Pale Wire (Popscene)

Monday, September 13, 2004

Public Image Ltd.


I normally don't talk too much about the books I'm assigned to read in my classes (I usually have enough writing to do about them elsewhere) but tonight I finished a particularly excellent book that I feel is worth mentioning.

The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America is Daniel Boorstin's now 42 year old diagnosis of all things fucked up in American discourse.

With an unerring eye Boorstin (pictured above) lays out how psuedo-events--fake events passed off as news, press conferences, publicity stunts and the like--and celebrity culture have come to dominate the media and our own imaginations.

The book is most famous for its definition of a celebrity as a person "well known for his well-knownness."

In the past I always dismissed that definition as a tautology but reading Boorstin's persuasive argument that celebrity is a symptom of a tautological society enamored with reflections of itself and informed by shadows and cunning imitations of real events has won me over to his side.

There's plenty more to the book. Centering his arguments around the premise that images have supplanted ideals and actual tactile experience on their ascent to the most powerful position in our culture, Boorstin explores the current state of affairs in American politics, journalism, advertising and entertainment.

I won't and can't go into it all here. I suggest you read the book for yourself.

It's not on your syllabus and there won't be a test but it's always good to improve your knowledge about how America works. It's written in a very direct style and there's plenty that can be applied to our immediate situation, particularly our self-proclaimed (and Boorstin would argue self-defeating) quest to improve America's image.