The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-events in America

ISBN: 0689702809
ISBN 13: 9780689702808
By: Daniel J. Boorstin

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About this book

The author describes how we have flooded our world with pseudo-events and images that tempt us to turn newsgathering into newsmaking, to transform heroes into celebrities, to live not by the American dream but by American illusions.

Reader's Thoughts


interesting, bought it on the strength of title and the authors other books.the premise gets laid out quickly and seemed to be just repeating itself by the time I put it down.quite the jacket color scheme.It also made me look fat so I only read in the quiet darkness of my basement. There are bugs down here.


This is a curious book. Everyone reads this book when they take Media Studies classes in college. When in college, the student reading the book is usually on the good side of history. The problem is after graduation. In college, this book can help make a person a better anti-capitalist, but soon after graduation this book gets dusted off and packed away into the suitcase that the former idealist takes to countless job interviews at marketing firms.This book is a lot like art school: it sounds like a good idea in theory, but you better be careful or you'll just end up working in advertising.


This book may be one of the most important books written in the latter half of the 20th century. Boorstin, with characteristic insight, was prophetic about the influence of the image, particularly in America. 'Nowadays everybody tells us that what we need is more belief, a stronger and deeper and more encompassing faith. A faith in America and what we are doing. That may be true in the long run. What we need first is to disillusion ourselves. What ails us most is not what we have done with America, but what we have substituted for America. We suffer primarily not from our vices or our weaknesses, but from our illusions. We are haunted, not by reality, but by those images we have put in the place of reality." Boorstin, 1961


I loved reading it and have been enjoying talking about it. For a book that was published in the 60s, it was pretty compelling how relevant it is today. It puts under the magnifying glass themes such as hero vs. celebrity and how we allow daily, hourly, minute-to-minute information into our lives and try to paint it as meaningful. Over-saturation makes one common. Boorstin deconstructs how we travel these days - how often we seek to find, if not expect, the comfortable and familiar in places that theoretically should be unfamiliar. I can't say how it's 100% a bad thing, per se, but I see his point. "The more strenuously and self-consciously we work at enlarging our experience, the more pervasive the tautology becomes."Self-consciousness destroys the experience. I get that; it can be a challenge to read and watch stuff that is self-conscious. But it's inherent in so much of what we do. I suppose that detachment, that ability to reflect what one sees without tainting it with too much of an agenda makes the great creators great. This book also made me think about all the images I am bombarded with in daily life. Facebook posts, restaurant signs, Instagram photos, television programming… It's up to me to buy into them, shut them out, or, perhaps observe from a safe distance.

Paul Gier

"The Image" provides an interesting discussion about what is and is not really news and about the manipulation of information in popular media. The author suggests that much of what we consider news is merely manufactured information and has little or no relevance to our lives. I found much of the discussion in the book still relevant and applicable today. My only complaint is that the book seemed a bit overly verbose and could possibly have been better organized. It often felt repetitive and was hard to stay interested without skimming/skipping certain parts. Other sections of the book however, seemed very enlightening about how popular media works and how to recognize and filter the fluff from the actual information and events.


5+ stars This book should be mandatory reading. Boorstin, Librarian of Congress emeritus, is an outstanding social historian who defines pseudo-events as events created to promote. Generally, these events have no intrinsic newsworthiness. They are not spontaneous, they are usually arranged for the convenience of the media, their relationship to reality is ambiguous and they are intended to be self-fulfilling.The news media hungers for anything to put in its pages. We are besieged with radio, TV, 24-hour news, magazines, newspapers, books, each requiring "information."Events are now planned to occur at the best time for news broadcasts. It has become terribly important that something always be happening. Pseudo-events help fill the vacuum. Boorstin is like the little boy who shouts, "the emperor has no clothes." He helps us to peel away the veneer, the false fronts.McCarthy was an expert at creating reportable events that had "an ambiguous relationship to the underlying reality." He invented the morning news conference that announced an afternoon press conference. At the afternoon conference he would proclaim that a witness was not ready or could not be found. The headlines would trumpet, "Mystery witness sought!" Reporters loved him for supplying so much material. Even those who hated him became his best allies.News has become a dramatic presentation. The president speaking "off-the-cuff" is now more newsworthy than the original prepared speech. It has become difficult to distinguish between the actual and the pseudo event. Organizations manipulate the media to create events all the while castigating the press for opinions on the editorial page.Boorstin argues we now confuse fame with greatness. It is very easy to become famous. By confusing heroes with celebrities "we deny ourselves the role-models of heroes, truly great individuals."The way we travel has also changed. It used to be people traveled to experience a different culture or way of life or language. Rarely did it not affect a person's view of the world. Now more and more people travel, yet are influenced less. We seek to re-create an environment similar to the one we left.Boorstin cites digests as an example of how forms have dissolved, "the shadow has become the substance." Originally conceived to lead the reader to the original, they now exist as an end product; another step away from the actual experience. Reader's Digest has perfected the form to the point where articles are "planted" in magazines so they can be digested in its publication. By 1943, 60% of all its articles were abridgements of full-length articles commissioned for original publication elsewhere by Reader's Digest. The demand for digested articles was so great it had forced the creation of articles to meet the demand: a literary pseudo-event.We are now engaged in a competition to create more credible images. The images have become more real than reality. We can persuade ourselves of our image. But we have lost sight of the need to create ideals.This book was originally published in 1961. Ah, the more things change.…

Aaron Goldfarb

One of the greatest and most profound books I've ever read. I wish it hadn't taken me 33 years to get to it. Written in 1962 yet it could have been written this year. So far ahead of it's time, so incredibly in tune with where the world was heading (and is still heading). I can't imagine how disgusted Daniel Boorstin would be with this place if he was still alive today.


This book was published in 1962, and reading it today, it was way ahead of its times. Boorstin definitely had his finger on the pulse of Amerikan culture and all its silliness, even back in 1962. The book introduces the concept of “pseudo-events: a press conference, a presidential debate, a best-selling novel, or a movie made from a novel, events which are manufactured solely in order to be reported by a willing media that is starving for "stuff" to print and/or report about. And this reporting is to a gullible public, too fat and lazy to think critically for themselves, needing to be spoon-fed important events so that they feel good about the culture they live in. It confirms my thinking that Amerika is really a country of hucksters, out there selling the next best thing to make a quick buck. It also introduces the concept of celebrity vs the hero. People are celebrities simply because they are well known, not because they have done anything to merit that well-known-ness, just because they are well known and have a media-generated/invented image that, well, meets some unknown thing in the public's psyche that these people deserve to be... well celebrities. You get the point. It is all an image. Amerika is a clusterfuck.The book is not that easy to read, it came from a VT College via Inter-library-loan. And it makes me want to read more authored by Daniel Boorstin,

Justin Mitchell

Anyone who has struggled to untangle the writings of Karl Marx, Jacques Lacan, Guy Debord, Raoul Vaneigem or Jean Baudrillard, et al, will find this book, written years before The Society of the Spectacle, The Revolution of Everyday Life, and Simulacra and Simulation a god-send. Boorstin manages to one-up them by a radical new approach to social critique: just saying what you think. I know, this sounds daring and unheard-of, but somehow, somehow, it manages to work. What's more: he uses examples from our day-to-day lives. Like, he makes an attempt to present examples that we can relate to and understand. Who would have thought!In short, this critique feels more credible and less masturbatory than those other, more famous deconstructions of the artificiality and incoherence of modern life, and, despite being written in 1961, reads like it was written last year. I can't believe this book is not ten times more famous than it is!


Incredibly relevant and important book. There were times when reading this book that I was shocked to remember it was written before the time of blogs and social media. The language is academic and inaccessible, and that is the only reason I give it four stars instead of five. Read this book. "We risk being the first people in history to have been able to make their illusions so vivid, so persuasive, so 'realistic' that they can live in them. We are the most illusioned people on earth. Yet we dare not become disillusioned, because our illusions are the very house in which we live; they are our news, our heroes, our adventure, our forms of art, our very experience."

Jon Boorstin

My dad wrote this book. I remember stamping the pages with a rubber number-stamper on our dining room table. He'd spent ten years on his latest volume of The Americans; this he wrote in three months. This endures.


** spoiler alert ** A criticism of the false reality that the media produces. A critical point that Boorstin made was that we demanded this false reality. We wanted a reality that exceeded what was actually out there.Quotes:"Every day seeing there and hearing there takes the place of being there.""Having read a good deal about the villains who are said to be responsible for our perplexity - the hidden persuaders, the organization men, Madison Avenue, Washington bureaucracy, the eggheads, the anti-intellectuals, the power elite, etc., etc., etc. - I am unimpressed by their villainy. But I remain impressed by the perplexity of life in twentieth-century America. I have long suspected that our problems arise less from our weaknesses than from our strengths. From our literacy and wealth and optimism and progress.""We want and we believe these illusions because we suffer from extravagant expectations. We expect too much of the world. Our expectations are extravagant in the precise dictionary sense of the word - "going beyond the limit of reason or moderation." They are excessive.""We expect anything and everything. We expect the contradictory and the impossible. We expect compact cars which are spacious; luxurious cars which are economical. We expect to be rich and charitable, powerful and merciful, active and reflective, kind and competitive. We expect to be inspired by mediocre appeals for "excellence," to be made literate by illiterate appeals for literacy. We expect to eat and stay thin, to be constantly on the move and ever more neighborly, to go to a "church of our choice" and yet feel its guiding power over us, to revere God and to be God. Never have people been more the masters of their environment. Yet never has a people felt more deceived and disappointed. For never has a people expected so much more than the world could offer.""We tyrannize and frustrate ourselves by expecting more that the world can give us or than we can make of the world.""We suffer primarily not from our vices or our weaknesses, but from our illusions.""Nowadays everybody tells us that what we need is more belief, a stronger and deeper and more encompassing faith. A faith in America and in what we are doing. That may be true in the long run. What we need first and now is to disillusion ourselves. What ails us most is not what we have done with America, but what we have substituted for America. We suffer primarily not from our vices or our weaknesses, but from our illusions. We are haunted, not by reality, but by those images we have put in place of reality. To discover our illusions will not solve the problems of our world. But if we do not discover them, we will never discover our real problems. To dispel the ghosts which populate the world of our making will not give us the power to conquer the real enemies of the real world or to remake the real world. But it may help us discover that we cannot make the world in our image. It will liberate us and sharpen our vision. It will clear away the fog so we can face the world we share with all mankind.""Once the celebration has been held, the celebration itself becomes evidence that the hotel really is a distinguished institution. The occasion actually gives the hotel the prestige to which it is pretending.""A pseudo-event, then, is a happening that possesses the following characteristics:(1) It is not spontaneous, but comes about because someone has planned, planted, or incited it. Typically, it is not a train wreck or an earthquake, but an interview.(2) It is planted primarily (not always exclusively) for the immediate purpose of being reported or reproduced. Therefore, its occurrence is arranged for the convenience of the reporting or reproducing media. Its success is measure by how widely it is reported. Time relations in it are commonly fictitious or factitious; the announcement is given our in advance "for future release" and written as if the event had occurred in the past. The question, "Is it real?" is less important than, "Is it newsworthy?"(3) Its relation to the underlying reality of the situation is ambiguous. Its interest arises largely from this very ambiguity. Concerning a pseudo-event the question, "What does it mean?" has a new dimension. While the news interest in a train wreck is in what happened and in the real consequences, the interest in a interview is always, in a sense, in whether it really happened and in what might have been the motives. Did the statement really mean what it said? Without some of this ambiguity a pseudo-event cannot be very interesting.(4) Usually it is intended to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The hotel's thirtieth-anniversary celebration, by saying that the hotel is a distinguished institution, actually makes it one.""The telecast was made to conform to what was interpreted as the pattern of viewers' expectations.""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 disseminate 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-reinforced.(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 intelligently the qualifications of the candidates or the complicated issues, we can at least 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 a 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.""The celebrity in the distinctive modern sense could not have existed in any earlier age, or in America before the Graphic Revolution. The celebrity is a person who is known for his well-knownness. His qualities - or rather his lack of qualities - illustrate our peculiar problems He is neither good nor bad, great nor petty. He is the human pseudo-event. He has been fabricated on purpose to satisfy our exaggerated expectations of human greatness. He is morally neutral. The product of no conspiracy, of no group promoting vice or emptiness, he is made by honest, industrious men of high professional ethics doing their job, "informing" and educating us. He is made by all of us who willingly read about him, who like to see him on television, who by recordings of his voice, and talk about him to our friends. His relation to morality and even to reality is highly ambiguous. He is like the woman in an Elinor Glyn novel who describes another by saying, "She is like a figure in an Elinor Glyn novel."""No longer external sources which fill us with purpose, these new-model "heroes" are receptacles into which we pour our own purposelessness. They are nothing but ourselves seen in a magnifying mirror. Therefore the lives of entertainer-celebrities cannot extend our horizon. Celebrities populate our horizon with men and women we already know.""A woman reveals her age by the celebrities she knows.""As soon as a hero begins to be sung about today, he evaporates into a celebrity.""When the traveler's risks are insurable he has become a tourist.""Now, when one risks so little and experiences so little on the voyage, the experience of being there somehow becomes emptier and more trivial. When getting there was more troublesome, being there was more vivid. When getting there is "fun," arriving there somehow seems not to be arriving any place.""Whether we seek models of greatness, or experience elsewhere on the earth, we look into a mirror instead of out a window, and we see only ourselves.""Like all great inventions, the idea was beautifully simple. It was merely to "plant" a full-length article (prepared under Reader's Digest direction) in some other magazine, so it could afterwards be digested in The Reader's Digest.""Whatever the motives, the effect was plain enough. The magazine whose initial appeal was its ability to survey the scene, was now itself making the scene to be surveyed. Like the political interview or the tourist attraction, the planted article was produced in the honest effort to do a job, to give people what they paid for and what they expected.""In the age of Graphic Revolution people quite naturally prefer a shadow of a shadow to a shadow of an original.""The American publishing scene has been dominated by a few stars - Ernest Hemingway, Norman Mailer, J.D. Salinger - who have prospered as authors partly because they could be touted as "personalities."""To attack as a "rationalization" became a kind of philosophic penicillin - a layman's cure-all for arguments he could not understand or would not take seriously.""Oversimplified sociological concepts - "status," "other-direction," etc. - appealed because they were so helpful in building images. These wide-appealing "modes," expressed in our dominating notion of norms and averages, led us unwittingly to try to imitate ourselves. We have tried to discover what it is really like to be a junior executive or a junior executive's wife, so we can really be the way we are supposed to be, that is, the way we already are. Naive emphasis on ideals had at worst tempted men to unrealistic pursuit of an abstract standard of perfection; emphasis on modes and images now tempts us to pursue the phantoms of ourselves.""The momentous sign of the rise of image-thinking, and its displacement of ideas is, of course, the rise of advertising. Nothing has been more widely misunderstood. Daring not to admit we may be our own deceivers, we anxiously seek someone to accuse of deceiving us. "Madison Avenue," "Public Relations," "Organization Men," and similar epithets have given us our whipping boys. We refuse to believe that advertising men are at most our collaborators, helping us make illusions for ourselves. In our moral indignation, our eagerness to find the villains who have created and frustrated our exaggerated expectations, we have underestimated the effect of the rise of advertising. We think it has meant an increase of untruthfulness. In fact it has meant a reshaping of our very concept of truth.""It is more important that a statement be believable than that it be true.""They would not put their names to a statement unless it were true, the readers believe, so that it is of little consequence that the actual choice of the words used to convey their approval of Rheingold is the work of another hand.""The rise of images and of our power over the world blurs rather than sharpens the outlines of reality - permeates one after another area of our life. There is hardly a corner of our daily behavior where the multiplication of images, the products and by-products of the Graphic Revolution, have not befogged the simplest old everyday distinctions.""Pressure to participate leads to more and more nominal membership: in churches, service clubs, professional societies, pressure groups, charitable organizations, and political associations. Our joining is itself one of the most perfunctory of pseudo-events. We wish our membership to be reported. We do not care to participate.""New ambiguities enter into "desire" and "function." Does the public really want fins on its new-model automobiles? If the fins do satisfy a public want, are they not then somehow functional? We become more and more confused about our desires in an ever expanding economy where products are always remoter from primitive needs.""A dream is a vision or an aspiration to which we can compare reality. It may be very vivid, but its vividness reminds us how different is the real world. An illusion, on the other hand, is an image we have mistaken for reality. We cannot reach for it, aspire to it, or be exhilarated by it; for we live in it. It is prosaic because we cannot see it is not fact.""Yet now, in the height of our power in this age of the Graphic Revolution, we are threatened by a new and a peculiarly American menace. It is not the menace of class war, of ideology, of poverty, of disease, of illiteracy, of demagoguery, or of tyranny, though these now plague most of the world. It is the menace of the unreality. The threat of nothingness is the danger of replacing American dreams by American illusions. Of replacing the ideals by the images, the aspiration by the mold. We risk being the first people in history to have been able to make their illusions so vivid, so persuasive, so "realistic" that they can live in them. We are the most illusioned people on earth. Yet we dare not become disillusioned, because our illusions are the very house in which we live; they are our news, our heroes, our adventure, our forms of art, our very experience.""It is synthetic. It is believable. It is passive. It is concrete. It is simplified, and it is ambiguous.""Images are the pseudo-events of the ethical world. They are at best only pseudo-ideals. They are created and disseminated in order to be reported, to make a "favorable impression." Not because they are good, but because they are interesting.""Discovering we cannot have another people's virtues, we call them vices.""In our popularity game we ask the world not, "Do you like me?" but, "Do you like my shadow?"""We mistake our shadows for ourselves. To us they seem more real than the reality. Why should they not seem so to others? Out technique seems direct only because in our own daily lives the pseudo-event seems always destined to dominate the natural facts. We no longer even recognize that our technique is indirect, that we have committed ourselves to managing shadows. We can live in our world of illusions. Although we find it hard to imagine, other people still live in the world of dreams. We live in a world of our making. Can we conjure others to live there too? We love the image, and believe it. But will they?""It was disturbing, he said, to hear yourself quoted to yourself by somebody else who thought it was himself speaking: you began to wonder whether it was your language after all.""We no longer do a job; we play a role. We do not learn parental virtues; instead we are prompted on how to "play the role of" parents.""People really struggling to win, and not merely to have their victory reported in the papers.""One of the deepest and least remarked features of the Age of Contrivance is what I would call the mirror effect. Nearly everything we do to enlarge our world, to make life more interesting, more varied, more exciting, more vivid, more "fabulous," more promising, in the long run has an opposite effect. In the extravagance of our expectations and in our ever increasing power, we transform elusive dreams into graspable images within which each of us can fit. By doing so we mark the boundaries of our world with a wall of mirrors. Our strenuous and elaborate efforts to enlarge experience have the unintended result of narrowing it. In frenetic quest for the unexpected, we end by finding only the unexpectedness we have planned for ourselves. We meet ourselves coming back.""More and more of our experience thus becomes invention rather than discovery. The more planned and prefabricated our experience becomes, the more we include in it only what "interests" us. Then we can more effectively exclude the exotic world beyond our ken: the very world which would jar our experience, and which we most need to make us more largely human. The criterion of well-knownness overshadows others, because the well-known is by definition what most people already know. We seek celebrities, not only among men and women but even among books, plays, ideas, movies, and commodities. We make our whole experience a "reader's digest" where we read only what we want to read, and not what anyone else wants to write. We listen for what we want to head and not for what someone wants to say. We talk to ourselves, without even noticing that it is not somebody else talking to us. We talk to ourselves about what we are supposed to be talking about. We find this out by seeing what other people are talking to themselves about. "All I know," Will Rogers remarked in the earlier days of the Graphic Revolution, "is what I read in the papers." Today he might modernize his complaint: "All I see in the papers is what I already know.""All I see in the papers is what I already know.""We have fallen in love with our own image, with images of our making, which turn out to be images of ourselves.""At home we begin to try to live according to the script of television programs of happy families, which are themselves nothing but amusing quintessences of us.""More and more accustomed to testing reality by the image, we will find it hard to retain ourselves so we may once again test the image by reality. It becomes ever harder to moderate our expectations, to shape expectations after experience, and not vice versa.""We are deceived and obstructed by the very machines we make to enlarge our vision.""Our discontent begins by finding false villains whom we can accuse of deceiving us. Next we find false heroes whom we expect to liberate us. The hardest, most discomfiting discovery it that each of us must emancipate himself. Though we may suffer from mass illusions, there is no formula for mass disenchantment. By the law of pseudo-events, all efforts at mass disenchantment themselves only embroider our illusions.""While we have given other great power to deceive us, to create pseudo-events, celebrities, and images, they could not have done so without our collaboration. If there is a crime of deception being committed in America today, each of us is the principal, and all others are only accessories.""It is dangerously tempting to treat our illusions by compounding them.""We must first awake before we can walk in the right direction. We must discover our illusions before we can even realize that we have been sleepwalking. The least and the most we can hope for is that each of us may penetrate the unknown jungle of images in which we live our daily lives. That we may discover anew where dreams end and where illusions begin. This is enough. Then we may know where we are, and each of us may decide for himself where he wants to go."


Awesome. A really sharp breakdown of a notion called Pseudo-events. Which is essentially like watching the news where everything is a story but nothing has context or any sort of logical progression. Something always seems to be happening but none of it seems to connect. This is not a new book and still has the measured straightforwardness that more contemporary books have lost. It doesn't have the heightened and fevered pitch or desperate tone.


Absolutely, unequivocally recommend. To read this is, in large part, to understand America (and England, in as much as it and other cultures have emulated American idealism).Everything he says about our obsession with ideas and pseudo-events over reality is as true now as it was then. What was particularly interesting was his talk of how we desire this pseudo-reality, how it is appealing, and how indulging it creates desire for even more. Makes me think of Randian concepts like pseudo-self-esteem and second-handedness, and the way she (and Branden) describes these as having a basis in fundamental human nature, about an emotionally-laden choice between focusing on reality and blurring into seductive fantasy.


A classic Chicago School text on the rise of the Image in 20th century America. Written in the early 70s, followers of entertainment news and the tabloids would find Boorstin's observations even more valid nowadays. His definition of "celebrity": "Someone who is known for their well-knownness." Heidi Montag, anyone? The American obsession with image has led to an age of politics where candidates now orchestrate pseudo-events designed to appear spontaneous and revelatory but are in fact anything but.

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