Anyone seen reality around here?

Must-read Lockdown Summer Book #2: The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America

Celebrities are famous for being famous. Media need to be feed news, and politicians are willing to toss a bone 24/7. It’s not hard. All they have to do is predict that news of any kind is going to happen at any minute, and that becomes the headline.

Sen. Joe McCarthy, leader of the communist witchhunt in the 1950s, was a pioneer. He held press conferences in the morning to announce that he’d have big news that afternoon; at his afternoon conference, he would say that he uncovered something so bigly he couldn’t reveal it to the public. What better non-scoop could a reporter ask for? Two fascinating articles about nothing that added up to something. Bonus track: McCarthy kept his name in the face of the public twice a day.


“My, that’s a beautiful baby you have there!”


“Oh, that’s nothing‑you should see his photograph.”

Politicians rely on their photograph. They also became media celebrities for filling some dead air with a ribbon cutting or turkey pardon. Wide exposure for doing absolutely nothing is requisite to get elected. Trump’s rallies, or pseudo-events, are watched and broadcast like some kind of uncontrollable, neurotic twitch. Will people die there? Will a black man be beaten? Will our leader-in-incubus threaten to send a singing telegram to Helen Keller?

Such outlandish reality was predicted in 1962 by one Daniel Boorstin, historian and long-serving Librarian of Congress. Nobody knew in 1962 that Boorstin was accurately predicting everything above. But he did. We don’t want reality, we want a reflection of reality. We will pay to see a bearded lady even though we know it’s an illusion. TV is an illusion – a constant promise that if we wait, something great is bound to come up on the screen. So we wait. Politicians are an illusion. They take your money, but this time, the bearded lady will kill you.

This is a must-read, non-fiction prophetic book that ranks up there with Orwell’s 1984. Both give us a distant mirror into the past where prophets had a telescope aimed at the future.

Next up: A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchman

NB: Boorstin is the person who opened the Library of Congress to the public in the 1970s when he realized that Congress forgot how to read.

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