The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-events in America - Chapter 5 - Section I-III Summary & Analysis

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Chapter 5 - Section I-III Summary and Analysis

In chapter five, Boorstin asserts that we have made a shift from moral value to commercial or monetary value. He states, "God himself becomes not a power but an image." He continues into section I and discusses the abundance of images and outlines their particular characteristics. The first characteristic of the image is that it is "synthetic". This means that it does not arrive spontaneously, it is created for a particular purpose. The second aspect of the image is that it is "believable". The image must "overshadow" the thing from which it was derived, but must not exceed the limits of credulity.

The third aspect of the image is that it is "passive". Boorstin suggests that the image acts as a concrete reality that already exists as opposed to being a work in progress. There is no work required in order to attain the ideals espoused by the image, it is assumed they already exist. Thus, the image becomes a replacement for the ideal. The fourth aspect of an image is that it be "vivid" and "concrete". It must be vivid enough that people experience the image as being more real than the original. Concreteness allows for less work than would be required of the public to deal with abstraction.

The fifth aspect of the image is that it is "simplified". In other words, it must be easier to deal with than the thing that it represents. Again, this allows people to be more passive in apprehending the image. The sixth aspect of the image is that it is "ambiguous". The image must exist in a kind of liminal state "between expectation and reality". This allows it to be exciting or mysterious in its own right and thus capable of producing other pseudo-events of equally ambiguous character.

Boorstin begins section II discussing the differences between "ideal-thinking" and "image-thinking". Unlike images, he suggests that ideals arose spontaneously through "tradition, history, or by God", are not made simple, are direct, and are active in the sense that they pull people forward. Boorstin then describes how images were used as tools to distinguish one product from another, and thus "branding" was created. This is also a kind of pseudo-event because it shifts the focus from the product to the name that it carries.

In section III Boorstin discusses how advertising arose out of the use of image and branding. Advertising, Boorstin asserts, is a "classic example of the pseudo-event". In particular he focuses on the advertising successes of PT Barnum and his museum. Barnum advertised his "mermaid" using colored handbills portraying a beautiful woman that was half fish. In reality he had a dead fish connected to a monkey head. Boorstin states that Barnum's brilliance was in realizing how much the public enjoyed being deceived.

This section contains 472 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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