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Reblogged:The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America

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"There was a time when the reader of an unexciting newspaper would remark, 'How dull is the world today!' Nowadays he says, 'What a dull newspaper!' " Daniel Boorstin's in The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America. This book is Boorstin's diatribe against the promotion of "image" over reality. Even with his refusal to see the other side of the argument, and even 50 years after it was published, this is a must-read for the questions is raises, even if though it  does not attempt any answers.

In 2014 a Malaysian airliner disappeared with almost no trace. When little is known, people want to know more: someone will pretend to provide. Someone will take arbitrary speculation and make it "newsworthy":  if we assume this  is true, what would it mean; and if not true, what would that mean? "Experts" jump up to discuss pros and cons. At one stage a CNN anchor even asked if a black hole could have caused the disappearance; and, what about the supernatural, can we really rule it out?

In Boorstin's terminology, so little was known about the event that so much time was spent analyzing "pseudo-events". When there's not enough to report, reporters entertain.When Jim Cramer literally blows a horn and prances during his investment-advice program, the line between entertainment and reality is blurred.Entertainment is great, comedy shows are fine, excitement is fun. It is the blurring that causes a problem, because instead of the emotion that might flow from the facts, we have the hyped up emotion from the entertainment "buy! buy! buy!", he shouts. Yet, at least Cramer is blatantly over-the-top.

 When news-anchors adopt an urgent tone, the message is more insidious: under all the excitement about the employment report coming in 0.2% above the "consensus estimate" they ignore that it is an extremely rough estimate: +/-  0.3%. That way, if it reverts to the mean, it will excuse excitement in the opposite direction! At the end of this path of non-objectivity, we end up in a world where ignorant people get their news from Jon Stewart: insidiousness on steroids.

However, there is a second theme in this book: a curmudgeonly Luddite broadside against various aspects of modern life: Boorstin criticizes what might be termed "faux experiences". For instance, the American who travels to a third-world country, but stays in a luxury hotel, commutes in air-conditioned taxis, and steps out occasionally to get taste of local life.  I mostly disagree with this theme, but I'm fine to have him perch on my shoulders as conscience, asking me to think twice about modernity. Amused, I wonder how much more appalled he would be in a world of Tweets and snapchat. In an ultimate irony, I ought to condense his book into a Tweet.

I recommend this book as a "must-read" even if you have to plow through the negatives. Boorstin's denunciation of image over reality, is even more relevant today, 50 years after it was published. 


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