Daniel Boorstin,

The Image, or,

What Happened to the American Dream,

Weidenfeld & Nicholson,

London, 1961


This is an important book from an important author written and published at a convenient year. Rather than a general survey, it seeks to lay the blame for America's self delusion on the Graphic Revolution - or "Man's ability to make, preserve, transmit, and disseminate precise images..."




Introduction, Extravagant Expectations


1. From News Gathering to News Making: A Flood of Pseudo-Events

2. From Hero to Celebrity: The Human pseudo-Event

3. From Traveller to Tourist: The Lost Art of Travel

4. From Shapes to Shadows: Dissolving Forms

5. From Ideal to Image: The Search for Self-Fulfilling Prophesies

6. From the American Dream to American Illusions : The Self-Deceiving Magic of Prestige

Suggestions for further reading, chapter by chapter at the end of the book.


Boorstin's list of characteristics of the image is fascinating albeit in the context of his discussion of corporate identity.

1. The image is synthetic. It is planned: created especially to serve a purpose, to make a certain kind of impression...

2. An image is believable. It serves no purpose if people do not believe it. In their own minds they must make it stand for the institution or the person imaged. Yet if an image is to be vivid and to succeed popularly in overshadowing its original, it must not outrage the ordinary rules of common sense...

3. An image is passive. Since the image is already supposed to be congruent with reality, the producer of the image (namely the corporation) is expected to fit into the image - rather than to strive towards it. The consumer of the image (namely the viewer of the corporate image : a potential client or or customer) is also supposed somehow to fit into it. All these relations are essentially passive.

4. An image is vivid and concrete. It often serves its purpose best by appealing to the senses.. The image is limited. It must be more graspable than any specific list of objectives. It is not enough if the product, if the man, or the institution has many good qualities appropriate to it. One or a few must be selected for vivid portrayal.

5. An image is simplified. In order to exclude undesired and undesirable aspects, an image must be simpler than the object it represents.

6. An image is ambiguous. It floats somewhere between the imagination and the senses, between expectation and reality. In another way, too, it is ambiguous, for it must not offend.


p.194 "Strictly speaking, there is no way to unmask an image. An image, like any other pseudo-event, becomes all the more interesting with our every effort to de-bunk it. For this reason some of the most effective advertising nowadays consists of circumstantial descriptions of how the advertising images were contrived : how tests were devised, how trademarks were designed, and how the corporate cosmetics were applied. The stage machinery, the process of fabricating and projecting the image, fascinate us. We are all interested in watching a skilful feat of magic; we are still more interested in looking behind the scenes and seeing precisely how it was made to seem the lady was sawed in half. The everyday images which flood our experience have this advantage over the tricks of magic ; even after we have been taken behind the scenes, we can still enjoy the pleasure of deception. Paradoxically, too, the more we know about the tricks of image building, about the calculation, ingenuity, and effort that have gone into a particular image, the more satisfaction we have from the image itself. The elaborate contrivance proves to us that we are really justified in being taken in."