. The efficient mass production of pseudo-events–in all kinds of packages, in black-and-white, in technicolor, in words, and in a thousand other forms -is the work of the whole machinery of our society. … …Pseudo-events from their very nature tend to be more interesting and more attracfive than spontaneous events. Therefore in American public life today pseudo-events tend to drive all other kinds of events out of our consciousness, or at least to overshadow them. Earnest, well-informed citizens seldom notice that their experience of spontaneous events is buried by pseudo-events. Yet nowadays, the more industriously they work at “informing” themselves the more this tends to be true. …  …Here are some characteristics of pseudo-events which make them overshadow spontaneous events:
(1) Pseudo-events are more dramatic. A television debate between candidates can be planned to be more suspenseful (for example, by reserving questions which are then popped suddenly) than a casual encounter or consecutive formal speeches planned by each separately.
(2) Pseudo-events, being planned for dissemination, are easier to disserninate and to make vivid. Participants are selected for their newsworthy and dramatic interest.
(3) Pseudo-events can be repeated at will, and thus their impression can be re-enforced.
(4) Pseudo-events cost money to create; hence somebody has an interest in disseminating, magnifying, advertising, and extolling them as events worth watching or worth believing. They are therefore advertised in advance, and rerun in order to get money’s worth
(5) Pseudo-events, being planned for intelligibility, are more intelligible and hence more reassuring. Even if we cannot discuss interngenfly the qualifications of the candidates or the complicated issues, we can at east judge the effectiveness of a television performance. How comforting to have some political matter we can grasp!
(6) Pseudo-events are more sociable, more conversable, and more convenient to witness. Their occurrence is planned for our convenience. The Sunday newspaper appears when we have a lazy morning for it. Television programs appear when we are ready with our glass of beer. In the office the next morning, Jack Paar’s (or any other star performer’s) regular late-night show at the usual hour will overshadow in conversation a casual event that suddenly came up and had to find its way into the news.
(7) Knowledge of pseudo-events–of what has been reported, or what has been staged, and how–becomes the test of being “informed.” News magazines provide us regularly with quiz questions concerning not what has happened but concerning “names in the news”-what has been reported in the news magazines. Pseudo-events begin to provide that “common discourse” which some of my old-fashioned friends have hoped to find in the Great Books.
(8) Finally, pseudo-events spawn other pseudo-events in geometric progression. They dominate our consciousness simply because there are more of them, and ever more. … …Pseudo-events thus lead to emphasis on pseudo-qualifications. Again the self-fulfilling prophecy. If we test Presidential candidates by their talents on TV quiz performances, we will, of course, choose presidents for precisely these qualifications. In a democracy, reality tends to conform to the pseudo- event. Nature imitates art. …  …Pseudo-events do, of course, increase our illusion of grasp on the world, what some have called the American illusion of omnipotence. Perhaps, we come to think, the world’s problems can really be settled by “statements,” by “Summit” meetings, by a competition of “prestige,” by overshadowing images, and by political quiz shows. Once we have tasted the charm of pseudo-events, we are tempted to believe they are the only important events. Our progress poisons the sources of our experience. And the poison tastes so sweet that it spoils our appetite for plain fact. Our seeming ability to satisfy our exaggerated expectations makes us forget that they are exaggerated.

Fascinating.

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