The Image

We hardly dare face our bewilderment, because our ambiguous experience is so pleasantly iridescent, and the solace of belief in contrived reality is so thoroughly real.

The Image, Daniel J. Boorstin (1962)


In The Image, Daniel J. Boorstin explains how society has moved from authentic events to “synthetic happenings.” Much of it he attributes to our desire for the “Gee whiz!” events, something that was authentically novel, which shifted the media industry, like any other industry striving for more viewership and success, toward fabricating mind-numbing novelties. The eagerness for this new fulfillment opened a door for propaganda that over the decades has displaced quality and authentic content.

The lack of quality content in mass media is nothing new. However, many of us were discouraged by the 2016 presidential election campaigns lack of valuable content. Trump, Bernie, and Hilary supporters alike were asking why nothing valuable is making the debates and news. Perhaps this synthetic news and consolidated tactics are finally losing their novelty.

For quite some time, I have questioned the integrity of the father of public relations (PR), Edward Bernays. As an employee of the U.S. government, Bernays ran PR campaigns to overthrow governments. In an article written by Noam Chomsky, he quotes Bernay’s, who in his publication in 1928 entitled Propaganda (at that time, not such a negative word), describes the solution to the problem of an America that is becoming too democratic. That answer is his propaganda, or the wielding of information to result in the emotions and actions of the orchestrator. This poignant effort to manipulate and regiment the minds of the less intelligent “slobs” so they “stay on the right course,” may not have seemed at the time to be an attack on our freedom, but today we ought to consider this notion.

Bernays invented PR and the pseudo-events as a direct result of the lessons learned from the first world war (Chomsky, 1997). These techniques established with a liberal intention for crowd control were used to engineer the public relations effort behind the U.S. backed coup which overthrew the democratic government of Guatemala (Chomsky, 1997). This is one of many examples. Is this psychological warfare not still warfare, and therefore in direct violation of American citizens constitutional rights?

In The Image, Boorstin discusses that our democratic society specifically allows for such pseudo-events through the “freedom of speech and of the press” which is the equivalent of the “freedom to create pseudo-events.” Perhaps this is acceptable, although a gray area. But, consider for a moment that psychological manipulation is being used against you and your children for a specific purpose that you are not aware of, and for the desired effect, to which you are also unaware.

We can recall historical accounts of such manipulation from Hitler, Stalin, or more recently the stereo-typing of Muslims; which has documented examples of orchestrated manipulation to garner support for militants and proxy wars, as well as pseudo-events produced by medias war-journalism framing.

This is not to say that the stereotyping, propaganda, pseudo-events, and this newer concept of “leaking” is only a scheme to undermine ourselves. “The efficient mass production of pseudo-events…is the work of the whole machinery of our society” (Boorstin). We may trace back its origins which is valuable, but placing blame is no solution. What is important is to acknowledge and understand its consequences.

Today we find ourselves in a society where we are overstimulated, with short attention spans, and being fed more “gee whiz!” worthy news than the last few minutes; the product of which has now affected how our candidates debate on pointless character flaws and stereotypes. Instead of purposeful exchanges of information, we judge our candidates based on two-minute performances void of valuable content. These pseudo-events “thus lead to an emphasis on pseudo-qualifications”(Boorstin).

To find a bit of humor in this albeit cynical topic, recall the cult classic film Groundhog Day. Based upon Boorstin’s definition of pseudo-events, Groundhog Day fits those attributes perfectly; no spontaneity, events planted for immediate reporting, ambiguous, and a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Upon understanding our ambiguous reality, seeking truth and literacy become ever more obligatory.

The Image, by Daniel Boorstin

Propaganda, by Edward Bernays

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