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


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.


Published in 1961, at a point that now feels like it was the dawn of the age of fraud, though really it was already several decades underway even then. Falling chronogically and philosophically somewhere between Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" and Baudrillard's "America", Boorstin coined the phrase "pseudo-event" which has stuck around, and tried to coin "the Graphic Revolution" (by which he means mechanical reproduction) which didn't quite catch on. The chapter on "The Lost Art of Travel" is a theme we've heard rather a lot on, from Paul Fussell and others, and suffers from the edge of elitism that such critiques tend to. Elsewhere, though, he is "spot on" as they say. One particularly fascinating section is on the history of the Reader's Digest magazine - in order to fulfil its promise to deliver only condensed versions of articles that appeared elsewhere, the editors and writers began to commission and plant longer articles elsewhere solely so they could abridge and reprint them. "Almost 60 per cent [of articles over a four year period] were either confessed originals or disguised originals, fabricated by a contrived back-formation from a contrived original." Not that Reader's Digest per se is so important (though I do recall it being virtually the only printed matter in my grandparents' houses) but in terms of reality being supplanted by its simulacra, you could hardly invent a better scenario.


Good, but reads as a little dated at this point, perhaps because we've become so immersed in the world he describes. The analysis is spot on.

John-paul Pagano

The seminal non-academic work on media studies. Along with Walter Lippmann's Public Opinion, it forms an indispensable diptych for understanding how politics and culture mediate our democracy.

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.


"Always the play; never the thing"A superbly titled and entirely prescient book, this one. As America's Graphic Revolution was spiraling with television, movies, and other 'images' created for easy consumption, Boorstin wrote about how there is simultaneously much more and much less to everything we see. This book was written in 1961, so many of the examples he uses seem so innocuous and quaint compared to what we're accustomed to today. Boorstin died in 2004, so how did he not go crazy through the Lewinsky scandal, Paris Hilton, 'reality' television, the Colbert Report, the 24-hour news cycle, and internet news aggregates / blogs? I suppose each of the chapters presented in this book has spawned entire genres of 'image' studies: behind the scenes of the media, celebrity worship, digestible movie adaptations, etc. Overall I recommend this book as a skimmer, as the scholastic, academic approach to the topic was a bit much. Of course, my preference for an easier read only reinforces Boorstin's point, right?


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 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,


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.

Sean Goh

You will never look at media, advertising, celebrity, and a great many other things the same way again after reading this.NewsThe counsel on public relations not only knows what news value is, but knowing it, is in a position to make news happen. He is a creator of events.Pseudo-events:-are not spontaneous, but arise due to planning. e.g. interview VS earthquake.-It is planted primarily for the purpose of being reported or reproduced. -Its success is measured by how widely it's reported. "Is it real?" < "Is it newsworthy?"-Its relation to the underlying reality of the situation is ambiguous.Usually intended to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.Propaganda is information deliberately biased, with its effect depending on emotional appeal. Pseudo-events are ambiguous truths intended to 'educate', while propaganda is an appealing falsehood intended to arouse.Both TV and radio (and by extension the internet) abhor dead time. Yet it is in silence that deep thoughts are formulated. The end results is that debaters can only react, not think.CelebrityWe can make a celebrity, but never a hero. We can make them well known, but never great. Celebrity worship is not the same as hero worship.The passage of time destroys celebrity, but creates and establishes the hero.Travelers To journey, to travail, was to do something laborious or troublesome, the traveler was an active man at work.The tourist is a passive pleasure seeker, expecting interesting things to happen to him, expects everything to be done to him and for him.Foreign travel ceased to be an activity, and became a commodity. (the package tour)When one risks so little and experiences so little on the voyage, the experience of being there somehow becomes emptier and more trivial. The tourist arriving at his destination where tourist facilities have been 'improved' remains almost as insulated as he was en route.Museums removed art from their context, in a sense misrepresenting them. To put art together is to take apart the environment and culture in which it was made real.Travel guidebooks and the like provided a scripted travel experience, checking boxes rather than exploring the unknown, star-gazing rather than exploring. We would rather fulfill our own provincial expectations than be surprised. The image ends up outshining the original.People go to see what they already know. The only possible source of surprise is their own reaction. (the modern travel book) We go to test reality by the image, rather than the image by reality (is the country really like what I read about it?)The more ill-suited a novel was for the stage (rapid, frequent scene changes, elaborate action scenes), the better it was for the movie form. The movie was often more widely appealing, as it was more visually vivid than the original novel. The movie form cannot wander as life wanders, it must go from significant episode to significant episode in constantly mounting fashion, or risk boring the audience. At its best the movie remains a simplifying medium.The star system focuses on the personality rather than the work. The most popular book in the short run is the book that tells us most effectively what we already know, nothing more than the projection of our own expectations. Photography as practiced by many DIY photographers, is not a way of producing images with a life of their own detached from their maker. Instead it is a form of narcissism ("Have you seen my photos of the Mona Lisa?") The image is more vivid than the original.The successful dealer in literary, dramatic and musical commodities is one who discovers a formula for the public wants, and varies that formula just enough to sell each new product but not enough to risk loss of the market. "A best seller is a best seller is a best seller."Value has been redefined from something 'worthy of esteem for its own sake; that with intrinsic worth', to something which has become 'regarded favourably by a particular group'. When social scientists speak of value, they speak of the peculiar standards which a society has made for itself.The corporate image is a pseudo-ideal, best to be neutral so as to repel none. Image-rebuilding becomes more about a change of face rather than a change of heart.We serve ideals, but images serve us.The image, being more vivid than the original, has become the original. The shadow has become the substance.Advertising makes us feel the appeal of being appealed to.

Ryan Holiday

The central point of the book is so incisive that it not only survived the major technological and cultural shifts of the last 50 years but is made stronger by them: Most ofe take as important or news is image and artifice. Think aboutpress conferences to announce press conferences, awards, articles about how much money celebrities make, news leaks, news breaks, annual "Best of" list, press releases, "no comment", et al. None of it is real. As in, if it hadn't been known in advance that they'd generate press they wouldn't have occurred.A nice example is foreign policy. A president might say he wants to increase our "prestige" abroad. What does that even mean? As far as I can tell it means nothing, except perhaps a naive desire to receive credit for something you're not taking any action to produce. The rest of the book is on what he calls "unreality", a place similar to the dream would where many bloggers live. It remains in line with the central premise, that the prevalence of news and newspapers has given us the belief that we can change reality by altering what reporters tell us.There is the sense from the title that it was going to be about the media or PR but it is much deeper and more personal than that. This book is critical to understanding Western culture and its direction.


As someone who is familiar with most of the ideas presented in the text, I think this is a thought provoking read. I certainly didn't think it was the most organized in terms of connecting ideas and arguments, however, I still think the perspective is extremely valuable. It provides a glimpse at media and consumerism in American history. It is amazing how much stays the same even as 50 years pass and technology changes.

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!


Provocative though a little "get off my lawn!".


I read this book right around the time that I read articles and books about how architecture was designed to keep the homeless out of downtown L.A. Needless to say, it got my mind spinning and kept me alert with a critical eye. I haven't forgotten the lessons of all I learned during this time period. I still look at everything and search for the deep or "actual" meaning or motive.

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