Was 9/11 the ultimate pseudo-event?

Artful people create 'pseudo-events'. Western consumers demand them. They fulfil a purpose. They satisfy our 'extravagant expectations'.

Daniel Boorstin coined the term 'pseudo-event' in his book 'The Image', first published in 1962. The following mini-excerpts from the book are linked for readability. They are in order of appearance but are out of context. The words are all Boorstin's...

Notes from The Image by Daniel Boorstin (1962)

'In this book I describe the world of our making, how we have used our wealth, our literacy, our technology and our progress, to create the thicket of unreality which stands between us and the facts of life.

We expect anything and everything. We expect the contradictory and the impossible. We expect compact cars which are spacious; luxurious cars which are economical. We expect to be rich and charitable, powerful and merciful, active and reflective, kind and competitive…We expect to eat and stay thin, to be constantly on the move and ever more neighbourly… Never have people been more the masters of their environment. Yet never has a people felt more deceived and disappointed. For never has a people expected so much more than the world could offer.

We have become so accustomed to our illusions that we mistake them for reality. We demand them. And we demand that there be always more of them, bigger and better and more vivid. They are the world of our making: the world of the image.

To dispel the ghosts which populate the world of our making will not give us the power to conquer the real enemies of the real world or to remake the real world. But it may help us discover that we cannot make the world in our image.

A pseudo-event:
1) Is not spontaneous, but comes about because someone has planned, planted, or incited it.
2) 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. Time relations in it are commonly fictitious or factitious; ... the question 'Is it real?', is less important than 'Is it newsworthy?'
3) Its relation to the underlying reality of the situation is ambiguous… Without some of this ambiguity a pseudo-event cannot be very interesting.
4) Usually it is intended to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The disproportion between what an informed citizen needs to know and what he can know is ever greater. The disproportion grows with the increase of the officials' powers of concealment and contrivance... A deft administrator these days…must master 'the technique of denying the truth without actually lying'.

The pseudo events which flood our consciousness are neither true nor false in the old familiar senses. The very same advances which have made them possible have also made the images - however planned, contrived, or distorted - more vivid, more attractive, more impressive, and more persuasive than reality itself.

We have become eager accessories to the great hoaxes of the age… pseudo-events, from their very nature, tend to be more interesting and more attractive than spontaneous events… Earnest, well-informed citizens seldom notice that their experience of spontaneous events is blurred by pseudo-events. Yet nowadays, the more industriously they work at 'informing' themselves, the more this tends to be true.

Characteristics of pseudo-events:
1) More dramatic.
2) Easier to disseminate and to make vivid.
3) Can be repeated at will, and thus their impression can be reinforced.
4) Cost money to create.
5) Matter we can grasp.
6) Occurrence is planned for our convenience.
7) Knowledge of pseudo-events… becomes the test of being 'informed'.
8) Spawn other pseudo-events.

An Image:
1) An image is synthetic. It is planned: created especially to serve a purpose, to make a certain kind of impression.
2) An image is believable. It serves no purpose if people do not believe it… it must not outrage the ordinary rules of common sense.

[Note] the shift in common experience from an emphasis on 'truth' to an emphasis on 'credibility'. All of us… are daily less interested in whether something is a fact than in whether it is convenient that it should be believed. Today the master of truth is not the master of facts but the practitioner of the arts of self-fulfilling prophecy… the socially rewarded art is that of making things seem true… Skilful advertising men bring us our illusions, then make them seem true…more and more of our experience nowadays imitates advertising:

1) The appeal of the neither-true-nor-false… The advertiser's art…consists largely of the art of making persuasive statements which are neither true nor false.
2) The appeal of the self-fulfilling prophecy…The successful advertiser is the master of a new art: the art of making things true by saying they are so. He is a devotee of the technique of the self-fulfilling prophecy.
3) The appeal of the half-intelligible… Advertising is, of course, our most popular reading, listening, and watching matter, precisely because it transports us to where the rigidities of the real world have dissolved…we listen to commercials to discover functions, ogres, needs and perils of which we never dreamed and never would have known. Advertising attenuates, making everything more interesting, more fanciful, more problematic.
4) The appeal of the contrived...The shrewd planner of advertising pseudo-events plays on our puzzlement. Even our own suspicions and doubts themselves become themes for new pseudo-events.

When 'truth' has been displaced by 'believability' as the test of the statements which dominate our lives, advertisers' ingenuity is devoted less to discovering facts than to inventing statements which can be made to seem true. Making them seem true is relatively easy. With the apparatus of the Graphic Revolution, almost anything can be made to seem true - especially if we wish to believe it…. believability is produced only if quasi-facts are invented within certain limits…. the citizen-consumer enjoys the satisfactions of being at the same time the bewitched, the bewitcher, and the detached student of witchcraft.

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.

The most important single influence in parts of the world which have heard of the United States has been the prevalence of American movies.

While we have given others great powers to deceive us, to create pseudo-events, celebrities and images, they could not have done so without our collaboration. If there is a crime of deception being committed in America today, each of us is the principal, and all others are only accessories.

We must discover our illusions before we can even realise that we have been sleepwalking.'

Ends | 1 Oct 2009 | Edited and compiled by The Leg

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Essential Reading:
The Image by Daniel Boorstin
American Hero by Larry Beinhart

''The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''
A Bush aide, reported by Ron Suskind of the New York Times, 2004

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