Term Paper: Pseudo-Event in the Scientific Literature

Pages: 9 (3485 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Communication - Journalism  ·  Buy This Paper

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[. . .] The people and systems in control are still closely guarding the dissemination of information.

In 1994 the O.J. Simpson case got more coverage on American TV than 'real' political crises like Haiti, Cuba and Somalia, but there are some differences between these hypes and the regular coverage about war and disaster on the same front pages that run OJ stories. Publicity waves seem to have a specific and unique quality: In one way or another the relation between reality and the coverage seems to get lost somewhere in the whole process. The explosion of publicity is the result of the dynamic interaction between media and society, instead of being the reflection of a 'factual' developments in society. The sudden increase in the amount of reports about a new phenomenon can be the cause as well as the result of media attention. Because of the media's influence on the social development causes and consequences get mixed up. It is not sure whether there is really more violence in schools or more cases of sexual harassment, or we have changed our moral criteria for 'intolerable' behavior. At a certain moment the coverage seems to get a life of its own, disconnected from factual developments. There are many examples of hypes based on blown up figures publicized by sources advocating for their interests.

"Think back again to the missing children stories. What started as a few highly publicized cases about abducted children blazed into national hysteria. (...) Then the Denver Post exposed the truth behind the statistics. Its series of Pulitzer prize-winning articles showed that the number of children abducted had been overestimated by tens of thousands. Almost immediately, the coverage stopped." (Basheda 1992) Valarie Basheda researching these kinds of hypes discovered that a New York City action group started off the chain reaction. "It fed the media inflated statistics about the numbers of missing youngsters to gain publicity for their efforts." Instead of checking the 'facts' and the original sources, the media concentrate on all kinds of follow-ups, including the reaction of the authorities who feel that they have to take action. But - as will describe later- in many mediahypes it is impossible to relate media attention to any 'factual' developments, simply because these 'facts' do not exist.

Pseudo-events are also largely connected to politics. Political culture has basically assumed two very different -- and in some ways even opposite -- forms. On the one hand, politicians have become obsessed with trying to control, as much as it is possible, the way in which the public will judge their acts. By doing this, they reduce the necessary freedom and creativity of political acts -- through previous calculation of the possible social interpretation given to them. On the other hand, it is increasingly more difficult than in earlier times to avoid public discussion of unexpected phenomena. In contemporary democracies with relatively open media, it is not only difficult but often impossible to obstruct the immediate and varying coverage of relevant political events.

To equate 'live' television with 'real life' is to ignore all those determinations standing between the 'event' and our perception of it." On one hand, it is possible to say the same about any kind of perceptual relationship with an "event" -perception is always given in context. But, on the other, the argument is most deeply mistaken in saying that there is distance between an "event" and the perception of it. It is clear that an event is, politically speaking, nothing but the intersubjective perception of it. To be called up by certain eventualities is a necessary condition for the understanding of politics as creation. But public events are not always un-planned. Sometimes public events are planned precisely for the contrary -- to celebrate the reproduction of society, not to open up the possibility for the institution of the novelty. These kind of media events are those studied by Katz Dayan and "have given shape to a new narrative genre that employs the unique potential of the electronic media to command attention universally and simultaneously in order to tell a primordial story about current affairs. These are events that hang a halo over the television set and transform the viewing experience. Audiences recognize them as an invitation -- even a command -- to stop their daily routines and join in a holiday experience." Unfortunately, the "halo" over the TV-set is often not real, and a so-called "celebration" event is actually a pseudo-event, intended to deceive the public. So many political events, (launching a campaign, for instance), despite the glow that surround them, are actually staged events, which deliberately mislead the masses.

More and more events do no really exist, these days. For instance, the presentation of the Iraqi issue by Colin Powell at the United Nations, in February 2003, instead of representing a real event, actually existed just to appear on CNN, and on all other channels, for that matter. Mr. Powell's intention was not to convince the other members of the Security Council that Saddam Hussein is a threat, but to "publicize" the event. The fact that most of what Colin Powell said then turned out to be lies shouldn't surprise anyone. That proves that a pseudo-event does need to be convincing, but it does not imply that an absolute lack of truth will also reflect in peoples' conscience.

Regarding the necessity of a pseudo-event to be convincing, the following example should prove useful: "On Saturday April 12, under a perfect sky, the big day began when a chartered bus from Atlanta pulled up and Martha Burk's legion of supporters rolled into action -- all seventeen of them. Then, joining ranks with members of Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, the mother of all protests swelled to forty, outnumbered by the police two-to-one and by the press five-to-one. The whole thing was over in about an hour.

Ten months earlier, Burk had sent her fateful letter to ANGC chairman William "Hootie" Johnson, urging the club to open membership to women before this year's Masters Tournament. Since then, the New York Times alone had run ninety-five stories in support of Burk's demand. Miles of videotape had chronicled Burk's every appearance, accusation, and whine. Yet Burk and her henchpersons could not fill a single school bus. Nothing daunted, Burk found the pluck to declare, "I don't think we're hurt by [the paltry turnout] at all" (www.msnbc.com, April 17, 2003).

Martha Burk of the National Council of Women's Organizations (NCWO) has learned anything from her attempt to force the Augusta National Golf Club (ANGC) to admit women as members, it is that she has no future as an events planner. Her own protest was a flop. A host of bizarre exhibitionists turned the demonstration site into a circus. And the Masters Tournament went off without a hitch.

More damaging, one might suppose, was Burk's failure to keep the protest on an elevated moral plane. After the obligatory playing of Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman," Burk's supporters inflated a giant pink pig bedecked with a banner labeled "Augusta National Corporate Pig's Club" and plastered with the logos of companies whose executives are members of ANGC. Having descended to that level of crassness, Burk was in no position to complain when the free-for-all began. It included Todd Manzi, an out-of-work Florida ad man and self-appointed Burk nemesis, who has established two anti-Burk Web sites. J.J. Harper of Cordele, Georgia, set up a tent and three tables and referred to himself as a "one-man Ku Klux Klan group." ("It's not really a black-white thing," he said. "My favorite golfer is Tiger Woods" [New York Times, April 13, 2003].) Adding to the commotion was Atlanta resident Dave Walker, a staunch supporter of Operation Iraqi Freedom, who wore a baseball hat that read "Give War a Chance." The Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson came from Los Angeles with five members of his virulent anti-Jesse Jackson group. A lone man in a tuxedo carried a sign that read "Formal Protest," and a group called People Against Ridiculous Protests practiced what they preached by planting a hand-lettered placard that read "Look at all the ridiculous people." Lastly, what better way to round out Burk's debacle than with an Elvis impersonator? Mac Gaddy of Charlotte, North Carolina, tackily resplendent in a white sequined jumpsuit, oversized sunglasses, and a black wig, reasoned, "This is such a zoo, I figured it needed an Elvis sighting" (New York Times, April 13, 2003). In a fitting coda to the sideshow, he struck a karate pose and started crooning "It's Now or Never."

The organizer of an ordinary protest might be appalled if his event descended into such an absurd environment. But to understand why Burk's protest did not fail, one must grasp that it was a pseudo-event, in a sense defined by Daniel Boorstin more than forty years ago. Jim McCarthy, the Washington, D.C., crisis-management consultant hired by Augusta National evidently did not grasp this dynamic of pseudo-events when he said: "It seems obvious to me… [END OF PREVIEW]

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