The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-events in America

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

Check Price Now


20th Century American Currently Reading Favorites History Media Non Fiction Nonfiction Sociology To Read

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

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.


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.


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


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

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.

Brian Ayres

This book is a classic written in the 1950s, but every page of it drips with relevance to the media age we live in, that of a media environment ripe to distract from the real truth. Having been a member and student of the media, I understand the nature of image building through advertising and public relations as well as pseudo-reporting of events like press conferences and interviews. These days, with the glut of information coming in waves and waves, it is easy to see how individuals can latch on to demigods like Glen Beck, who promise hope and freedom but are selling nothing more than an image of our country that rarely if ever existed. We are all ignorant of the world in which we do not experience and at the mercy of those who report what we do not see. Fear is a powerful emotion the likes of Beck make millions of dollars selling. But emotion and imagery is all many citizens know thanks to a media that tells it like it believes it should be rather than the way things really happened.All of Boorstin's books, whether they be his trilogy of The Americans or his trilogy of World History, are extremely well-written and enlightening for those who read them. Boorstin is a true American historian all students need to read to get a clearer picture of how history has shaped us.

Kevin Duvall

Boorstin gets a little too cynical in parts, but even then, his words are incredibly profound.


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.


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.…


Written by U.S. historian and writer Daniel Boorstin in 1961 this book focuses on what the author even back at the beginning of the Kennedy administration called the ‘pseudo events’ in our ( U.S. )society as opposed to the ‘real’ world which he sees them replacing. While I’m a fan of Boorstin ( see The Discoverers ) and I have a lot of sympathy with his view of particular areas of society , e.g. journalism or advertising , I’m not sure his overall criticism is warranted . His view is probably fairly elitist and has little time for popular culture. And if all this is a problem he does not say much about why it is a problem and what we can do about it . Apparently it is still used as a text in sociology classes and that is probably a fair comment on how I assessed it . Also of some interest is the light that his thesis throws on the culture and nature of the U.S. where most of these ‘pseudo event’ originated.

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.


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.


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.


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."

Share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *