Media Literacy

Blog Posts

LiteratEye #35: Ghost Story: The Riddle of Who Wrote What

by
Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy

Here’s the thirty fifth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #35: Ghost Story: The Riddle of Who Wrote What
By W.J. Elvin III
October 16, 2009

seance-200It may come as a surprise to some that Sean Connery, in his recent book, Being A Scot, provides a truly enlightening cultural history lesson.

The book, issued by Phoenix Illustrated and as yet available only as an expensive import here in the States, surveys Scottish creativity, inventiveness and history. And, since it’s autobiographical in its own quirky way, there’s the necessarily egocentric focus on Connery.

Of particular interest to armchair detectives of the LiteratEye squad is the invitation to help solve a literary mystery.

Connery presents a gloom-and-doom quote, written two hundred years ago but obviously appropriate in the present day. Sorry if it’s a bit windy and profound, it’s Sir Sean’s puzzle, not mine:

“A democracy is always temporary, and therefore cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It will only exist until the voters discover that they can reward themselves with the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury. A democracy therefore always collapses over loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a great dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years.”

Connery says the quote traces to the voluminous works of a fellow Scot, the historian Alexander Fraser Tytler. It was given new life in a speech by President Ronald Reagan (who, ironically, sparked massive raids on the public treasury to compensate for the economic crimes and disasters resulting from his deregulation debacles).

What Connery wants to know is just where in Tytler’s work does the quote appear? A search of Tytler archives in the U.S. and Scotland failed to turn up the exact source. (more…)

British Tabloids Hoaxed

by
Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Media Literacy

Submitted by Mark Borkowski:


Starsuckers celebrity hoax dupes tabloids
by Paul Lewis
Guardian.co.uk
14 October 2009

From ‘flamey’ Amy Winehouse to Russell Brand the banker, documentary team’s fake celebrity stories fooled editors

Watch interview with filmmaker Chris Atkins here.
Visit Starsuckers Website here.

starsuckers-200The plan to subvert the pages of some of Fleet Street’s bestselling newspapers was hatched in a windowless office in east London. For months, a team of documentary makers had sat in the Brick Lane film studio they called “the cell”, trawling through tabloid clippings in search of stories they could prove were untrue.

They decided to concoct an experiment to test their theory that tabloid editors sometimes publish celebrity stories with scant regard for the truth.

“We consumed a lot of coffee thinking about it,” said Chris Atkins, the director of the forthcoming film Starsuckers. “How can we do this intelligently? How can we prove our point? But how can we make it funny?” (more…)

LiteratEye #34: Between the Covers: What’s It Like to Be in a Book?

by
Filed under: Media Literacy

Here’s the thirty fourth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #34: Between the Covers: What’s It Like to Be in a Book?
By W.J. Elvin III
October 9, 2009

FOUR-190Once upon a time it was something of a rarity to appear personally in print, or even to know someone who’d been written about.

Today, it’s routine to be mentioned in someone’s blog, or, failing that, to spend five minutes launching a blog and filling it with “me, me, me.”

But it’s still a bit extraordinary to be in a book unless one has achieved celebrity or notoriety. When it happens to ordinary folk, the experience may come as a welcome surprise or a humiliating shock.

Certainly a book could be written covering all the lawsuits that have resulted from unwelcome attention of that sort.http://artoftheprank.com/blog/wp-admin/index.php?page=stats

For me, a career in the news business has meant frequently writing about others and rarely being written about myself.

I was, for many years, a Washington “insider” columnist and feature writer.

I’ve often run across books mentioning intrigues, scandals and skullduggery that I’d unearthed or expanded upon.

But that’s not the same as actually being named and perhaps profiled. (more…)

LiteratEye #24: Home-Made Hocus Pocus Masquerades as Wisdom of an Ancient People

by
Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy

Here’s the twenty fourth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog. In this installment, Elvin continues his survey of literary fraud focused on Australia…


LiteratEye #24: Home-Made Hocus Pocus Masquerades as Wisdom of an Ancient People
By W.J. Elvin III
July 31, 2009

aborigines-425“Jangga Meenya Bomunggur.”

In other words, “The smell of the white man is killing us.”

That’s from the Dumbartung Aboriginal Corporation’s mission statement, a very powerful statement and well worth checking out.

The Dumbartung group is an arts advocacy organization in Australia.

One thing the indigenous people find stinky about the white man, or in this case, woman, is exploitation through false claims of association and knowledge.

There have been several cases of authors making false claims of that sort. One in particular provoked Aborigine delegations to track down the perpetrator, Marlo Morgan.

They tried to confront Morgan, author of Mutant Message Down Under, in the United States and Japan.

Morgan made millions from Mutant. In it, she claimed she was kidnapped by a mysterious band of Aborigines, forced to go on desert walkabout, and ultimately initiated into realms of secret knowledge. (more…)

And That’s Not the Way It Is

posted by
Filed under: Media Literacy, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin

And That’s Not the Way It Is
by Frank Rich
The New York Times
July 26, 2009

WHO exactly was the competition in the race to be the most trusted man in America? Lyndon Johnson? Richard Nixon?

walter-cronkite2Not to take anything away from Walter Cronkite, but he beat out Henry Kissinger by only four percentage points when a 1974 Roper poll asked Americans whom they most respected. The successive blows of Vietnam and Watergate during the Cronkite ’60s and ’70s shattered the nation’s faith in most of its institutions, public and private, and toppled many of the men who led them. Such was the dearth of trustworthy figures who survived that an unindicted official in a disgraced White House could make the cut.

In death, “the most trusted man in America” has been embalmed in that most comforting of American sweeteners — nostalgia — to the point where his finest, and most discomforting, achievements are being sanitized or forgotten. We’ve heard much sentimental rumination on the bygone heyday of the “mainstream media,” on the cultural fractionalization inflicted by the Internet, and on the lack of any man who could replicate the undisputed moral authority of Uncle Walter. (Women still need not apply, apparently.) But the reason to celebrate Cronkite has little to do with any of this and least of all to do with his avuncular television persona. (more…)

LiteratEye #23: Did Wikipedia Call You Names and Pull Your Pigtails? Too Bad.

by
Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy

Here’s the twenty third installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #23: Did Wikipedia Call You Names and Pull Your Pigtails? Too Bad.
By W.J. Elvin III
July 24, 2009

wwlogo2-200So, you’ve become famous and you’re ego-tripping along, checking out all the fascinating write-ups on various web sites regarding your marvelousness. You come to the Wikipedia biography. What the heck?

It says you were raised by rainforest monkeys, did a prison stretch for bilking your grandma out of her life savings, and your favorite pastime involves unspeakable activities in some exotic foreign sin-city. And, let’s say, there’s not much truth to that. What do you do?

Apparently, not much. Wikipedia’s policy appears to be that you are an unreliable source for information regarding yourself. So you can’t correct an entry about you.

Well, you could sue. But, sue who? The Wikipedia Foundation slips off the hook almost instantly by claiming malicious or mischievous entries are acts of “vandalism.”

Most often, it appears, the suits go against whoever posted the slanderous, libelous or otherwise objectionable entry. Quite recently a story broke about two Michigan State University students facing a $25,000 suit for defaming a local politician. (more…)

Donald Duck in Germany: a Bird of Arts and Letters

by
Filed under: Media Literacy

Submitted by W.J. Elvin III (whose LiteratEye series will resume shortly on The Art of the Prank after a brief hiatus):


Why Donald Duck Is the Jerry Lewis of Germany
by Susan Bernofsky
Wall Street Journal
May 23, 2009

ob-ds827_dieduc_d_Germany, the land of Goethe, Thomas Mann and Beethoven, has an unlikely pop culture hero: Donald Duck. Just as the French are obsessed with Jerry Lewis, the Germans see a richness and complexity to the Disney comic that isn’t always immediately evident to people in the cartoon duck’s homeland.

Comics featuring Donald are available at most German newsstands and the national weekly “Micky Maus”—which features the titular mouse, Goofy and, most prominently, Donald Duck—sells an average of 250,000 copies each week, outselling even “Superman.” A lavish 8,000-page German Donald Duck collector’s edition has just come out, and despite the nearly $1,900 price tag, the publisher, Egmont Horizont, says the edition of 3,333 copies is almost completely sold out. Last month the fan group D.O.N.A.L.D (the German acronym stands for “German Organization for Non-commercial Followers of Pure Donaldism”), hosted its 32nd annual congress at the Museum of Natural History in Stuttgart, with trivia and trinkets galore, along with lectures devoted to “nephew studies” and Duckburg’s solar system.

“Donald is so popular because almost everyone can identify with him,” says Christian Pfeiler, president of D.O.N.A.L.D. “He has strengths and weaknesses, he lacks polish but is also very cultured and well-read.” But much of the appeal of the hapless, happy-go-lucky duck lies in the translations. Donald quotes from German literature, speaks in grammatically complex sentences and is prone to philosophical musings, while the stories often take a more political tone than their American counterparts. (more…)

Public Service Ads That Sell

posted by
Filed under: Media Literacy

New Advertising Trend: Fake “Public Service” Ads
PRWatch.org / Center for Media and Democracy
May 14, 2009

Consumer Reports’ AdWatch video for Chantix:
Source: Consumer Reports/Health.org, February 17, 2009

Pfizer has produced a great example of stealth advertising with its commercial promoting a Web site called MyTimeToQuit.com. The ad has the look and feel of a public service announcement, and mentions neither Pfizer, nor the popular smoking cessation drug it promotes — Chantix (varenicline). The ad represents a growing trend in drug advertising called “help-seeking ads,” which don’t mention a drug by name, but instead address the condition the drug is meant to treat, and then drive viewers to a toll-free 800 number or a Web site that offers an option to learn more about a prescription drug meant to treat the condition. It is a sneaky, but legal way to advertise drugs that have particularly bad side effects, since avoiding mentioning the drug by name lets the company off the hook for listing its bad side effects in the ad, too, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules. Chantix has some serious side effects, according to an alert the agency issued on Chantix, including “serious neuropsychiatric symptoms,” like changes in behavior, depressed mood, suicidal ideation and completed suicide.

LiteratEye #14: Detecting the Dark Side of Language

by
Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy

Here’s the fourteenth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.


LiteratEye #14: Detecting the Dark Side of Language
By W.J. Elvin III
May 15, 2009

wwiip6-200It’s 2 o’clock in the morning in London as my email comes breezing in to interrupt John Olsson’s musings. Olsson interests us because he’s an expert at digging out the secrets of deceptive documents, anything from anonymous hate mail to plagiarized books.

My note found him puzzling over hidden clues in regard to the character of Bernard Madoff, the big Wall Street toad whose secret life involved scamming multi-millions from clients.

Might a keen observer have spotted what Madoff was up to, before it all fell down? Olsson pondered the name, “Madoff.” Odd, the wanderings of the mind in the wee small hours. “Made Off…,” he supposed. “Bernard made off…”

Well, John, maybe you’re on to something. And, believe me, you can throw LiteratEye readers a long one and they’ll be out there to catch it. But we better at least start a little closer to the line of scrimmage.

And so, down to business. In Olsson’s case, business is The Forensic Linguistics Institute and his studies are usually of a very serious nature. You can get a fairly good idea of what it’s all about from his new book, Wordcrime. (more…)

Stewart vs. Cramer

posted by
Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy

The Comedian as Media Critic
by Brian Stelter
TVDecoder.blogs.nytimes.com
March 13, 2009

Is the “weeklong feud of the century” finished?

Jon Stewart, the host of “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central, critiqued CNBC’s coverage of the stock market on Thursday during a highly anticipated appearance by Jim Cramer, the host of the sometimes frantic stock market show “Mad Money” on CNBC.

Mr. Stewart questioned Mr. Cramer about the perception that CNBC acts as a cheerleader for the investment community. “The financial news industry is not just guilty of a sin of omission but a sin of commission,” Mr. Stewart said. Mr. Cramer agreed that he made a number of faulty predictions over the years.


(more…)

Campaign Spin: Push Polls Disguised as Market Research

posted by
Filed under: Media Literacy, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin

Reach Out and Smear Someone
Politico.com via PRWatch.org
September 16, 2008

The Republican Jewish Coalition says it hired the political polling firm Central Research to “understand why Barack Obama continues to have a problem among Jewish voters.” But the poll questions upset many of the hundreds of Jewish voters in Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey who received the calls.

Some say it was a push poll, designed to spread negative information and disinformation. Others say the calls, with more than 80 questions, were too long to be push polls; instead, they may be testing messages for future attack ads. One question the pollsters asked is whether it would affect the respondent’s vote if she or he knew that Hamas’ leader had “expressed support for Obama.” The Republican Jewish Coalition, which has endorsed John McCain for President, also helped launch the pro-war lobby group Freedom’s Watch. In the 2000 primary campaign, the Bush team targeted McCain with a push poll in South Carolina that claimed McCain had fathered an illegitimate black baby.

Read the whole article here at Politico.com.

photo: DataMikado.ning.com

Alternative Ads: Pranking Goes Commercial

by
Filed under: Co-option (If You Can't Beat 'Em...), Media Literacy, The Future of Pranks

Advertisers are trying harder and harder to trick consumers with ads that mimic the work of pranksters, street artists and media activists. Going viral with your ad has become the brass ring, with customers doing all the heavy lifting (i.e., distributing these ad campaigns through YouTube, blogs and emails) for free for the advertisers.

It’s challenging to tell the difference between true guerrilla theater and this new trend of verité advertising. Here’s a hint: listen to the audio quality and watch for camera angles. Frequently, the main character who’s supposed to be the unsuspecting target of a joke is wearing a hidden microphone and there are at least three distinct camera angles, meaning it’s an expensive multi-camera shoot. If it sounds and looks too good to be true — it probably is.

Check out this article On Advertising: Alternative advertising to grab your attention, by Stephanie Clifford of the International Herald Tribune, August 3, 2008.

And, this viral commercial video submitted by Andrew Boyd yesterday:

Hidden Camera Penny Prank in Jewelry Store

This one, picked up from V. Vale’s RE/Search Newsletter, is just a regular German commercial, but fun (and viral) because of its shock value. (more…)

Blurring the Urban Canvas: Art & Advertising

posted by
Filed under: Media Literacy, The Future of Pranks

Guerrilla Art Versus Guerrilla Advertising:
What’s the Difference?

by Delana
WebUrbanist.com
July 3, 2008

Not too long ago, walking along a city sidewalk would yield plenty of unique experiences in guerrilla art. Tags left by taggers who climbed into precarious positions, impromptu murals on the sides of buildings, and bizarre urban art installations were all a part of city life that some people admired and others considered a scourge.

Advertisements were clearly delineated, different and separate from art. They were easily recognizable as advertisements and no one expected them to be anything else.

guerrilla-art-guerrilla-marketing-calgary-425.jpg

Today, the urban environment includes not only separate instances of art and advertisements, but advertisements that look suspiciously like art. Guerrilla advertisements that use the familiar rough-edged look of graffiti – and others that use actual graffiti – are found now in cities around the world.

So what’s the difference between guerrilla art and guerrilla advertisement? How can you differentiate when the lines between the two are blurred as they are?

guerrilla-art-marketing-subway-limo-425.jpg
(more…)

Hot Air Advertising

posted by
Filed under: Media Literacy, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation

Another example of astroturfing and viral marketing:

Guys fill their jeans with helium
by Unbuttoned Films

via Damn Cool Pics

Not So Pretty in Pink

posted by
Filed under: Media Literacy, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin

Pinkwashing: Can Shopping Cure Breast Cancer?
by Anne Landman
Center for Media and Democracy, PR Watch
June 11, 2008

pink-ribbon-magnetimg_assist_custom.jpgYou’ve heard the term “greenwashing.” It refers to corporations that try to appear “green” without reducing their negative impact on the environment.

Since 2002, the group Breast Cancer Action has promoted its “Think Before You Pink” campaign. It’s fighting “pinkwashing,” which is when corporations try to boost sales by associating their products with the fight against breast cancer. Pinkwashing is a form of slacktivism — a campaign that makes people feel like they’re helping solve a problem, while they’re actually doing more to boost corporate profits. Pinkwashing has been around for a while, but is now reaching almost unbelievable levels.

The worst pinkwashers exploit the intense emotions associated with breast cancer while selling products that actually contribute to breast cancer.

So how can the average person recognize pinkwashing? Here are some examples. (more…)