Book Reviews

Bk Review #1752 The image: A guide to pseudo-events in America. (2012). Boorstin, D. J. Vintage. pp. 261 $17.00 ISBN: 978-0-679-74180-0

 

Reviewed By: Anna Hoehenrieder

ajhoehenrieder@ucdavis.edu

University of California - Davis

Fake news. This complaint is heard by Americans almost every day in 2017. However, long before our current sensationalist and often biased media, Daniel Boorstin warned the American Public about this phenomenon in his 1961 book The Image.  The idea of pseudo-events, events that are planned to create press and attention while not giving the audience an accurate account of what happened, is a recognizable one in today’s society. These events come from our desire to be informed, but our desire for excitement means that we may read more and more news today while actually being less informed. A modern example with all the hallmarks of a pseudo-event is the dossier supposedly written by a British intelligence official that suggests Donald Trump has ties to Russia. It has salacious details. There is ambiguity over whether any of it is true. One of the main purposes of its release is simply to generate buzz. For these reasons and more Boorstin was rolling in his grave at hearing the Golden Shower story.

Boorstin asserts that tied to pseudo-events is a preoccupation in American society with “image.” Today, reputation and brand mean everything. A politician often cares far more about his reputation than his actual character. This concept is perhaps said best by Ivanka Trump, “Perception is more important than reality. If someone perceives something to be true, it is more important than if it is in fact true” (p. 166). Additionally, with the rise in social media, talk about one’s “personal brand” and being “on brand” is more prevalent than ever. Boorstin exclaims that by being consumed with image we live in an illusion. The illusion makes us narcissistic and ignorant to information that we dislike because we only seek out news that conforms to our existing beliefs. Boorstin states that the only way to fight this unreality is to recognize it and make a conscious effort to seek the real truth even if it is boring or distasteful to us. This book benefits the advisor by giving them insight into our current political and social climate, and offering a suggestion for how the advisor may recommend students react to increased partisanship.

If the book only stuck to these specific issues in detail I would have no complaints. However, Boorstin is intent on attacking seemingly every aspect of American culture we have come to love - from movies, to magazines, to music, to travel, and much more. At times his critiques are so specific he confuses the reader about what is and is not a pseudo-event. For example, he despises portable music that we listen to as we go about our day, and calls it a pseudo-event. His over-cynicism is coupled with an extreme over-romanticism of the past, which gives his comments a “back in my day” quality. Thus, I would not place this book in my top 10 or even top 20 resources. If you are going to read it, I would recommend the first chapter and the last chapter only. These roughly 70 pages pinpoint the crux of his argument and are truly inspiring, while skipping the drudgery of his dissatisfaction with every aspect of 20th century life. After reading the last chapter in particular, I see why Boorstin is acclaimed as a visionary and his insights shed light on modern life in a similar way to 1984 or Fahrenheit 451.

References

Trump, I. (2009). The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life. Simon and Schuster. 166.

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