(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘hoax

“My fake plants died because I didn’t pretend to water them”*…

Your correspondent treasures Wikipedia, and uses it often. But as Marco Silva points out, it has its vulnerabilities…

“I read through Wikipedia a lot when I’m bored in class,” says Adam, aged 15, who studies photography and ICT at a school in Kent. One day last July, one of his teachers mentioned the online encyclopaedia’s entry about Alan MacMasters, who it said was a Scottish scientist from the late 1800s and had invented “the first electric bread toaster”.

At the top of the page was a picture of a man with a pronounced quiff and long sideburns, gazing contemplatively into the distance – apparently a relic of the 19th Century, the photograph appeared to have been torn at the bottom.

But Adam was suspicious. “It didn’t look like a normal photo,” he tells me. “It looked like it was edited.”

After he went home, he decided to post about his suspicions on a forum devoted to Wikipedia vandalism.

Until recently, if you had searched for “Alan MacMasters” on Wikipedia, you would have found the same article that Adam did. And who would have doubted it?

After all, like most Wikipedia articles, this one was peppered with references: news articles, books and websites that supposedly provided evidence of MacMasters’ life and legacy. As a result, lots of people accepted that MacMasters had been real.

More than a dozen books, published in various languages, named him as the inventor of the toaster. And, until recently, even the Scottish government’s Brand Scotland website listed the electric toaster as an example of the nation’s “innovative and inventive spirit”…

All the while, as the world got to know the supposed Scottish inventor, there was someone in London who could not avoid a smirk as the name “Alan MacMasters” popped up – again and again – on his screen…

For more than a decade, a prankster spun a web of deception about the inventor of the electric toaster: “Alan MacMasters: How the great online toaster hoax was exposed,” from @MarcoLSilva at @BBCNews.

* Mitch Hedberg

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As we consider the source’s source, we might recall that it was on this date in 1972 that Atari introduced its first product, Pong, which became the world’s first commercially successful video game. Indeed, Pong sparked the beginning of the video game industry, and positioned Atari as its leader (in both arcade and home video gaming) through the early 1980s.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 29, 2022 at 1:00 am

“Everything we see hides another thing”*…

Son of Man

No artist more perfectly anticipated the banal strangeness of life in the twenty-first century than Rene Magritte…

René François Ghislain Magritte: born 1898, died 1967; noted fan of bowler hats and pipes; creator of some 1,100 oil paintings and another 850 works on paper, many of which now seem kitschy or lazily repetitive; and yet, I suspect, the twentieth-century artist whose work best anticipated the texture and tenor of life in the twenty-first. The texture: smooth as an iPhone screen, unscathed by contact with the physical world. The tenor: a low rumble, almost silent, somewhere between a growl and a chuckle.

A century ago, the only people who called the world “surreal” were capital-S Surrealists: poets and painters, many of them rooted in Paris, who sought to dig up the buried treasures of the unconscious and convert them into words and images. Today, nobody seriously doubts that the world is a lowercase-s surreal place. Advertising is surreal. Politics is surreal. Dating is surreal. Half of television and all of the Internet is surreal. The art world would be surreal even if Surrealism didn’t sell so well (last week someone picked up a Magritte for the GDP of a small country). At some point between the 1920s and the 2020s, between capital and lowercase, the surreal has been hidden all over again, banalized to the point where everybody acknowledges it but nobody stops to notice it.

Studying Magritte’s life and work forces you to stop and notice. Contemporary U.S. life is surreal, but, at least to me, it doesn’t look like a Salvador Dalí painting or even the work of latter-day descendants such as David Lynch and Haruki Murakami. It looks like Magritte, with its weightless, endlessly reproduced photographs and logos that make everywhere feel like everywhere else (i.e., nowhere). It puzzles in the same placid, teasing way that Magritte puzzles; it seems utterly random and utterly repetitive, at once too obscure and too obvious, creating the illusion that everything will make sense if only you stay and puzzle a little longer. Contemporary U.S. life—like an apple in a café, like many of the figures in Magritte’s paintings, like Magritte himself—is hiding in plain sight…

Jackson Arn on “Magritte’s Prophetic Surrealism.”

* Rene Magritte

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As we investigate the invisible, we might recall that it was on this date (April Fool’s Day) in 1965 that the BBC put one over on its television viewers:

BBC TV interviewed a professor from London University who had perfected a technology he called “smellovision.” It allowed viewers to smell aromas produced in the television studio in their homes. The professor explained that his machine broke scents down into their component molecules which could then be transmitted through the screen.

The professor offered a demonstration by placing first some coffee beans and then onions into the smellovision machine. He asked viewers to report by noon whether they were able to smell anything, instructing them that “for best results stand six feet away from your set and sniff.” Viewers called in from across the country to confirm that they distinctly experienced these scents as if they were there in the studio with him. Some claimed the onions made their eyes water.

The Smellovision experiment was repeated on June 12, 1977 by Bristol University psychology lecturer Michael O’Mahony, who was interested in exploring the effect of the power of suggestion on smell. O’Mahony told viewers of Reports Extra, a late-night news show that aired in the Manchester region, that a new technology called Ramen spectroscopy would allow the station to transmit smells over the airwaves. He told them he was going to transmit “a pleasant country smell, not manure” over their TV sets, and he asked people to report what they smelled. Within the next 24 hours the station received 172 responses. The highest number came from people who reported smelling hay or grass. Others reported their living rooms filling with the scent of flowers, lavender, apple blossom, fruits, potatoes, and even homemade bread. Two people complained that the transmission brought on a severe bout of hay fever.

Museum of Hoaxes

Written by (Roughly) Daily

April 1, 2022 at 1:00 am

“If you must lie (and you must), lie honorably”*…

Long-time reaaders will know of your correspondent’s affection and regard for The Yes Men, the culture jamming activist duo Jacques Servin and Igor Vamos (and their network of supporters). They’ve impersonated– lampooned in painfully telling ways– everyone from President George W. Bush and Dow Chemical to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the New York Post (above)… much of it chronicled in three wonderful films made about their work. They’ve also done their best to encourage and enable others. But now, they’re really giving it all away…

Two years ago, we Yes Men received a generous seed grant to “replicate,” i.e. help activist groups use our tricks. We spent the next two years absorbed in careful experiments that built on the twenty years before that.

Now — on the occasion of a retrospective showing of things that we’ve made, and in the hopes of fulfilling the grantor’s wish to see “hundreds” of Yes Men take wing — we’re inviting you to sign up for our Meddleverse…

Learn from the best– @theyesmen share their activist secrets in the Meddleverse.

• The Yes Men

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As we admire audacity, we might recall that on this date in 2006 that last Mobile army surgical hospital (MASH) unit was decommissioned by the United States Army… 23 years after the final episode of the TV series, M*A*S*H, that made those facilities famous (even as it critiqued war in general– and the Vietnam War, which was underway when the series premiered– in particular).

HQ of the 8225th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, Korea, in 1951

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“Ladies and gentlemen, this is the most terrifying thing I have ever witnessed!”*…

As a teenager I was completely suckered in by a television documentary hoax (Forgotten Silver, by Peter Jackson pre-Lord of the Rings). For many years it was quite a sore spot for me that I was duped. I imagine the many people who believed that The War of the Worlds depicted an actual Martian invasion felt the same way. And twelve years before Orson Welles’ famous 1938 radio play another hoax on the airwaves was terrifying the innocent public.

Broadcasting the Barricades by the mystery writer [and Catholic priest] Ronald Knox was performed on BBC Radio in early 1926. Styled like a news report, it described a Bolshevik revolution running through the streets of London. Government ministers were captured and strung up; the Savoy Hotel and the Palace of Westminster were both blown up (thus toppling the Clock Tower and Big Ben too).

Now, there were plenty of clues that it was a hoax. Not least of which was that they told everyone it was not real at the start. Not everyone caught that [as was the case with World of the Worlds], or the many announcements to the same effect on the same channel later that night. Complicating matters, a snowstorm prevented the next day’s newspapers getting out of London, stoking fears that the capital city was in ruins or occupied by revolutionary forces. And 1926 UK was a tense place already: four months after Broadcasting the Barricades, 1.7 million workers joined a general strike in support of locked out coal miners…

The radio hoax that presaged– and inspired– Orson Welles’ The War of the Worlds: “From the Barricades.”

The BBC’s own account of the occasion (the source of the image above) is here. And here is the amusing tale of an Australian variation on the theme, broadcast a year after Knox’s pioneering effort.

Oh, and Forgotten Silver is wonderful!

* “Reporter Carl Phillips” (Frank Readick), The War of the Worlds

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As we check our sources, we might recall that it was on this date in 1843 that John Browne Bell published the first of his London-based newspaper, The News of the World. Bell’s competitive strategy was to focus on the sensational and the lurid– basically, crime and vice… a strategy that served him and subsequent owners, most recently Rupert Murdoch and News Corp., extremely well. Indeed, its long suit in celebrity scoops, gossip, and populist news– especially its somewhat prurient focus on sex scandals– gained it the nickname News of the Screws.

In 2011, 25 years after Murdoch had made it into the Sunday edition of his paper The Sun, The News of the World was closed… sort of. In its last decade it had developed a reputation for exposing celebrities’ drug use, sexual peccadilloes, or criminal acts, by using insiders and journalists in disguise to provide video or photographic evidence, and covert phone hacking in ongoing police investigations. Many of these allegations proved true. On July 4, 2011 it was revealed that, nearly a decade earlier, a private investigator hired by the newspaper had intercepted the voicemail of missing British teenager Milly Dowler, who was later found murdered. Amid a public backlash and the withdrawal of advertising, News International announced the closure of the newspaper three days later.

After a brief hiatus, the fun continued in The Sunday Sun (with many former News of the World staffers), but without several senior News of the World editors, who were arrested and indicted for illegal wiretapping, bribing police officers for information, and other offenses.

Front-page of the first issue

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

October 1, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Loki’d!”*…

January 2, 1961: 100,000 spectators filled Pasadena’s Rose Bowl stadium to watch the Minnesota Golden Gophers take on the Washington Huskies in the New Year’s Day game (played that year on January 2 because the 1st fell on a Sunday). Millions more watched around the nation, crowded in front of tv sets in living rooms, restaurants, and bars.

NBC was providing live coverage of the game. At the end of the first half the Huskies led 17 to 0, and the audience settled in to watch the half-time show for which the Washington marching band had prepared an elaborate flip-card routine.

Sets of variously colored flip cards and an instruction sheet had been left on seats in the section of the stadium where the Washington students were located. When the students heard the signal from the cheerleaders, they were each supposed to hold up the appropriate flip card (as designated by the instruction sheet) over their head. In this way different gigantic images would be formed that would be visible to the rest of the stadium, as well as to those viewing at home. The Washington band planned on displaying a series of fifteen flip-card images in total.

The flip-card show got off to a well-coordinated start. Everything went smoothly, and the crowd marvelled at the colorful images forming, as if by magic, at the command of the cheerleaders. It wasn’t until the 12th image that things began to go a little wrong. This image was supposed to depict a husky, Washington’s mascot. But instead a creature appeared that had buck teeth and round ears. It looked almost like a beaver.

The next image was even worse. The word ‘HUSKIES’ was supposed to unfurl from left to right. But for some reason the word was reversed, so that it now read ‘SEIKSUH’.

These strange glitches rattled the Washington cheerleaders. They wondered if they might have made some careless mistakes when designing the complex stunt. But there was nothing for them to do about it now except continue on, and so they gave the signal for the next image.

What happened next has lived on in popular memory long after the rest of the 1961 Rose Bowl has been forgotten. It was one of those classic moments when a prank comes together instantly, perfectly, and dramatically.

The word ‘CALTECH’ appeared, held aloft by hundreds of Washington students. The name towered above the field in bold, black letters and was broadcast to millions of viewers nationwide.

For a few seconds the stadium was plunged into a baffled silence. Everyone knew what Caltech was. It was that little Pasadena technical college down the road from the Rose Bowl stadium. What no one could figure out was what its name was doing in the middle of Washington’s flip-card show. Throughout the United States, a million minds simultaneously struggled to comprehend this enigma.

In fact, only a handful of people watching the game understood the full significance of what had just happened, and these were the Caltech students who had labored for the past month to secretly alter Washington’s flip-card show…

More on one of the great pranks of all time: “The Great Rose Bowl Hoax,” via The Museum of Hoaxes.

See also this explication of one of the more successful imitators.

* Tom Hiddleston

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As we treasure tricksters, we might recall that on this date in 2006 the City Councils of Reykjavik and its neighboring municipalities agreed to turn off all the city lights in the capital area for half an hour, while a renowned astronomer talked about the stars and the constellations on national radio.

(Ten years later they dimmed again to allow unpolluted viewing of the Northern Lights.)

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

September 28, 2020 at 1:01 am

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