11/27/2005 01:22 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Black Friday at the Mall: a Pseudo-Event on Steroids

It's been 40 years or so since Daniel Boorstin coined the classic expression "pseudo-event" to capture the nature of a new kind of public phenomenon that arose at the dawn of the media age. He had in mind collaborations between the media and the powerful as basic as an interview -- a contrivance now so ubiquitous that you might have to force yourself to see that isn't actually a real event at all or, if you want to insist that it is a real event, you would need to reconsider what we want to mean by "real."

Anyway, Boorstin was prescient in all sorts of ways but even he could never have anticipated this Black Friday Doorbusting rage that crested in the past two years to make the Friday after Thanksgiving the #1 shopping day of the year (it used to be the last Saturday before Christmas, which makes actual sense).

Yes, I know, I know, there is a real reason why tens (hundreds?) of thousands of people are willing to spend all night freezing on line so they can burst into the megastore at 5 am and literally fall all over each other in their rush to get some digital gizmo for half price (only a few are actually available at that price; hence the stampede). It's about the money.

But it's not ALL about the money. Just read or watch the interviews. The folks on line are like Harry Potter and Star Wars fans who dress up to attend openings. They want to be part of the show. And the more they want that, the more of a show it becomes, and so the more of them want to be part of it -- and so on and on. Positive feedback, as the cybernetics people used to say. This is a pseudo-event of a whole new order, as much the result of the improvised activity of anonymous spectators as of a marketer's contrivance, a hybrid of the two in fact -- a populist form of pseudo-event, if you will. I call it "virtual revolution."

And it's just beginning...