The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America

The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America

Daniel J. Boorstin

Language: English

Pages: 336

ISBN: 0679741801

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


First published in 1962, this wonderfully provocative book introduced the notion of “pseudo-events”—events such as press conferences and presidential debates, which are manufactured solely in order to be reported—and the contemporary definition of celebrity as “a person who is known for his well-knownness.” Since then Daniel J. Boorstin’s prophetic vision of an America inundated by its own illusions has become an essential resource for any reader who wants to distinguish the manifold deceptions of our culture from its few enduring truths.

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the twentieth century should fail to read. Similar studies, with comparable insight, sympathy, and objectivity, of figures like Al Capone, Rudolph Valentino, Charlie Chaplin, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis Presley, would teach us more about ourselves than many of the more lengthy studies of less significant but more conventionally “important” minor figures in our political, literary, and academic life. Some suggestive notions and much valuable detail, especially on popular attitudes to

offer us fewer accounts of derring-do, of exciting action, and risky encounter, and are primarily compilations of outlandish or useful information. Much of the writing by Europeans about America in the colonial period had this character. Such works were in demand because of the helpful information (or interesting misinformation) they offered about the New World. The rise of natural history in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries produced such works as Observations on the Inhabitants,

biographies in popular magazines suggest that editors, and supposedly also readers, of such magazines not long ago shifted their attention away from the old-fashioned hero. From the person known for some serious achievement, they have turned their biographical interests to the new-fashioned celebrity. Of the subjects of biographical articles appearing in the Saturday Evening Post and the now-defunct Collier’s in five sample years between 1901 and 1914, 74 per cent came from politics, business,

himself to save a baby elephant; he then imported “Alice,” whom he billed as Jumbo’s widow, posing her next to the stuffed body of her deceased “husband.” Barnum was a doubly appropriate symbol of the opening of the era of the Graphic Revolution: by making colossal pseudo-events, he himself became a celebrity. A talent for advertising and a talent for making news have ever since been connected. Albert D. Lasker, an advertising master of the twentieth century, once characterized all good

pseudo-event into being. Both are inhibited by prudence and ethics: believability is produced only if quasi-facts are invented within certain limits. But the problem is both complicated and simplified by the fact that in many fields of marketing (for example, drugs, cosmetics, automobiles, or home appliances) a statement cannot be most attractively believable unless it is only partly intelligible. The readers of advertisements are always playing a game with themselves. Momentarily they enjoy the

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