Pseudo Events in Politics

Sociology in Communications

by Kleo Nikolaidis  February 2010

Society is a term that many intellectuals have pondered upon. How are society’s’ beliefs and opinions formed? What factors influence society? Who or what has power over the public? In the end, all of them conclude that there are many variables in society that enjoy “playing God” over the people. However in this paper the main variable that will be illustrated is the Media and its power over politics. In particular, this paper will emphasize on the existence of pseudo-events in politics which have the control to shape the way society thinks.

The term pseudo event was first acknowledged by a sociologist by the name of David J. Boorstin.

Mr. Boorstin explained that a pseudo event is a preplanned staged event that occurs to engender to favorable and positive media coverage. It’s intended to be a self fulfilling prophecy and its relation to the underlying reality of the situation is quite ambiguous.(1) Pseudo events are also called synthetic news because its sole purpose of the media publicity has little or no function in real life. (Blackwell reference) That’s why pseudo events are expected and announced in advance so media can prepare for the (usually positive) reporting. Unlike genuine events, pseudo events are almost always optimistic and always talk about the good qualities and leadership techniques of the politician and how the country is in good hands. Genuine events such as natural or ecological disasters or crime are connected with negative criticism.

However that is not always the case, in general, there are some characteristics that can define the purpose of a pseudo event. First of all, it can take a normal newsworthy event and make it into a dramatic soap opera. Also, can be repeated at will and thus their impression can be reinforced. In addition its’ price tag is pretty large, for a pseudo event politicians may pay millions of dollars just to get their message across to society. That is why they are advertised in advance, and rerun in order to get money’s worth. Its occurrence is planned for our convenience and it spawns other pseudo events. (2) This is partly because every kind of pseudoevent (being planned) tends to become ritualized, with a protocol and rigidity all its own. As each type of pseudoevent acquires this rigidity, pressures arise to produce other, derivative, forms of pseudo-event which are more fluid,, more tantalizing, and more interestingly ambiguous. (11)

The first televised presidential debate was between Nixon and Kennedy. Though Nixon was considered the better radio personality and was leading in the polls prior to the first debate, Kennedy’s movie-star image so outshone Nixon’s sweaty, frumpy one that the election was essentially decided. (3) Society had forgotten to decide and think critically about who was better qualified for the Presidency which made the situation a lot more dramatic and ambiguous.

Nowadays, in the 21st century it is believed that pseudo events have started to appear more and more after former President Bush started reinforcing his political campaign with numerous pseudo events. For instance, Bush’s extensive domestic travel schedule in his quest for popular support, and some have examined the media coverage received by these local events, demonstrating that the visits tend to generate extensive and positive coverage by the local press. (4) Not only that but he continued using pseudo events through pseudo events even after he was elected for president. After years it has appeared to the surface that almost all of the incidents in the war against Iraq were scams and preplanned dramatized events. Events that were made up for the governments’ convenience, to impose power and manipulate an instable inferior country. Even after 3 weeks of the war it was clear that Iraq didn’t posses any weapons of mass destruction. (5) Years after, specifically November 28th, 2003 Bush made a surprise Thanksgiving visit to U.S. troops in Iraq, posed with fake turkey to show just how thankful he really was. Two hours later he was on his way to good old America. (6)

However, just because Bush doesn’t live in the White House anymore doesn’t mean that pseudo events just abruptly stopped existing. On the contrary, the media and the new Mr. President have caught onto the exhilarating game of playing make believe. Obama for his campaign used his own pseudo events in many situations but the most popular pseudo event that stands out is of course the pre inaugural concert he organized.  It took place on the 18th of January at the Lincoln Memorial in Downtown Washington. For this event $50 million were spent to accommodate and protect a crowd of almost 2.5 million spectators and participants. Apart from the major media coverage because when Obama made his speech he talked about a united nation which will overcome all obstacles as long as hope is in their hearts, change will come. “As I prepare to assume the presidency, yours are the voices I will take with me every day I walk into that Oval Office — the voices of men and women who have different stories but hold common hopes; who ask only for what was promised us as Americans — that we might make of our lives what we will and see our children climb higher than we did” (7) The event was a concert with many famous singers and celebrities such as U2, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, Shakira, Bruce Springsteen and many more. (8) It is very important to emphasize that this event is a pseudo event because from the beginning it was intended to be a self fulfilling prophecy. A participant of this miraculous event writes in his blog “Spectators could have seen and heard the concert much better in greater comfort in warm homes and hotel rooms. But 400,000 gathered at the Lincoln Memorial and the Mall to bear witness and express confidence in a better future, and now they can say they were there.” (9)

However America is not the only country that fixates on pseudo events to create illusions on society. Even in Greece the politicians have put their masks on towards society to create the impression of a perfect government. One pseudo event, in the realms of pretend world in Greece, is the debates that take place right before the elections. According to the proceedings decided, there will be two rounds of questions with three topics each, while the journalists will also be separated into three panels.

At the end of each round of questions, the six party leaders have the ability to pose one question each to another party leader, but without the ability to comment on the response. (10) However they have a time limit of approximately 60 to 90 seconds; which means that the politicians are already aware of the topics that will be asked and they are well prepared to answer in favor of their party and “squash” their opponent. All politicians take advantage of this and try to improve their image by memorizing facts and insulting the other party’s views. Also a television debate between candidates can be planned to be more suspenseful (for example, by reserving questions which are then popped suddenly) than a casual encounter or consecutive formal speeches planned by each separately. (11) Once Mr.Papandreou won the elections in Octomber he immediately tried to change Greeces negative image that has haunted Greece for many years. During a press conference on March 6th 2009 the Prime Minister addressed the European Union about the Green Development Policy. In his speech, he stressed that the present crisis was directly linked to the end of an economic model that promoted development without guaranteeing viability and prosperity of Greece’s society. (13) Amongst his numerous proposals he emphasized on the Green Development Policy. However many believe that it is all just an illusion, so the European Union cuts Greece some slack. Mr. Papandreou believes that to prove to the European Union that Greece has obtained a new found image Greece has to mimic the Western Civilized way. In that way Greece will be able to “fit in” with the European Union and its regulations.

These are just some of the many games politicians and the media play. Society needs to be able to recognize pseudo events especially when they stand out. Its mandatory that society does not get influenced and manipulated into believing the illusions the media and politics create. Hopefully, with the help of examples of the past, society will understand what pseudo events in politics are and will have the ability to think critically and not get caught in the Medias make-believe web.


1.The Image Daniel J Boorstin Was 9/11 the ultimate pseudo event?



5. Was 9/11 the ultimate pseudo event?