The Winter Meetings and Pseudo-Events

Just because you're here doesn't mean it's really happening.

In 1962, historian Daniel Boorstin coined the term "pseudo-event," which refers to packaged happenings like press conferences, events that generate "news" without being spontaneous. That's the winter meetings in a nutshell. We are in the Opryland hotel, which is a low-rent Disneyland with lazy river rides ($10) that don't go anywhere and lack even a single robot pirate. The ability to talk with people in and around the game is quite valuable if you're in the business of writing and commenting about the game, but that could as easily be a private as a public event. The "rumors" that are reported often have little value, even if you accept them as mere titillation. Think of all the rumors circulating around Alex Rodriguez this offseason. Alex Rodriguez was broken. At some point the Yankees knew that, which meant that active trade discussions, if indeed there were any, had likely ceased. Yet, the rumors continued.

It's just something we do to pass the time. Heading into the 1964 season, some sportswriters started a rumor that the Yankees would make Yogi Berra their next manager. They thought it hysterically funny. The story bounced around for awhile and eventually reached the Yankees in a way that they felt almost as if it had originated with them, and since Yogi was their idea, they went ahead and hired Yogi. It was only later, when the clubhouse was in chaos, that they asked themselves what they were thinking.

Countries have gotten into wars in similar ways. It's like Steve McQueen's constant refrain in The Magnificent Seven: "It seemed like a good idea at the time." That's what pseudo-events can do to you, make you confuse the real with the unreal. You might, say, land on a the deck of an aircraft career in front of a big banner that says, "Mission Accomplished!" and believe that the mission is actually accomplished. And if you don't, maybe somebody will.

As such, it is very appropriate that we are in this very fake place often dissecting fake news. I was struck by this when I was walking about outside the press room and passed this lamp:

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It's a streetlamp on a fake street. It evoked memories of this actual streetlamp that is preserved at the Metropolitan museum of art in New York:

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Your taste in streetlamps may vary, but to me, the difference in quality between the pseudo-object at the pseudo-event and the real object in the museum is easily discerned by the naked eye. What is more apparent, though, is that here at the Winter Meetings, the people are the lampposts, and not the authentic ones. Rather, we're participants in an event when people talking about things that probably won't happen far outnumber the things that actually do happen. If the Giants sign Marco Scutaro in a forest, can anybody hear it? The answer is hundreds -- but all you really needed was one -- or maybe just a text message, and nothing more.

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