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Manufacturing Reality

Paris Hilton and the American Cannibal

In our continuing series, a profile of the pornographer who put Paris Hilton in your living room, and a fascinating look at “pseudo-events” in our culture and the media that can’t get enough of them.

If you have a problem with reality TV, chances are it’s the word “reality” that puts the bug up your ass. For many good citizens of the global media matrix, the use of that word is a bit like George W. Bush’s calling himself a “uniter, not a divider.” You know it’s not exactly true, perhaps even deliberately false, but the label creates its own pseudo-reality that must be dealt with on annoyingly elusive terms.

There’s nothing real about reality TV. The events are predetermined, the participants are carefully selected to create particular dynamics, the narrative is often story-boarded in advance, and the drama that makes it to your television has been manipulated and shaped for your viewing pleasure. Yet, there’s nothing absolutely unreal about reality TV, either. The people who appear on the shows are not celebrities or actors but come from all walks of life, their personalities are genuine, and they really do contort themselves through the social, physical, and mental tests we cheer or jeer at home. If the tension, conflict, and story are contrived, an argument could be made that the nightly news uses many of the same techniques, applying music, narrative, stock footage, and editing onto unscripted events in order to entertain us with otherwise raw and perhaps even boring information.

Exactly why reality is blurred in this way, and for whose benefit, was a mystery to me until I talked to Kevin Blatt, the pornographer best known for launching Paris Hilton’s sex video into millions of living rooms. Blatt, also known by the moniker KB, recently got into the reality TV business as a producer, having made a cross-genre jump he sees as little more than a sidestep over an invisible line. “Both industries have their share of pussies, assholes, and dicks,” he deadpans. Talking to him about his lengthy experience in porn and his more recent taste of reality TV, you can quickly see the parallels. There’s always been a whiff of pornography to reality TV—voyeuristic in nature, arguably exploitative, occasionally lurid. You wonder how the people on screen can do what they’re doing. You can’t help but watch. You lose patience with the complexities of normal sitcoms or the heaviness of the evening news, seeking the easy release found in cheap thrills of human degradation.

But it was when Blatt described the machinations and motivations behind celebrity sex tapes, and in particular his behind-the-scenes story of Paris Hilton’s foray into reality TV porn, that the nature and purpose of reality TV became more explicit to me. The story began when he described what he’d been doing with Paris Hilton’s box.
 

The Accidental Pornographer

On Feb. 2, 2006, the Los Angeles Times reported that the contents of a storage locker containing some of Paris Hilton’s personal belongings, including revealing photographs and diary accounts of intimate thoughts, wild parties, celebrity encounters, and sexual escapades, had become the property of David Hans Schmidt. Described as the “sultan of sleaze” for his dealings in celebrity porn, Schmidt once peddled nude photos of Amber Frey, the girlfriend of Scott Peterson (sentenced to death for murdering his pregnant wife, Lacy). Schmidt bought the contents of Paris Hilton’s box for $2,775 at an auction, after Hilton apparently failed to keep up with her storage fees. Recognizing the gold mine he’d come across, Schmidt said he planned to sell the contents to interested parties, and was expecting the bidding to reach $20 million. According to those reports, Paris Hilton considered the items illegally seized and felt distraught and victimized by the exploitation of her privacy.

Kevin Blatt began negotiations with Schmidt on behalf of a group of European investors in January of this year. According to Blatt, his clients were less interested in the contents of Paris Hilton’s box than in securing her attention, hoping to work out a deal to attach her name to a casino they wanted to build. (Within three months those clients had dropped their plans, and Blatt was representing new investors.) To me, it seemed like a strange way to go about proposing a business deal with a potential partner, but Blatt was indifferent as to whether their goals made sense or would ever provide him with a payoff. His own involvement in the deal was in part a ploy to keep his name attached to Paris Hilton and garner media attention for himself and his various business projects. I realized that I was beginning my initiation into an upside-down world where publicity and news, not to mention reality, are never what they appear.

Blatt, 37 years old, calls himself an accidental pornographer. Raised in a comfortable upper-middle class family in Cleveland, Ohio, he attended public school and played a lot of golf at the local country club. He worked a number of part-time jobs—repping aluminum siding, selling broadcast ads for the Howard Stern radio show, and even DJ’ing at a strip club, which gave him insight, he said, into the mindset of the “crazy females” he’d later meet in porn. Along the way, he developed the hunger of an industrious hustler. When his brother Darren, aka D-Money, moved out to California, Kevin Blatt followed him. D-Money’s job entailed cold-calling businesses to sell alarm systems, and he discovered that a number of ISP companies in his accounts were growing like crazy. Their CEOs were teenagers making money hand over fist, and their business was internet porn.

Carnie Wilson, the singer in Wilson Phillips, had just had her stomach stapled live on the internet. Why not, Blatt wondered, broadcast Houston’s labia surgery, too?It had to be illegal, Blatt figured, but it wasn’t. Soon, the two brothers were working for those teenagers, selling advertising and making deals in the interstices between adult websites, spam, spyware, and adult-related product companies. It was the late 1990s, the height of the internet boom. Although Blatt didn’t believe the party would last, as a marketer and PR hound, he found he had a knack for providing an articulate and disarming mainstream voice to an inherently scummy industry, as he put it. In 1999, a friend who’d made a mint in the porn industry rented a cruise ship to host a fin-de-siècle Bacchanalian revelry on the high seas. With sex shows on every deck, it was a “different kind of Love Boat,” Blatt says. Early one morning after another debauched all-nighter, Blatt found himself hanging over the rails next to the porn star Houston, famous for the Houston 500—a mass gang-bang she organized for self-promotion. Hung over, seasick, and exhausted, they chatted about business. Like all the porn stars Blatt knew, Houston was talkative, needy, and self-obsessed. Soon she was telling him about her imminent labioplasty. Blatt asked what a labioplasty was, and Houston explained she was going to have surgery to, as Blatt phrased it, make her “pussy lips smaller.”

Carnie Wilson, the singer in Wilson Phillips, had just had her stomach stapled live on the internet. Why not, Blatt wondered, broadcast Houston’s labia surgery, too? Radio and talk shows wouldn’t be able to resist. As he put it to me, “You know how the media is—the media loves shit like this.” It was then, standing at the rail of the cruise ship, that Blatt had an epiphany into his own life: “I realized I could become the P.T. Barnum of pussy.”
 

1 Night in Paris

It turned out fewer customers were willing to watch a labioplasty than Blatt, Houston, or the backers at fetishhotel.com expected. Blatt was undaunted by the event’s lack of success—his name was now out there, he’d made it onto the Howard Stern show, and people began to see him as a player. Blatt was soon approached by Ian Eisenberg, whose father was a pioneer in the phone-sex industry, and Roger Vadocz, president of the Seattle-based porn company Marvad. They told Blatt they had a new tape of a party girl named Paris Hilton, heiress to the Hilton fortune—ever heard of her? Blatt realized he’d run into her before. “I met this bitch the other night,” he told them. “She fell out of this car with Erica, a Penthouse Pet I know.” Paris Hilton was known around the clubs as a super-wealthy party girl. At the time, Blatt had no idea she would become the next “it” girl.

Eisenberg and Vadocz wanted Blatt to be their publicity frontman. Vadocz owned a website named sexbrat.com that was plugging a short clip of the video which showed, in green-tinted night vision, blurry sex acts between Paris Hilton and her former boyfriend Rick Salomon, then-husband of Shannen Doherty of Beverly Hills 90210 fame. Blatt knew he could pick up the phone, call Howard Stern’s producer and get on the show, so he worked out a quick deal with sexbrat.com where every time he said the website’s name on the air, he got a thousand dollars; and every time Howard Stern said the name, Blatt got two thousand. Blatt sent me a clip of the tape [WMA clip here]. “You’ll laugh your fucking ass off: I said it 28 times.” He worked the name sexbrat.com into nearly every answer on the air.

Eisenberg and Vadocz wanted to start a bidding war for the Paris video through the mainstream media and generate publicity for sexbrat.com. But as front man, Blatt soon found himself in a legal quagmire. According to Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 110, Section 2257 of the U.S. Code—known in the porn industry as Law 2257—any performer depicted having sex on a commercially sold tape must consent to its release. Since neither Paris Hilton nor Rick Salomon had given their consent, the video was unshowable, although clips managed to leak out into the internet. Meanwhile, Rick Salomon was being sued for $10 million by the Hilton family, who claimed that he’d deliberately released the tape and that Paris was underage when it was filmed. Salomon in turn tried to sue Blatt, believing him to be the mastermind of the tape’s release. Lacking the money for a lawyer and scared shitless, Blatt spent months scrambling out of windows to avoid being served.

“Did I stage it? No way. You can’t stage something that perfect. When she stole the DVD off that newsstand…you can’t ask for better press.”It was a Mexican stand-off until the Hiltons dropped their lawsuit and Salomon and Blatt finally met and worked out a deal. According to Blatt, Salomon had decided that, since the tape had been stolen from his collection by his roommate and he was being maligned around the world as a sleazebag, he may as well profit from the experience. He released a second tape of much better quality than the night-goggles version and sold it to a company called Red Light District. Blatt’s publicity prowess the first time round got him retained. In addition to Howard Stern, Blatt even appeared on 20/20 this time [WMV clip here], the go-to expert for discussing the hot-topic issue of celebrity porn tapes. 1 Night in Paris would go on to sell “some 600,000 copies,” according to the New York Times. To say that Blatt produced the video was, it turns out, a distinct overstatement, but he was instrumental in getting the word out. As Blatt says, “It was Rick Salomon’s dick and my mouth, but not necessarily in that order.”
 

The P.T. Barnum of Pussy

When Blatt described himself as the P.T. Barnum of pussy, his insight wasn’t some throwaway reference. The more I thought about it, the more I realized he had a savvy understanding of the game he was playing, and the nature of that game was different and more complex than it appeared.

The real P.T. Barnum was perhaps the first American showman who understood the alchemy of marketing through publicity and promotion. In the 1800s, Barnum created a series of traveling circuses and freak shows that included such memorable real-life characters as General Tom Thumb and the Fiji Mermaid. Barnum constantly pushed the extreme bounds of what had been seen before by the public in order to generate more attention and interest and draw customers. It didn’t matter whether newspapers derided him as notorious or heralded him as a great entertainer. Slander was fine. Even lawsuits helped. Every time Barnum was discussed in the news, the papers always mentioned his shows—free advertising to him, the type of publicity money couldn’t buy.

When Blatt was trying to promote 1 Night in Paris, he ran into a problem Barnum would have recognized. Although David Joseph, the president of Red Light District, was willing to spend big bucks to advertise the DVD, Blatt soon discovered that no one would take their money because of the notoriety of the subject matter. He tried innocuous billboards and radio spots but was unsuccessful in securing any contracts.

In the end, two forces helped get the word out. The first was the mainstream media’s willingness to report on the story again and again. As Blatt puts it, “You need to give them what they want—something very salacious, very inside, that scoops everybody else.” The second factor was Paris Hilton herself. According to Blatt, “She was her own worst enemy. Every day there’d be something stupid that would happen to Paris and she’d be her own news. The more she wished bad juju on the tape, the worse shit happened to her. One morning, someone sent me an anonymous picture of her leaving Hustler Hollywood with a copy of her own DVD in her hand. I was like, ‘This is genius, this should be in every newspaper in the country,’ so I sent it out. Did I stage it? No way. You can’t stage something that perfect. When she stole the DVD off that newsstand…you can’t ask for better press.”

In the process, Blatt helped acquaint the adult website business with the old adage that all mainstream publicity is good publicity. A March 19, 2006, New York Times article called, “Sex, Lawsuits, and Celebrities Caught on Tape,” proves the point. The article is about a lawsuit brought by rock star Kid Rock against Red Light’s David Joseph to prevent the release of a new tape showing Rock having sex with groupies. In the process of rehashing the two-month-old story and naming (or advertising) half a dozen other celebrity sex tapes, the article gives ample publicity to Red Light, describing it as the “leading player in a lucrative niche of the pornography industry: a purveyor of explicit videos of famous people, sold to an eager public, often over the vehement objections of the participants.”

No advertising copywriter would dare dream of putting it better. I asked Blatt about the story. “I’m pissed they [the New York Times] didn’t call me,” he said, “but I’m happy David got the attention, since he obviously needed publicity for Red Light.” He went on to describe the rationale behind David Joseph’s legal battle with Kid Rock. “It behooves a guy like David to spend 50 or 100K on legal fees tangling with Kid Rock because the press they’re getting is immeasurable. Every time they mention Red Light District putting it out, there’s always a caveat saying, the same people who produced the Paris Hilton sex tape. Even though he can’t sell a single copy of Kid Rock, he’s selling 5,000 copies a week of Paris.” Though Joseph didn’t respond to my requests to confirm this amount, the Times quotes him saying he keeps “50,000 to 60,000 of these on hand because they’re still selling.”

As P.T. Barnum knew, even a lawsuit draws customers. To paraphrase and update Marshall McLuhan, the media isn’t the message—the media is co-conspirator in the marketing strategy. Whether it’s witting or unwitting in its conspiracy is the question.
 

Famous for Being Famous

As Blatt suggested and the Times article explained, 1 Night in Paris wasn’t exactly the end of Paris Hilton’s life. “Ms. Hilton tried to stop distribution of the tape, although its notoriety paradoxically catapulted her to an even higher orbit of fame, establishing her as a kind of postmodern celebrity, leading to perfume deals, a memoir, and the covers of Vanity Fair and W,” the Times wrote.

Because of U.S. Code 2257, the Kid Rock video will never be distributed without his permission. But what about Paris Hilton’s? According to the Times article, Paris Hilton receives profits from her sex tape. According to Blatt, “There’s no way of putting out the DVD unless Paris Hilton signed off on it.” Without connecting the dots explicitly, Blatt hints that the second video of Paris and Rick Salomon, the better-quality version, was produced subsequently, with both parties’ full cooperation, for mutual profit. “Put it this way,” Blatt says, “by looking at both tapes, I believe she’s aged somewhat since then, a different hair style, et cetera, more consistent with how she looked on [The Simple Life] than when she was 19.” (Ms. Hilton’s manager and agent were contacted several times to comment on this story but did not reply.)

Why would Paris Hilton allow the tape to be released? The easy supposition is that all people, even billionaire heiresses, like to make a little more money. The more complicated theory is that she needed something more important to her than money—celebrity. While Paris Hilton’s appearance on The Simple Life mocked her disconnection from the common folk, she seemed to share the common desire of reality TV participants for fame. With fame, the logic goes, comes more fame, as well as further appearances on TV, lines of print in the newspapers and tabloids, not to mention business opportunities, memoirs, and the like. The only thing shocking about that motivation is Paris Hilton’s apparent willingness to participate in her own public degradation. But then again, the payoff hasn’t been so bad, so maybe Paris is onto something. As Kevin Blatt might put it, the media loves this shit.

We talked about the fact that porn and reality TV can both be considered exploitative. Porn, he said, is moving more and more toward the model of reality TV. Staged reality is all the rage.It has been observed that people were once famous for their accomplishments but now tend to be famous because they’re famous. For most of us who lack the talent for achievements worthy of public notice, the easiest path to fame is through our own infamy and perhaps even humiliation. In that regard, reality TV is only too happy to provide an outlet. Appearances on Jeopardy may celebrate your intelligence, but an appearance on American Idol is more likely to celebrate your pathetic lack of talent. Then we get into shows like The Swan or Extreme Makeover, which celebrate your ugliness or deformity; The Biggest Loser, which celebrates your obesity; Black. White, which celebrates your racial ignorance; Cheaters, which celebrates your sordid infidelities; and Fear Factor, which celebrates your ability to endure extremes of grotesquerie and threat.

The further you’re willing to go, the more likely you will be famous. But, as Blatt says, “Unless you’re Omarosa, nobody really remembers you once the show is over. Same thing with porn. Houston obviously made a lasting impression. She did shit no other porn star did.”

Blatt embraced the idea of going further than anyone else when he crossed over to the reality TV industry. His initial foray was as executive producer for a TV pilot called American Cannibal that promised to put contestants through a much more extreme version of anything seen before on Survivor or Fear Factor. For Blatt, the show represented a chance to push the limits of acceptable TV and gain the free publicity the media’s only too happy to provide.

Blatt’s ability to play the media game is bolstered by a winning charm that makes him hard not to like even as he describes the ins and outs of the porn industry. In conversation Blatt generally sounds like an unusually intelligent frat boy; occasionally he cackles like the perverted uncle at your cousin’s wedding. We talked about the fact that porn and reality TV can both be considered exploitative. Porn, he said, is moving more and more toward the model of reality TV. Staged reality is all the rage. Websites that feature public voyeurism, amateurs having supposedly spontaneous sex, or professional porn stars dressing up like under-age teens are all highly popular. “Is it right?” Blatt asks. “No, but who am I to say one guy’s porn is disgusting? I’m a walking contradiction if I pass judgment on others. I don’t like what they do but under the law they have every right. A lot of porn I watch that’s deemed obscene by other people is nothing to me compared to eating cockroaches on Fear Factor.” Besides, he says, though kids hurt themselves in backyards imitating the faked reality of WWF wrestling, “You don’t see people renting porn movies and coming home and then doing a flying anal.”

I asked him to explain the flying anal, but I’ll spare you the details. Some things are best left to the professionals.
 

The 24/7, 500-Channel, Reality-Based World

As for American Cannibal, Blatt says the production was more than he bargained for. The shoot took place in organizational chaos, a contestant was injured, and the pilot has yet to be picked up by any of the networks or cable channels. Blatt’s lawyers don’t want him to talk about any of it. Adding to his headaches, a documentary crew he allowed to follow him over the course of the project (in the interest of gaining more publicity) is releasing a documentary about reality TV that includes footage of Blatt’s production at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Although he says it seemed a good idea at the time, Blatt, who’s never found publicity he didn’t like, is now concerned he will be portrayed in a less than flattering light. In the meantime, he’s got a high school reunion to go to, and he’s nervous about how his old friends and teachers in Cleveland will view his chosen career. On the other hand, he’s looking forward to showing off his 21-year-old girlfriend. (As if to show me what his old high school buddies will be in for, Blatt later emailed me half a dozen nude photos of her, much to my surprise.)

But if Blatt, Paris Hilton, David Joseph, Rick Salomon, Houston, and all the other people in this morality tale are getting what they’ve always wanted—money, exposure, fame, and further opportunities for same—then what about the media? What’s in it for them? Why do the Los Angeles Times or the New York Times, not to mention the major networks, the cable news shows, and the assortment of news magazines and tabloids treat this stuff like news? Do they want to make Paris Hilton, Omarosa, or Houston famous? Why help Rick Salomon and David Joseph sell more DVDs? Is the media suckered, co-dependent or forced to be complicit in some dark Noam Chomsky-type way?

Forty-five years ago, Daniel J. Boorstin wrote The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, in which he coined the term “pseudo-event” to describe what was increasingly passing for news in modern media. According to Boorstin, a pseudo-event is not spontaneous but has been planned or planted primarily for the purposes of being reported or reproduced. Indeed, its very success can be measured by how widely it gets reported. As Boorstin says, “The question, ‘Is it real?’ is less important than, ‘Is it newsworthy?’“ The pseudo-event’s reality is ambiguous but interest in the event is generated largely because of this ambiguity. Pseudo-events are more dramatic than real life, and their heightened emotional appeal helps make them the subject of wide discussion or debate to the point where knowledge of those pseudo-events becomes the way we determine whether someone is well-informed. Pseudo-events spawn other pseudo-events until they come to dominate our consciousness.

Celebrities, Boorstin notes, are human pseudo-events. They contain no information, importance, or reality, although they seem to, and are certainly based on real people. Their purpose is to generate more celebrity.Boorstin gives examples from politics (the news leak, presidential debates), human interest (the Lindbergh baby kidnapping), and even war. As a detailed example, he describes Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s triumphal return to the United States after being relieved of his command by President Truman. A parade to honor MacArthur was organized in Chicago, and a team of University of Chicago scientists was dispersed along the parade route to study the reactions of the crowd and compare what they were seeing in person to what would be shown on television. While the immediate “real” experience of standing along the parade route could best be described as boring and disappointing, television viewers were enthralled by the excitement, their experience of the event aided by camera angles and editing which conveyed an appropriately enlarged sense of history and drama. (Despite the disappointment of watching the event live, many present reported they were thrilled with the opportunity to be on television.)

Although Boorstin was talking about the news, he was prescient about the advent of reality TV. The excitement of being on reality TV is the fact that you are on television—the aim is celebrity. The actual experience is not as exciting as the appearance of the experience. In reality TV, days and nights of tedium are boiled down to one-hour segments containing more drama than was felt in real time. The end product in our living rooms is still real in a way, but the reality is ambiguous, and that is exactly the point.

When the show is reported on the news as though it really happened as depicted, the newsy-ness makes it feel even more real. The impact is such that being an informed citizen today means knowing what happened on last night’s episode of Survivor or American Idol. Meanwhile, the existence of reality TV spawns other reality TV shows like a virus, infecting all the television channels in your cable box.

Blatt no doubt found the leap to reality TV easy because of his comfort with generating pseudo-events in his publicity work for the celebrity sex-tape industry. Celebrities, Boorstin notes, are human pseudo-events. They contain no information, importance, or reality, although they seem to, and are certainly based on real people. Their purpose is to generate more celebrity. Omarosa’s outbursts on reality TV, Paris Hilton’s sex tape, her hacked cell phone, and her storage box are all pseudo-events of highly questionable reality, yet they are still reported on diligently by the newsmakers.

The irony of the very term “newsmaker” becomes clear, and we can be comforted by the fact that the media really is guilty and we’re victims of a conspiracy after all. Somewhere Michael Moore is smiling. Not quite true, Boorstin says: “We cannot say we are being fooled. It is not entirely inaccurate to say that we are being ‘informed.’…Our problem is the harder to solve because it is created by people working honestly and industriously at respectable jobs. It is not created by demagogues or crooks, by conspiracy or evil purpose.…It is the daily product of men of good will. The media must be fed! The people must be informed!”

In comparison, Boorstin points out that while propaganda is the tool of choice in authoritarian societies, pseudo-events dominate where there is a free market in information and ideas. “While a pseudo-event is an ambiguous truth, propaganda is an appealing falsehood. Pseudo-events thrive on our honest desire to be informed, to have all the facts, and even to have more facts than there really are…Propaganda oversimplifies experience, pseudo-events over-complicate it.”

What harm is done if Katie Couric talks at length about The Apprentice on a morning news show and we find ourselves talking about it in turn at the water cooler? I think the danger is that we lose sight of the truth as, little by little, pseudo-events come to infect what we think of as real. The fact that Paris Hilton’s sex tape may not have been “real” matters no more than whether the men of Grammy-award winning Milli Vanilli actually sang any of their songs, Barry Bonds earned his six MVPs on steroids or au-naturel, or pseudo-memoirist James Frey went to jail for hours or months.

The sense of threat is undermined by the pervasiveness of the form, the innocuousness of the content, and the good intentions of the participants. Who’s to blame?But the tendency toward blurring reality is insidious, and there is a subtle cheapening of our experience. Newscasters who suffuse their reporting with drama can undermine the events they are describing. Reviewers who over-hype films, books, or plays have something in common with financial analysts who over-hype stocks—both affect the marketplace and influence consumers eager to be drawn in.

Today’s agile and widespread media provides an extremely available marketplace for pseudo-events, and we risk having our reality determined by those who understand the means of pseudo-event production. Famously, a member of the Bush administration once derided pragmatists outside the inner circle as residing in the reality-based world. The implication was that the Bush team didn’t need to worry about facts since it could shape reality as it desired. What are the search for WMD or the war on terror but pseudo-events which force us to debate and follow the very terms set out by the argument? There are plenty of other insidious examples, like Enron’s pseudo-subsidiaries, or the U.S. Department of Defense’s paid placement of positive news stories in Iraqi newspapers, or the U.S. Department of Education’s payments for positive news stories domestically, not to mention the practice of American industries to produce pseudo-news reports for wholesale use by the mainstream media. We could also mention the reportedly staged rescue of Pvt. Jessica Lynch, and the heroic death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan—which turned out to have been due to friendly fire, a discrepancy Tillman’s father explained in the Washington Post as being the result of scripting “by the people in the positions of authority.”

Despite the outrage whenever one of these versions of reality is revealed to be less than completely accurate, there is always something new in the news to replace it, even if that is just reporters reporting on what they are reporting—a pseudo-event theme Jon Stewart makes fun of repeatedly on The Daily Show. How exciting or meaningful was it when Terry Schiavo lay in a vegetative state in Florida or when Cindy Sheehan camped outside Crawford, Texas, waiting for President Bush to explain the war in Iraq? And yet, somehow these pseudo-events consume our consciousness, force-marching us through the muddle of their complications while producing information of dubious worth. When such topics have run their course, plenty of others will replace them, fed by the hard-working men and women of the reality-based media. It doesn’t matter what politics you hold, or how you feel about the aims of the propagators, we share reality like we do the environment, and when it is threatened we all feel the effects.

The conspiracy is that there is no conspiracy. The sense of threat is undermined by the pervasiveness of the form, the innocuousness of the content, and the good intentions of the participants. Who’s to blame? According to Boorstin, we are. “While we have given others great power to deceive us…they could not have done so without our collaboration. If there is a crime of deception being committed in America today, each of us is the principal, and others are only accessories.”

Then again, maybe we just like to watch TV.