“Good Words are better than bad strokes.”
-Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
President Obama candidly remarked in his State of the Union address that, “The greatest nation on earth cannot go from one manufactured crisis to another”. Stagecraft spectacles rehearsed from political pulpits are a ‘synthetic commodity’ passive listeners consume. The State of the Union illustrated a pep rally containing populist sentiment, and altering statecraft into a ‘pseudo-event’. A nation on the verge of default and insolvency, war waning on two fronts-yet taken over by private mercenary armies, the threat of global terrorism, and a drug war that has killed more than 40,000 people in Mexico and around our border has coaxed listeners into a citizen-spectator role with false premises and ivy-league lip service. Daniel Boorstin writes that “demanding more than the world can give us, we require that something be fabricated to make up for the world’s deficiency”. The State of the Union is one example of societies demand for illusion. Nevertheless, our President gives us what we desire in his most recent address. A demagogue who fashions ‘feel-good’ propaganda to a yearning cult of followers can convey the illusions to a passive spectator- constituency. Accustomed with illusion and image, our society never succeeds in the art of living and dealing with ‘facts’. ‘Manufactured crisis’ poses a dualistic slippery slope. The government becomes villain by ‘manufacturing the crisis’, then in fashion becomes hero rescuing the citizen-spectators from the very ‘crisis’ it created whether it be through the escalating bureaucratic quagmires on economy, defense spending, foreign policy, political scandals, immigration, or social welfare programs embarking viewers on a war of shadows, with one influential puppet master dangling the strings.
In 1962, Daniel J. Boorstin’s, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America portrayed the nation as one that has created its own image in, “unreality which stands between us and the facts of life”. American consciousness has been dispatched into the realm of pseudo-events since the middle of the 18th century with the mass production of newspapers. The word ‘pseudo’, means a deliberate attempt to deceive or connive. Sheldon S. Wolin in Democracy Incorporated writes that “For more than a century the public has been shaped by a relentless culture of advertising and its exaggerations, false claims, and fantasies-all aimed at influencing and directing behavior in the premeditated ways chosen by the advertiser”.
The digital age of marketing and advertising has relentlessly assumed this position through smart phones, PC’s, and satellite television that further our fantastic obsession with pseudo-events. Fifty-one years ago, Boorstin’s astute observation on the American culture explains that, “a larger and larger proportion of our experience, of what we read and see and hear, has come to consist of pseudo-events. They flood our consciousness.” Pseudo-events amplified in political jargon, scripted and polished such as the State of the Union address gives the illusion even more precedence when coming from the nation’s leader. Embedded war correspondents on 24 hours news, Presidential debates, press conferences, and State of the Union speeches with rebuttal by the opposing party are all a part of what Boorstin calls are need for ‘exaggerated expectations’. Social conundrums arising through the pseudo-event are ‘exaggerating our expectations’ due to the exponential growth in technology; therefore, turning Moore’s law into a catalyst for rapid social evolution. Information glut has malnourished our consciousness by a never ending stream of virtual reality. In South Korea, there are internet boot camps where children are sent to be isolated from the addictive nature of online video games and the web. Social media giant ‘Facebook’ has become extremely popular in the last seven to eight years. With extreme popularity and easy access, comes the detriment of user abuse and failure to hold ‘real world’ relationships. ‘Facebook’ rehabs are now giving addictive users an outlet to break the chains of social media addiction. In both cases, the illusory becomes the norm, superseding human interaction for the multi-billion dollar online gaming and social media pseudo-events.
The hyper- sense of self drives the need for a greater image. Boorstin calls are self-adulation as individuals and a nation as ‘social narcissism’. This is crystallized and easily applied to current television and pop culture. Vicarious pageant moms flaunting scantily clad toddlers across stages in child pageants, Real Housewives of (Multiple Cities, U.S.A.), the plethora of glorified karaoke contests (American Idol, The Voice, America’s Got Talent, The X Factor), and the schadenfreude viewers are complicit in by tuning in to the struggling souls that toil in addiction on (Intervention, Celebrity Rehab).The residual images depicted only exacerbate our self-fulfilling prophecy. Mass gun violence in schools, Voter apathy, the Orwellian surveillance state, corporate malfeasance and the ‘lily-pad’ of military bases around the globe projects the narcissist extension of detachment. Our failure to connect with rational empathy feeds the momentum of gore and tragedy.
Author Charles Pierce in Idiot America explores our thought process as “the worst thing you can be in society where everybody is an expert, is, well, an actual expert. This is how Idiot America engages itself. It decides, en masse, with a million key strokes and clicks of the remote control, that because there are two sides to every question, they both must be right, or at least not wrong.” Talk Radio, the cycle of controversial and conjured 24 hour news gives the news ‘junky’ a bevy of information to pick and choose from so-called ‘experts’. Issues involving gun control, abortion, gay marriage, and immigration fragment the populace and serve as a divide and conquer strategy by listening to quasi-experts. Social agendas created as spectacle are a sleight of hand service because they are rarely resolved through social dialogue. Gun control has made a scathing comeback since the Clinton era assault weapons ban almost 20 years ago due to the recent gun violence in Aurora, Colorado, New Town, Connecticut, and Tucson, Arizona. Abortion has flourished in heated debate for 40 years now. (Roe v. Wade-1973) Immigration has been a revolving door issue since America’s inception with the arrival of millions at Ellis Island in the early 20th century, to the flood of English and Scotch-Irish in the 1820’s & 1830’s seeking opportunity in the new republic, and to the 1980’s with the Reagan administrations (Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986) which allowed three million illegal immigrants legal status on acknowledgement of guilt, and paying back taxes and fines.
A culture that plays sycophant to celebrity status, trivial accolades, and political demagogues live vicariously through illusion. Reshaping the world in our image is the hubris of our perilous times. Saturated in the images we create; our reality becomes an enigmatic haze of idolatry and narcissism. Celebrity in the 21st century is less about the merits of talent, but the notoriety of achieving unwarranted success and adulation fostered by the pseudo-events we are enticed to view. A parody of modern culture is that more Americans vote for ‘American Idol’ than in local and Presidential elections. The influx of reality television, social-media, and smart phones substitutes the tangible cathartic experience of daily life that is often fragile and difficult for the illusory that is mass marketed, advertised, scripted and sanitized. The evolution of pseudo –events paint a vivid, yet abstract picture of life on a canvas which is indecipherable by group analysis. Diverting independent analysis is the ultimate aim of pseudo-events. Observing our illusions and projected image grants the advantage in reshaping the forces necessary to think, and not just believe. The pseudo- event is not so much a weakness of our incredible capability as a species and as a nation, but the strength of exclusionary non-egalitarian forces changing society through fallacy and image with pseudo-events.
Joseph Lamb is a freelance writer/poet from the Southeast and can be reached at Karmabum32@gmail.com & on Twitter @JosephLamb3