Threat Level Midnight Forever

The 2023 Doomsday Clock. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images.)

Dear Reader (Or should I say “The Readers I hold dear”?)

Question for you: What are the most successful publicity stunts in history? If you Google around asking various versions of this question, the results are pretty disappointing. I mean, they’re interesting. I was particularly intrigued by the failed McWhopper campaign, which I had completely forgotten about.

But none of that is what I had in mind. I’m thinking of what Daniel Boorstin dubbed “pseudo-events,” which he defined as events “produced by a communicator with the sole purpose of generating media attention and publicity.” A pseudo-event is “not spontaneous, but comes about because someone has planned, planted, or incited it.” And their “immediate purpose” is to be reported or reproduced by the media.

I think we increasingly live in a kind of pseudo-reality—and I’m not talking about VR stuff—because so much of what we talk and argue about takes place in a kind of digital funhouse of mirrors. Basically, whole ecosystems of pseudo-events ping off of other pseudo-events and commentary about reactions and pseudo-reactions to reactions of other people’s reactions. Our screens are the digital walls of Plato’s cave.

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