I was in a thrift store over the weekend, and found myself reading an old battered paperback copy of Daniel Boorstin's The Image, originally published in 1961. Boorstin, a historian and later librarian of Congress, argues that the American public has come to "expect too much of the world" — "how much news there is, how many heroes there are, how often masterpieces are made" — and that since the world's actual supply of news, heroes, masterpieces, etc. will never measure up, capital has produced a never-ending flurry of meaningless "pseudo-events" to meet the public's demand. The prime example of a pseudo-event in the world of journalism, for example, is the "think piece":
These think pieces have lately been accompanied in the journalistic vernacular by the "hot take." The term — used derisively to refer to articles making purposely outlandish arguments backed up by little to no reporting or research — was one of the words that defined 2014, according to our own Alex Abad-Santos, and even got a full etymological history from the New Republic's Elspeth Reeve in April.
The term itself, Reeve explains, is fairly recent, emerging only in the last three or four years. But as Boorstin shows, the phenomenon it describes, as well as the backlash to it, is much older.
For example, a reporter working on a slow news day, lacking big events to cover, could write up a short "think piece" excerpting familiar thoughts from a 53-year-old book and tying them into the present moment.
Oh my god. What have I become?