Literary Hoaxes

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Cicirelli Fake “Walk-about” Plays Out On Facebook

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Practical Jokes and Mischief

Crazy Facebook Hoax starts with unemployment, ends stranded in mexico
by Cody Permenter
The Daily Dot
August 21, 2013

Dave Cicirelli, an art director from New York City, posted on his Facebook profile in late 2009 that his life was at a standstill and something desperately needed to change. He announced his decision to quit his job and hitchhike across country, taking his laptop and cellphone to document his journey. Along the way, he fell in love with an Amish woman, joined a doomsday cult, got stranded in Mexico, and got inked up with a bowtie tattoo.

Amish1-425

Sounds like a pretty crazy adventure, right?

As with most things that sound too good to be true are, Cicirelli’s story was completely fake—an elaborate scheme played out on Facebook with the help of Photoshop. In his new book Fakebook, Cicirelli tells the story of his six-month hoax that fooled more people than he ever thought it could. (more…)

Jean Shepherd’s “I, Libertine” Hoax Remembered

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, The History of Pranks

From Emerson Dameron: An homage to a great prankster!


The Man Behind The Brilliant Media Hoax Of “I, Libertine”
by Matthew Callan
The Awl
February 14th, 2013

ShepherdIn the 1950s, a DJ named Jean Shepherd hosted a late-night radio show on New York’s WOR that was unlike any before or since. On these broadcasts, he delivered dense, cerebral monologues, sprinkled with pop-culture tidbits and vivid stretches of expert storytelling. “There is no question that we are a tiny, tiny, tiny embattled minority here,” he assured his audience in a typical diatribe. “Hardly anyone is listening to mankind in all of its silliness, all of its idiocy, all of its trivia, all of its wonder, all of its glory, all of its poor, sad, pitching us into the dark sea of oblivion.” Shepherd’s approach was summed up by his catchphrase: a mock-triumphant “Excelsior!”, followed by an immediate, muttered “you fathead…”

Shepherd inspired fierce loyalty in his listeners who would tune in to listen to him in the middle of the night. These listeners embraced his term for them, “night people,” and under his direction they would execute one of the biggest and most bizarre media hoaxes of the 20th century. The hoax was meant as a strike against their opposite: “day people,” that is, against phoniness and squareness—all those 50s words—as well as a joke on New York pretension.

In our time of memes, virality, and reality blurring, the hoax Shepherd dreamt up seems extremely modern and prescient in its contours—as does the fact that, eventually, it got out of his control. (more…)

The Journatic Model: Faking the News

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Literary Hoaxes

Assembly line news for a digital age
by Edward Wasserman
Miami Herald
July 16, 2012

However droopy the rest of the news business might be, dishonesty has become a growth industry, with a steady churn of mini-scandals involving theft, pillage, and fiction. The latest flap over media fakery concerns Journatic, a six-year-old company that sells news organizations what’s called hyperlocal coverage, once known as community news.

Journatic’s approach to journalism is unusual, and it came to light in a recent report on This American Life (TAL), the public radio magazine. TAL’s chief informant was a cheerful but disgruntled Journatic employee named Ryan Smith.

The Journatic that Smith described is a globalized, Internet-based informational assembly line: U.S. data sources are scraped for micro-news of appeal to neighborhood-sized audiences — home sales, death notices, Little League scores, police blotter entries, honor rolls, school lunch menus, company press releases.

Sometimes raw items are shipped overseas (to the Philippines, for instance) and shaped by low-paid freelancers, then polished by various stateside editors, and finally channeled to client publications, which print them in neighborhood news sections or post them online.

Other times source materials are handed off to piecework U.S. journalists who are told to make a call or two, add live quotes, and re-file for clients far away. (more…)

Literary Camouflage

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes

Literary Camouflage
by Steven Hayward
Wall Street Journal
June 23, 2011

Eric Blair contemplated calling himself H. Lewis Allways, P.S. Burton, Kenneth Miles—or George Orwell.

Eleven years ago, a writer named JT LeRoy stormed the literary world. The 19-year-old son of a truck-stop prostitute, LeRoy published a semi-autobiographical novel called “Sarah” recounting his experiences as a “lot lizard”—a child hustler and prostitute—in the truck stops of West Virginia. The book quickly accumulated prominent supporters, including Winona Ryder and Madonna. Obsessively reclusive, LeRoy allowed himself to be interviewed only by telephone; he refused to give public readings, often having one of his famous admirers stand in for him. There was a second book, a movie deal and by 2005 the literary tastemaker Dave Eggers was commending the young writer to posterity: LeRoy’s two titles would “prove to be among the most influential American books in the last ten years.”

Less than a year later, LeRoy was revealed as a hoax: Laura Albert, a woman old enough to be LeRoy’s mother, confessed, amid mounting media speculation, that she created the alter ego—and had never even visited West Virginia. The film company that had optioned the novel successfully sued Ms. Albert for fraud. Throughout the trial, Ms. Albert defended her right to use a nom de plume, contending that her work should be read as part of a long and distinguished line of pseudonymous texts. “LeRoy was a veil upon a veil,” Ms. Albert later told the Paris Review, “I never saw it as a hoax.”

As Carmela Ciuraru observes in “Nom de Plume,” her “secret history” of pseudonyms, there is nothing new about literary masquerades. (more…)

Steinbeck’s Literary License

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Literary Hoaxes, The History of Pranks

A Reality Check for Steinbeck and Charley
by Charles McGrath
The New York Times
April 3, 2011

In the fall of 1960 an ailing, out-of-sorts John Steinbeck, pretty much depleted as a novelist, decided that his problem was he had lost touch with America. He outfitted a three-quarter-ton pickup truck as a sort of land yacht and set off from his home in Sag Harbor, N.Y., with his French poodle, Charley, to drive cross-country. The idea was that he would travel alone, stay at campgrounds and reconnect himself with the country by talking to the locals he met along the way.

Steinbeck’s book-length account of his journey, “Travels with Charley,” published in 1962, was generally well reviewed and became a best-seller. It remains in print, regarded by some as a classic of American travel writing. Almost from the beginning, though, a few readers pointed out that many of the conversations in the book had a stagey, wooden quality, not unlike the dialogue in Steinbeck’s fiction.

Early on in the book, for example, Steinbeck has a New England farmer talking in folksy terms about Nikita S. Khrushchev’s shoe-pounding (or -brandishing, depending on whom you ask) speech at the United Nations weeks before Khrushchev actually visited the United Nations. A particularly unlikely encounter occurs at a campsite near Alice, N.D., where a Shakespearean actor, mistaking Steinbeck for a fellow thespian, greets him with a sweeping bow, saying, “I see you are of the profession,” and then proceeds to talk about John Gielgud.

Even Steinbeck’s son John said he was convinced that his father never talked to many of the people he wrote about, and added, “He just sat in his camper and wrote all that [expletive].” (more…)

TwitterLit: @MayorEmanuel Author Comes Clean

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Literary Hoaxes, Political Pranks

Submitted by Erin:


Revealing the Man Behind @MayorEmanuel
by Alexis Madrigal
The Atlantic
February 28, 2011

It was the best fake Twitter account ever, deftly satirizing Rahm Emanuel, and elevating the Tweet and the f-word to the level of literature. But the mystery writer was never revealed – until now.

There were many storylines in Rahm Emanuel’s romp to the Chicago mayor’s office: a powerful presidential aide leaves the White House; a mayor’s race without a Daley or even an incumbent; a candidate with a hazy claim on residency; the meltdown of former senator Carol Moseley Braun; the terrible voter turnout; and more.

But for networked Chicagoans and political insiders across the country, the performance and identity of @MayorEmanuel, a fake Twitter account, captured the imagination nearly as much as the real politics.

Caricaturing the notoriously dirty-mouthed former White House chief of staff, the Twitter account was a sensation as the election came to a close last week. @MayorEmanuel wrote nearly 2000 tweets in five months and collected several times as many followers as Rahm Emanuel’s real account. Since its last — and apparently final — update on Thursday night, some 1500 Tweets have been issued about the fake account . Daxid Axelrod himself, a frequent character in the stream, responded to a tweet Friday asking whether he missed the account, “You’re freakin’ A right I do.” (more…)

Dylan, the Consummate Sampler?

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy

Here’s an essay by Scott Warmuth for New Haven Review regarding Dylan’s hidden charlatanism subtext in Chronicles: Volume One


Bob Charlatan
Deconstructing Dylan’s Chronicles: Volume One

by Scott Warmuth
New Haven Review

The world luvs to be cheated, but they want to hav it dun bi an honest man, and not bi a hornet and then they never seem to git tired ov it.
—Josh Billings

When Bob Dylan’s memoir Chronicles: Volume One was released in 2004 it received overwhelmingly positive reviews. Dylan’s recollections came off as disarmingly personal; the use of language in his prose was said to be as distinctive and captivating as it is in his songs. But over the past several years, in loose collaboration with Edward Cook, of Washington, DC, I have been giving Chronicles a closer look. Ed is, among other things, an editor of The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation—deciphering and translating are his business—but he is also a Bob Dylan fan and blogger. In 2006, he first posted about borrowings in Chronicles: Volume One from Mark Twain, Marcel Proust, and jazzman Mezz Mezzrow’s 1946 autobiography Really the Blues; later he posted about borrowings from Jack London and even Sax Rohmer, creator of Dr. Fu Manchu. And together Ed and I have found in Chronicles an author, Bob Dylan, who has embraced camouflage to an astounding degree, in a book that is meticulously fabricated, with one surface concealing another, from cover to cover.

Dozens upon dozens of quotations and anecdotes have been incorporated from other sources. Dylan has hidden many puzzles, jokes, secret messages, secondary meanings, and bizarre subtexts in his book. After many months of research my copy of Chronicles: Volume One is drenched in highlighter and filled with marginalia and I have a thigh-high stack of books, short stories, and periodicals that Dylan drew from to work his autobiographical alchemy. (more…)

Nat Tate Lives

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes

Submitted by W.J. Elvin III and André Gattolin:


The greatest literary hoax ever?
by John Crace
The Guardian
10 February 2010

A French philosopher has been caught out by a literary prank. But it’s nothing on the tale of the forgotten artist Nat Tate

La Rive Gauche rigole. Bernard-Henri Levy, France’s loudest voice of the 1970s school of nouveaux philosophes, who rarely appears on TV with his shirt buttoned beyond the waist, has been had. In his latest book, On War In Philosophy, BHL, as he is generally known, had a pop at Immanuel Kant, calling him “raving mad'” , saying that the little-known French philosopher, Jean-Baptiste Botul, had proved that once and for ” . . . in his series of lectures to the neo-Kantians of Paraguay, that their hero was an abstract fake, a pure spirit of pure appearance”.

Only it was Botul who was the fake, the invention of a French journalist Frederic Pages. There were clues. Botul’s supposed great work was The Sex Life of Immanuel Kant and his school of thought, Botulism. Not to mention a Wikipedia entry describing Botul as a fictional French philosopher. But BHL managed to miss all this and now he has been caught out, he has pulled the philosophical two-step of claiming, “Hats off for this invented-but-more-real-than-real Kant, whose portrait, whether signed Botul, Pages or John Smith, seems to be in harmony with my idea of a Kant who was tormented by demons that were less theoretical than it seemed”. But no one’s falling for this one.

Literature is fertile ground for hoaxers and people wanting to try it on. (more…)

LiteratEye #48: Newspaper Nostalgia: Biped Beavers, Libidinous Man-Bats on the Moon

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Media Pranks

Here’s the forty-eighth 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 #48: Newspaper Nostalgia: Biped Beavers, Libidinous Man-Bats on the Moon
By W.J. Elvin III
January 22, 2010

beavers-200The New York Times, you may have noticed, plans to start charging for portions of its web content. One assumes the portions will be the those readers find most interesting.

So then patronage will fall off, and with fewer readers there will be fewer advertisers, and so on until we hear the death rattle of yet another newspaper. Well, in the case of the Times it probably won’t be quite that bad, but the Internet era has certainly seen the downsizing or demise of quite a few news publications.

How bad is it? MSN Money lists newspaper subscriptions among its top ten things not to buy in 2010, citing the popular alternatives.

Which is too bad, because newspapers and news magazines have been a great vehicle for the perpetuation of hoaxes. No doubt our host, Joey Skaggs, is indebted to more than a few for taking the bait. In my own forty years or so in the news business I noticed a fairly cavalier attitude toward great stories that seemed at least a little fishy: “Print first, ask questions later.”

In the good old days, before newspapers got all goody-goody ethical, editors and reporters were among the top pranksters.

The sport got up its steam back in the 1830s. That was when Richard Adams Locke, an English journalist serving as editor of The New York Sun, sprang what is regarded as the greatest newspaper hoax of all time. (more…)

LiteratEye #47: A Tale of Theft & Murder Behind “The Hound of the Baskervilles”

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Urban Legends

Here’s the forty-seventh 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 #47: A Tale of Theft & Murder Behind “The Hound of the Baskervilles”
By W.J. Elvin III
January 15, 2010

Sherlock Holmes Movie Poster-200Some reviewers say Sir Arthur Conan Doyle must be rolling over in his grave in response to the new Sherlock Holmes film. Typical is the comment in The New York Times that Robert Downey, Jr.’s version of Sherlock “frequently bears little resemblance to the one Conan Doyle wrote about.”

Well, there are a great many Sherlock Holmes stories that Conan Doyle had nothing to do with other than to provide the basics, and who knows how many actors from the big screen to the small theater have portrayed our hero, each in their own way. So the current situation is nothing new, Sir Arthur has already been given plenty of reason to roll over.

More to the point, who can say how Doyle might have reacted? His famous detective novels give the impression he was as much a man of science as Sherlock, pragmatic, principled, scoffing at fantasy. Not entirely so. He was into fairies, séances and, it has been charged, murder.

Doyle continues to suffer ridicule for falling for fake photos of fairies. It’s said that in the 1920s he spent a million dollars in an effort to prove the existence of the tiny folk.

Probably the strangest story involving Doyle found him accused of plagiarism, conspiracy and murder. (more…)

LiteratEye #46: Who Discovered the Americas? Egyptians, Irish, Chinese and Your Uncle Bob

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Urban Legends

Here’s the forty-sixth 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 #46: Who Discovered the Americas? Egyptians, Irish, Chinese and Your Uncle Bob
By W.J. Elvin III
January 8, 2010

covermaur-200

“Nowhere, alas, does bullshit and bang-me-arse archaeology flourish so well these days as in America where foolish fantasies pour from the press every month and sell like hotcakes.”

-Noted archaeologist and detective novelist Glyn Daniel, quoted in the book, Fantastic Archaeology.

Do you get lured off down a rabbit hole by claims of lost civilizations, fantastic explorations, bizarre archaeological discoveries and all that? Welcome to the club.

My membership dues have included books I’ve bought, bang-me-arse fabrications or not, about visits to the Americas by Chinese, Welsh, Scot, Irish, Basque, Libyan, Egyptian, Norse and other travelers in the days before Columbus.

There’s no shortage of fascinating tales. Take, for instance, the one about the Roman-Jewish settlement in the Tucson area, dating back a thousand years or so. Has to be a hoax, but if so how did it fool several respectable investigators? (more…)

LiteratEye #45: How to Keep That New Year’s Resolution? Take It Along to a Desert Island

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes

Here’s the forty-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 #45: How to Keep That New Year’s Resolution? Take It Along to a Desert Island
By W.J. Elvin III
January 1, 2010

viewoftown-copia-200Happy New Year to all, especially to those who’ve signed on as friends at the Art of the Prank site on Facebook – it’s intriguing to see some of the people you’re writing to, or to try to guess who might be behind that weird picture.

So, have you made a resolution never to do that again, whatever that was? Good luck. Probably the only way to keep your resolution is to go live on a desert island like Robinson Crusoe.

But then, Robinson Crusoe is a literary character, he never really existed. As mentioned in LiteratEye #22, the story is based largely on the adventures of Alexander Selkirk, marooned on the island then known as Aguas Buenas, off the coast of Chile.

It is now officially Robinson Crusoe Island.

Daniel Defoe took a lot of heat for deception because he presented the book as a true memoir, the work of Crusoe.

Even to this day he takes heat for it, as evidenced in Nicholson Baker’s comments in the Columbia Journalism Review: “Robinson Crusoe is Defoe’s most famous hoax. We describe it as a novel, of course, but it wasn’t born that way. On its 1719 title page, the book was billed as the strange, surprising adventures of a mariner who lived all alone for eight-and-twenty years on an uninhabited island, ‘Written by H I M S E L F’-and people at first took this claim for truth and bought thousands of copies.”

Baker passes along a quote from early Defoe biographer William Minto: “He was a great, a truly great liar, perhaps the greatest liar that ever lived.” (more…)

LiteratEye #44: Disinformation: Did Jewish Author J.D. Salinger Really Marry a Nazi Official after World War II?

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes

Here’s the forty-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 #44: Disinformation: Did Jewish Author J.D. Salinger Really Marry a Nazi Official after World War II?
By W.J. Elvin III
December 18, 2009

200px-JD_SalingerJ.D. Salinger, the quirky author of The Catcher in the Rye fame, slammed a door in the world’s face many long years ago. But he pops up now and then, mostly in the form of legal representatives, to whomp up on anyone invading his privacy.

Salinger is very much in the news these days due to his efforts to block publication of a “copycat” book.

There is another story, though, that hasn’t caught the attention of literary pundits in the U.S. – yet. It relates to an allegation in his daughter’s highly publicized “tell all” biography, Dream Catcher: A Memoir.

Just a bit of background: The Catcher in the Rye, as readers from Melbourne to Murmansk certainly know without it being said, is one of the most influential books of the last century.

Most survivors of the education mill of the ’60s and ’70s have probably read the book, either because it was required or because it was forbidden. Having sold 35 million copies, sales figures still run to 250,000 copies a year.

The book was denounced as a corrupter of youth. And, given certain sinister associations, maybe the tight-sphincter set was on to something in fearing its impact.

Among obsessive Catcher fans were John Hinckley, who tried to kill President Ronald Reagan, and Mark David Chapman, who assassinated John Lennon.

But that’s another story, and so, back to the “Salinger married a Nazi” allegation. (more…)

LiteratEye #43: Oh, I wonder, wonder who, ummbadoo-ooh, who, who wrote “The Night Before Christmas”?

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Urban Legends

Here’s the forty-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 #43: Oh, I wonder, wonder who, ummbadoo-ooh, who, who wrote “The Night Before Christmas”?
By W.J. Elvin III
December 11, 2009

santa_record_broken-200Sure, some of us are nostalgic for ancient pagan winter rites like getting all painted up in blue for a sun worshipping cavort around a circle of huge boulders. Or those jolly pre-Christian customs like decorating trees with the intestines and various organs of one’s enemies. But let’s face it, the old-fashioned ways of celebrating year’s end are pretty much out of favor with the mainstream.

All that old-fashioned revelry has been transposed into kinder, gentler Christmas. In fact — regardless of your position as participant, observer of some other tradition, or just as bystander — you probably see the reality of two Christmases operating side by side. There’s the Christian religious celebration and then there’s the giving and getting commercial holiday frenzy.

Well, we’ll leave the religious rigmarole for someone else to tackle. Let’s look at the evolution of the commercial frenzy. (more…)

Boris Vian, French Artist and Provocateur Remembered

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Literary Hoaxes

A half-century homage to France’s master-prankster
by Alison Hird
Radio France Internationale
December 7, 2009

vian-cropped_200Boris Vian [1920 – 1959], the provocative writer, singer, poet, inventor and jazz trumpeter, was underestimated during his short, fast lifetime. Yet he had – and still has – a huge impact on French cultural and intellectual life. Fifty years after his death, Boris has come of age.

Listen to Alison Hird’s “Culture in France: Boris Vian” radio broadcast and read the whole article here.

In the preface to his perhaps finest and most famous novel L’Ecume des jours (Froth on the Daydream) Vian wrote: “There are only two things: love, all sorts of love, with pretty girls, and the music…of Duke Ellington. Everything else ought to go, because everything else is ugly”.

Wilfully provocative maybe, but there was more than a hint of truth in those words: Vian loved jazz and everything frivolous.

He refused to take himself seriously… Read more here.