Watching the American scene in the 1960s, historian Daniel Boorstin, invented the idea of the “pseudo-event.” The rise of television and modern mass media had produced a transformation of the news business, so that what now mattered was not if an event was important, but only if it was “newsworthy.”
As Boorstin explained, the pseudo-event was orchestrated and planned to receive maximum public attention, even if the event itself was really unimportant. Pseudo-events merely look important, because the media and the public agree to act as if they are. As Boorstin explained, the pseudo-event is not something that happens by mistake, like a train wreck or an accident. It is something “planted primarily for the immediate purpose of being reported.” Lastly, Boorstin asserted, the pseudo-event is “intended to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Sound familiar? The pseudo-event is the driving force of American political life today, and it is a game increasingly played by both major political parties. The “fiscal cliff” was the most embarrassing recent example of a pseudo-event. Democrats and Republicans alike conspired to create a fake political crisis that each party thought would work to its own advantage. Both parties gambled that public outrage over the loss of Bush-era tax cuts would create a manufactured political crisis that would give the party and its allies political leverage.
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