In the scientific literature it is difficult to find a useful concept for the news craze. In Media Matters (1994) John Fiske uses the word 'media event'. These kinds of events have their own reality and their own patterns. "The term media event is an indication that in a postmodern world we can no longer rely on a stable relationship or clear distinction between a 'real' event and its mediated representation. A media event, then, is not mere a representation of what happened, but it has its own reality, which gathers up into itself the reality of the event that may or may not have preceded it." The media construct a 'hyperreality', in which a struggle is going on about the interpretation and meanings of what is going on in the world.
This kind 'hyperreality' applies to all forms of communication. According to an article in "
Wired Magazine," by R.
Rothenberg, no one understands how, or even if, advertising works. The author asserts that the system of production, distribution, sales, and communications is so large and complex, that it is impossible to isolate the effectiveness of a single element. He quotes Bill
Bernbach, a prominent figure in the advertising industry, who said, "advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art." Rothenberg, goes on to write that because advertising is so complex, advertising agencies have exploited the confusion by urging clients to buy more pages, more spots, more billboards and by creating more gimmicks. He also quotes researcher historian Daniel
Boorstin who has labeled these gimmicks as " pseudo-events" - news conferences, press releases, and stunts that "someone has planned, planted, or incited" to fill the print space and broadcast time. Other such gimmicks include copywriting, market research, psychological research
VALS), sales promotions, and public relations. All of the gimmicks were, and are, intended to distract people from the fact that the results derived from advertising, the media, are unverifiable.
According to researcher Daniel Boorstin, a pseudo event is an event planned for the purpose of producing dramatic images that be disseminated as reported. These aren't typical events in that they exist only to be publicized: press conferences, televised debates, photo opportunities. A pseudo-event has four characteristics. (1) It is planned rather than spontaneous. (2) It is planned primarily for the immediate purpose of being reported. (3) Its relation to the underlying situation is ambiguous. (4) It is intended to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Thus, if the president of a financially sound bank holds a press conference in order to get out the word that his bank is sound, the announcement is planned and held for the sake of being reported, but it is not a pseudo-event. The statement's relation to underlying reality is one of truth. But if the bank is fundamentally unsound and the bank president is trying to prevent a justifiable run, then the news conference would be a pseudo-event, in Boorstin's sense.
It is obvious, too, that the value of such an event to its actors depends on its being photographed and reported in newspapers, magazines, newsreel, on radio, and over television. It is the report that gives the event its force in the minds of potential customers. The power to make a reportable event is thus the power to make experience. One is reminded of Napoleon's apocryphal reply to his general, who objected that circumstances were unfavorable to a proposed campaign: "Bah, I make circumstances!" The modern public relations counsel -- and he is, of course, only one of many twentieth century creators of pseudo-events-- has come close to fulfilling Napoleon's idle boast. "The counsel on public relations," Mr. Bernays explains, "not only knows what news value is, but knowing it, he is in a position to make news happen. He is a creator of events."
The intriguing feature of the modern situation, however, comes precisely from the fact that the modern newsmakers are not God. The news they make happen, the events they create, are somehow not quite real. There remains a tantalizing difference between the man-made and God-made events.
Still, the media, realizing its force to penetrate into the mass-conscience, "produces" events that are consciously integrative and deliberately constructed with a view of orchestrating a consensus. They are public rituals, emotional occasions. The broadcast does not include the assassinations but the ensuing funerals; not social dramas but their ritualized outcomes.
Fiske prefers to use the term 'discourse': "the continuous process of making sense and of circulating it socially." (p. 6) This is an ongoing process, in the minds of all people as well as in the media or politics. For this struggle he uses the metaphor of a river of discourses. "At times the flow is comparatively calm; at others, the undercurrents, which always disturb the depths under even the calmest surface, erupt into turbulence. Rocks and promontories can turn its currents into eddies and counter currents, can change its directions or even reverse its flow." (p.7) According to Fiske media events are the "sites of maximum discursive visibility and maximum turbulence." (p. 8) Media events are indicators of deep cultural crises in society: the O.J. Simpson case is about racism, Hill & Thomas and Bobbitt are about gender.
Many theories exist to tell us how we should behave within certain circumstances, but that the processes that determine the outcomes of our behavior are so complex that we can only, at best, attempt to make general predictions. The more we feed our cravings the more we demand. As Rothenberg wrote, "The less we have known about how advertising and the media work, the more advertising and media there have been." The media has huge impact on our society. Certainly the media has been as Rothenberg suggests, "as familiar and invisible as the air we breathe" We allow the media to permeate every aspect of our lives. It is impossible to go anywhere and avoid what so-called pseudo-events, events that are often fabricated to "sell" the media.
Whether it is the alleged sexual exploits of President Clinton or the ongoing controversy about O.J. Simpson's innocence or guilt.
By the nature and cost of television, the players have traditionally been big and powerful. Perhaps no different from the wealthy ruling classes and the church of the pre-modern era. However, with the proliferation of the Internet, we have created a worldwide democratic forum possibly taking the place of previous media. Then again, possibly only giving the illusion of being democratic.
As information grows exponentially we may, by necessity, rely on the similar sources of information. We may send out our automated agents to sources that ultimately are being controlled by similar pre-modern era powerbrokers.
Throughout history societies have had leaders and followers. Invariably, the leaders possessed the power and dictated the preferred behaviors and attitudes of the followers to insure their loyalty and servitude. Knowledge has always played a critical role in determining who had the power. In the pre-modern era, the church, in whatever form it manifested itself, had always been the keeper and purveyor of knowledge. Only the educated had the power. The source of all knowledge came primarily from the church guided and directed by people dedicated to formal study and teaching with a strong desire to maintain their power base.
Prior to Johannes Gutenberg's printing press, approximately 1450, learning took place primarily through the spoken word. Books were hand-written by scribes, they were expensive, and literacy was limited to the wealthy or those within the church. By maintaining illiteracy those in power found it easier to manipulate the masses.
Upon the growing availability of printed materials, more and more people had the opportunity to become educated. The more educated people became, the more people shared ideas, the more those ideas spread across geographic boundaries, the more cultures redefined themselves. History is a constant record, the accuracy of which is certainly questionable, of how cultures have changed. By the twentieth century, the modern era, improvements in transportation, communication, and technology again helped societies to redefine themselves..
Universal literacy is growing. We view events and access information in real time. But that does not mitigate the fact that the foundation of our education, and now, the mass invasiveness of the media, determine the control of information and how we process that information.
Pseudo-events are often associated with media-hypes. Under certain conditions the daily news can turn into very intensive publicity waves with their own dynamics. People can hyperventilate, but the media also show a sort of hyperventilation: an agitated and intensive breathing, caused by fears and anxiety, but at the same time intensifying these fears. The result can be a spiral movement, intensifying the media hype.
Mediahype' not only refers to hyperventilation, it also contains the original American word, the hype, used for the blown-up and mostly commercial publicity for new bestsellers or blockbusters. Hype in that sense stands for planted or organized, at least not spontaneous publicity by using press conferences, interviews or luxurious press…