Saturday, August 21, 2010

Age of Contrivance

Daniel Boorstin in The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, first published in 1961, 

claimed that America was living in an "age of contrivance," in which illusions and fabrications had become a dominant force in society. Public life, he said, was filled with "pseudo-events" -- staged and scripted events that were a kind of counterfeit version of actual happenings. Just as there were now counterfeit events, so, he said, there were also counterfeit people - celebrities - whose identities were being staged and scripted, to create illusions that often had no relationship to any underlying reality. Even the tourism industry, which had once offered adventure seekers a passport to reality, now insulated travelers from the places they were visiting, and, instead, provided "artificial products," in which "picturesque natives fashion(ed) papier-mâché images of themselves," for tourists who expected to see scenes out of the movies.

The only thing is that Boorstin came from the political right.  I wonder what he would think of events today, especially those contrived by the political right?


  1. Do you suppose we should call the pseudo celebrities golems? What does anyone here think about the peace talks soon to be convened in DC?

  2. I am reminded of Veblen's "Theory of the Leisure Class" and Vance Packard's "Hidden Persuaders". Both decried artifice and the efforts by some to project a false image designed to create profitability.

    I would like to see a writing that fuses the works of all three writers ~ that would make for some rather interesting reading.

  3. Boorstin's is not a new complaint in the world; it's rather what the Pharisees held against Jesus. In the 19th century, Wordsworth decried it in The World Is Too Much With Us, Shelley satirized it in Ozymandias, Hopkins tried to redeem it in God's Grandeur. Dickens, Trollope, Thackeray (what is
    Becky Thatcher but a pseudo celebrity? all found it ready grist for their mills.

    I'm sure we all agree on the prevalence and persistence of manufactured events and images, although we might sometimes disagree as to which actually are false.

  4. I've never read the book but I have to wonder if he was responding to the 1960 election. I suppose to many on the right Kennedy seemed superficial and a product of "image." But, what exactly did Nixon represent?

  5. Hmmm?

    Defining A Pseudo-Event

    "(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 measured by how widely it is reported...

    "(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 an 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 interest.

    "(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.",%20The%20Image:%20A%20Guide%20To%20Pseudo-Events%20In%20America%20%28New%20York:%20Atheneum,%201985%29,%20pp.%203-4,%2011-12.