Farces and Fabrications

After reading Paul Maliszewski’s Fakers, lately I’ve been wondering about the devices of farce and hoax that visual art can use, which writing (journalism, literature) cannot. In Fakers, Mr. Maliszewski mainly cites examples of written hoaxes, primarily American since the mid-19th century. Yet he doesn’t delve very deeply into the theory as to why these writers may have created these fronts, and how the public — consumers, other media, government — reacted to the stories, how these entities were perhaps unsuspecting (or knowing of the simulation), what their response meant. While I understand there are myriad explanations behind the psychology for writing fake news passed off as fact, I can’t help but crave an explanation from his point of view as a con-artist himself. If you’re going to put this much research into a book, you’d better have something to say about the material.

The only person who seemed to be able to manipulate and explain hoax, farce, faux news in the book was an artist. Why was Sandow Birk allowed, in the public/art establishment, to exhibit fake paintings,  installations, and a Ken Burns-style documentary about a war that never happend without any lasting outrage? Is the falsehood, the projection more visible or clear when an artist is passing off fiction as commentary, as truth, as a joke, as opposed to a writer? Why do words have the expectation of being rooted in reality so much more than images? Why do newspapers have more “established” (traditional) credibility than art galleries? What is each really doing? Who is each really serving?

If a picture is worth a thousand words, can we process all of it? Are we really doing that? Or are words really necessary to make the point crystal clear?

I went down a 2-hour Wikipedia rabbithole this weekend, starting with this blog I recently started following on the Tucson Citizen (along with my obsession this year for all things Ghost Hunters, GHI and Paranormal State on Hulu). Let me see if I have this straight: Aleister Crowley (and about 20 related topics) > Black Mass (ugh, weird) > Goliard (/Carmina Burana, which I have fond memories of singing Carl Orff’s setting in college classical choir).

When I read about the Goliards, I couldn’t help but think of The Yes Men’s recent US Chamber of Commerce fake press-conference stunt. One one level, they were basically doing performance art and guerilla theater (as well as music and poetry) exposing the corruption in the Catholic church. The Church lacked credibility at the time (when has it not?), much like the US government over the last decade or so. The spirit of their antics was certainly not real-fake (like propping up a fake Pope, or fake miracles, and then — “The Reveal” [to cull from reality TV-speak]), and not for theoretical-artistic noogies in which no one’s reputation really gets hurt (artist or butt), but extreme late-night cable TV parody.

Let us not flatter ourselves that everything sacred in Western history has been shattered only within the last 50 years. Been there, “done” that.

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