Imagination and the News

By ToaLohe (@Toamatapu) | 5 min read

Joseph Addison was an essayist that founded the magazine, The Spectator. He wrote several essays for the publication and a series of essays entitled “On the Pleasures of the Imagination.” He helps readers today understand why the news stories we read are not only informing our view of the world but also tapping into our imagination.

Our Imagination is Easily Sparked

Addison discusses the “Object” to reference items in our life that can trigger our imagination, which can be books, films, news or a multitude of other things. In regards to the news, we submit ourselves to the grand narratives written by the media because it entices our imaginations.  “Our Imagination loves to be filled with an Object, or to grasp at anything that is too big for its Capacity”. Once our imaginations consume what the media produces, it is very hard for us to forget much of it since news stories fuel our own independent imagination. Our imagination enlarges and compounds those news stories that contain specific ideas within our own minds. At a certain point, our self-indulgence becomes an obsessive desire for gratification that we do not tame.

The reason media is able to achieve its goals of misinformation is that many of the items discussed are not present. For example, a civil war in another country is discussed on the news regularly, but never enough information is described for people to be well-educated. Instead they are only given snippets of video and quotes. The viewer’s imagination does the rest; “when the Objects are not actually before the Eye, but are called up into our Memories, or formed into agreeable Visions of Things that are either Absent or Fictitious.” The complexity of the world conceals itself in “the generality of Mankind” that the media gleefully parades on its shows and articles.” The discussions we see on television are scripted and spoken by those who carry prejudices, false opinions based on no facts, and illusions about the world. The biggest problem is that we rely on their opinions to inform our own making us susceptible to lies and frauds.

With the multitude of information being delivered to us by our phones and computers, we cannot resist to not look at any of it since “everything that is new or uncommon raises a Pleasure in the Imagination.” New information “gratifies [our] Curiosity, and gives [us] an Idea” which we had never possessed before. We yearn for new information to pleasure our imagination because we become tired with the “many repeated Shows of the same Things.” It diverts our minds from the “ordinary Entertainments” and is a “Refreshment.”

Words on the Page or Screen have a Powerful Effect  

Addison argues that words have such a strong impact on our lives that what we read informs us much more than what we can see with our own eyes. “Words, when well chosen, have so great a Force in them.” A description next to a picture “often gives us more lively Ideas than the Sight of Things themselves.” With the help of words, a “Reader finds a Scene drawn in stronger Colours.” Even though we live in a connected world we cannot forget that “Words are understood only by such a People or Nation.” Words are bound to borders. The words used to create sentences, expressions and thoughts connect people who have subliminal understanding of them. The best example of this in play would be a joke about one of President Trump’s executive order. It will get more laughs in the United States of America than in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But Addison does concede that several readers may share the same language but each person will “have a different Relish of the same Descriptions.” The Constitution of the United States of America exemplifies his point. There is a careful tightrope all must walk when using words.

Writers Entertain Us with their Own Dark Imaginations

Since words have a strong impact on our imagination, it is very important that writers and journalists do not abuse their power. A reader’s imagination can be easily amused by the horrors described in other countries and be made to believe false conclusions about the world. There is a thin line that divides imagination and belief. If writers to do not carefully articulate their goals, and readers do not understand their ability to submit to words, then the writer will be an unconscious master and the reader will be an oblivious slave. Readers have to be weary of their desires to read articles and watch videos about “the different Habits and Behaviors of Foreign Countries” that they do not visit because writers can entertain the “Reader’s Imagination with the Characters and Actions of such Persons [that do not] Existence.”

Going Forward

Addison reveals to us that writers have a lot of powerful and readers have powerful imaginations. Going forward, readers have to be willing to read with a tamed imagination. The writers will always call for impassioned action from their readers. But we, the readers, have to research an issue or event much more than we might want to have a valuable opinion. We cannot hand over our independence to writers for them to manipulate it. We each have an imagination that can conjure up many great things, but what we decide to actually do or make must be based on our own fair research and contemplation.


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