Fact or Fiction?

A look at conspiracy theories, “official truths”, political spin, propaganda, tall tales, urban legends, magic, and illusion, all as they relate to the Art of the Prank. When truth intersects with a personal agenda, established facts are challenged, or human gullibility is preyed upon for ulterior motives, we hope that skepticism, logic, reason, and facts have a balancing effect.

Blog Posts

RIP Robert Forster

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Filed under: The Big One

Sadly, my dear friend Robert Forster is no longer with us. Much loved, he’ll be greatly missed.

Robert Forster in Art of the Prank. Courtesy Relight Films.

No Surprise, But U.S. Foreign Policy’s Gone Rogue

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

Senator Lindsey Graham was caught by Russian pranksters a few months ago saying the exact opposite of what he just said publicly against Turkey’s aggressions in Syria yesterday. How much more convoluted can our foreign policy get?


Lindsey Graham dishes on Trump in hoax calls with Russians
By Natasha Bertrand
Politico
10/10/2019

Graham thought he was speaking with Turkey’s minister of defense. Instead, it was a pair of Russian pranksters.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham has in the last year become something of a congressional point man for President Donald Trump’s negotiations with Turkey, leading discussions on everything from Ankara’s purchase of a Russian missile system over the summer to their more recent incursion into northern Syria.

So when he received a call from a man he thought was Turkey’s minister of defense earlier in August, it didn’t strike him as unusual. “Thank you so much for calling me, Mr. Minister,” Graham said. “I want to make this a win-win, if we can.”

But it wasn’t the Turkish defense minister at all. Instead, it was Alexey Stolyarov and Vladimir Kuznetsov, Russian pranksters with suspected ties to the country’s intelligence services who go by “Lexus and Vovan.” The duo have become notorious in recent years for their cold calls to unwitting, high-profile Western politicians, including Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, leading some to suspect that they’ve had help from the Kremlin, according to The Guardian. (A Schiff spokesman said at the time that the House Intelligence Committee “informed appropriate law enforcement and security personnel of the conversation.”)

Hear a snippet of the call:

Read the whole story here.

Here’s Why New York City Parks Close at Dusk

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Satire, Urban Legends

Reminding us about the good old days, artist Joseph Reginella just placed statues around New York commemorating Mayor Ed Koch’s (1978-1989) strategy for ridding the city of taggers by releasing wild wolves in the subway yards. According to Joseph, they’ve since multiplied and are roaming the city’s nether regions. H/T Felipe.


Sculptures of wolves mauling tourist appear in New York City parks
by Rusty Blazenhoff
BoingBoing
October 10, 2019

This is weird.

A series of identical monuments depicting a tourist being mauled by a pack of wolves have surreptitiously been installed in different New York City parks with plaques that read:

Dedicated to the many tourists that go missing every year in New York City.

And a reminder as to why the parks close at dusk.

Erected by the Ed Koch Wolf Foundation and the NYC Fellowship.

A brilliant prankster with mad sculpting skills is taking credit.

Watch the video:

Here’s Mayor Koch pontificating on his brilliant idea:

Read the full story here.

To Trump You’re a Moving Target

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Legal Issues, Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation

Want to be “micro-targeted” by the Trump campaign? Just make a donation and they’ll handle the rest.


Trump campaign says it can track your phone
by Matt Binder
Mashable
September 26, 2019

President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign website recently added language that gives it permission to use “beacons” to track the location of mobile devices.

And if you don’t like it? It’s now harder to sue the Trump campaign for privacy violations.

The location tracking addendum was added to the campaign’s privacy policy under the “Information You Choose to Provide to Us” section. The change was first noticed in July by Campaign Monitor, an online tool that tracks significant changes made to 2020 presidential campaign websites.

“We may also collect other information based on your location and your Device’s proximity to ‘beacons’ and other similar proximity systems, including, for example, the strength of the signal between the beacon and your Device and the duration that your Device is near the beacon,” reads the portion added to the Trump campaign’s website privacy policy.

Rest the whole article here.

Banking on Banksy

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Prank News, Pranksters, Publicity Stunts, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

Banksy conquers retail with a storefront selling satire.


Banksy Opens London Art Shop Same Week He Sets $12M Auction Record
by Naomi Polonsky
Hyperallergic
October 4, 2019

The anonymous artist has opened a shop in the south London borough of Croydon to showcase some of his characteristically humorous items.

photos by Naomi Polonsky

LONDON — Banksy has always had a complicated relationship with the art market. His unsanctioned street works deliberately challenge the idea of art as a tradeable commodity, but often still end up at auction, commanding astronomical prices. A stunt last year during which his “Girl with a Balloon” (2006) self-destructed at a Sotheby’s sale seemed like a rebuke to the art market, but in fact simply doubled the piece’s value.

But as of this week, Banksy has officially gone into business. A new installation of his work, unveiled on Tuesday, features a storefront filled with branded merchandise. Although Banksy has exhibited his works in storefront installations before, this is the first time that the items are for sale. All of the products will go on sale online in a couple of weeks with prices starting at £10. Gross Domestic Product, which is located in a disused carpet shop in the south London borough of Croydon, includes old and new works by the artist including the iconic stab vest worn by the grime artist Stormzy at Glastonbury last year…

Playing on the double meaning of “gross,” Banksy’s store stocks various disturbing and unsavoury items, such as a rug made from the skin of Tony the Tiger, who has died of diabetes after eating too much Frosted Flakes cereal. A label, written in Banksy’s characteristically irreverent tone, explains that “the floor covering makes quite the conversation piece — especially if the conversation centres around the UK spending over £7.8 million a year on tooth extractions for the under 5s.”

New York Subway Poster Promotes the Real Rudy Giuliani

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Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Fraud and Deception, Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin

How the mighty have fallen. h/t Nancy


NYC subway riders greeted by ad hyping ‘crazy’ Rudy Giuliani’s law offices: ‘Will work when drunk!’
by Michael Elsen-Roonet and Chris Sommerfeldt
New York Daily News
October 1, 2019

Rudy Giuliani is off the rails, according to a cheeky ad that popped up in the New York City subway Tuesday.

The satirical ad, which was spotted on at least one A train Tuesday afternoon, touts the ex-New York mayor-turned-Trump attorney’s “crazy” legal services, including “back-channel deals” and “cable news appearances.”

The blue-banner ad also features a mug of Giuliani with his tongue partially out of his mouth, along with a phone number and a link to “CrazyRudyLaw.com.”

“At least I’m assuming its fake! lol,” a straphanger who discovered the “Crazy Rudy” ad told the Daily News. Read the whole article here.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall–Who is the Fakest of Them All?

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Filed under: Illusion and Magic, Media Pranks, Parody, Publicity Stunts, Spin

Is that social media influencer you’re following real?


These Influencers Aren’t Flesh and Blood, Yet Millions Follow Them
by Tiffany Hsu
The New York Times
June 17, 2019

Balmain commissioned the former fashion photographer Cameron-James Wilson to create a “virtual army” of digital models, including, from left, Margot, Shudu and Zhi. Credit Balmain.

The kiss between Bella Hadid and Miquela Sousa, part of a Calvin Klein commercial last month, struck many viewers as unrealistic, even offensive.

Ms. Hadid, a supermodel, identifies as heterosexual, and the ad sparked complaints that Calvin Klein was deceiving customers with a sham lesbian encounter. The fashion company apologized for “queerbaiting” after the 30-second spot appeared online.

But Ms. Hadid, at least, is human. Everything about Ms. Sousa, better known as Lil Miquela, is manufactured: the straight-cut bangs, the Brazilian-Spanish heritage, the bevy of beautiful friends.

Lil Miquela, who has 1.6 million Instagram followers, is a computer-generated character. Introduced in 2016 by a Los Angeles company backed by Silicon Valley money, she belongs to a growing cadre of social media marketers known as virtual influencers.

Each month, more than 80,000 people stream Lil Miquela’s songs on Spotify. She has worked with the Italian fashion label Prada, given interviews from Coachella and flaunted a tattoo designed by an artist who inked Miley Cyrus.

Until last year, when her creators orchestrated a publicity stunt to reveal her provenance, many of her fans assumed she was a flesh-and-blood 19-year-old. But Lil Miquela is made of pixels, and she was designed to attract follows and likes. (more…)

BP or Not BP: Be Wary of Petroleum Based Companies Bearing Gifts

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Hype, Parody, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation

The art activism group BP or not BP is planning a “Trojan Horse” action for November 23 at the British Museum to protest arts organizations that take oil funding. The public is invited.


Anti-Oil Protesters Will Storm the British Museum with a Trojan Horse
by Sarah Rose Sharp
Hyperallergic.com
October 3, 2019

BP or not BP? launched a crowdfunding campaign to build a giant Trojan Horse for its largest protest yet, which will coincide with the museum’s Troy: Myth and Reality exhibition.

photo by Jorge Láscar

A press release dropped today, announcing the next slated action by activist group BP or Not BP? in its ongoing protest campaign against the British Museum’s involvement with British Petroleum (BP). The theater group is inviting public participation in its forthcoming campaign, which takes specific aim at the opening weekend of the new BP-sponsored exhibition about the ancient city of Troy. BP or not BP? intends to replicate the mythic “Siege of Troy” by staging an action at the British Museum. The group has framed this as a “mass creative takeover” and “reimagining” of the British Museum which will take place on Saturday, November 23. They invite public participation in both the protest action and a public crowdfunding campaign to raise money to build a giant Trojan Horse.

In its press release about the project, timed to coincide with the national Museums Association conference in Brighton, which starts today, Sarah Horne of BP or not BP? said: “It’s deeply ironic that BP is sponsoring an exhibition called Troy: Myth and Reality, because this sponsorship deal is essentially a Trojan Horse for BP’s real activities. Just like in the myth, BP pretends that it’s giving us a gift, when in reality it’s trying to smuggle its deadly climate-wrecking business plans past our defences.” Read the whole story here.

Fake News, Fake Fans: We’re All Faked Out

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation

David Strom reports on his Web Informant blog about two interesting studies: one from researchers at Oxford about how ubiquitous global disinformation and social media manipulation has become, and the other about how many of politicians’ Twitter followers are totally fake. Donald Trump wins with 61%!


The worldwide spread of government-sponsored social media misinformation
by David Strom
Web Informant
September 27, 2019

For the past three years, researchers at Oxford University have been tracking the rise of government and political party operatives who have been using various social media tools as propaganda devices. Their goal is to shape and undermine trust with public opinion and automate dissent suppression. This year’s report is chilling and I urge you to read it yourself and see what you think. It shows how social media has infected the world’s democracies on an unprecedented scale.

One thing the Oxford researchers didn’t examine is how the practice of using fake followers of major political figures has spread. This analysis was done by SparkToro. As you can see in the above graphic, Donald Trump and Jerry Brown have half or more of their Twitter followers by bots and other automated programs. There are other political figures elsewhere that have high fake proportions too. Read the full blog post here.

3.8 Million Years Later…

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fact or Fiction?, Political Pranks, Satire

Behold humankind’s most primitive man. h/t Naomi.


Skull of humankind’s oldest-known ancestor unearthed
Associated Press
August 29, 2019

NEW YORK — A fossil from Ethiopia is letting scientists look millions of years into our evolutionary history — and they see a face peering back.

The find, from 3.8 million years ago, reveals the face for a presumed ancestor of the species famously represented by Lucy, the celebrated Ethiopian partial skeleton found in 1974.

Read the whole (real) article here.

Be Aware: The Age of DeepFakes is Upon Us

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Illusion and Magic, Media Pranks, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin, The Future of Pranks, The History of Pranks

This must-see “DeepFake” video transforms Bill Hader, when he was on Late Night with David Letterman, into Tom Cruise before your very eyes.

Watch the video: Bill Hader channels Tom Cruise [DeepFake], YouTube

A little bit of history: In 1987, an interview with Joey Skaggs was published in a book by RE/Search Pubs called Pranks! in which he predicts and discusses the implications of this exact technology.

AJ: “What is reality?”
JS: “Right. What is reality, and how can you know what is history?
“I’d also like to talk about technology and where we’re going. With the ability to comptuer-enerate photo images and do montage, collage and eventually holograms, we’ll have Hitler alive in South America totally fabricated. We’ll have a home movie of JFK actually screwing Marilyn Monroe, or whatever twisted historical thing we want to create. And it will be virtually impossible to detect that it’s a creation, because of the advancements in technology. We are coming to the forefront tehcnologically of a really frightening media reality. If we don’t sharpen our tools now, our integrity, we’re in for even bigger trouble.”

Read the entire RE/Search Pranks! interview here.

Excerpt:

Anal Ventriloquism Strikes Again

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Filed under: Conspiracy Theories

Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman are wannabe conspiracy theorists in search of click-bait.


Serial Hoaxers Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman Swear They’ll Solve Epstein’s Death
by Will Sommer
The Daily Beast
August 12, 2019

The men behind smears of Mueller and Buttigieg offer $100,000 for info about the wealthy sex offender’s demise in jail. They don’t exactly have an inspiring track record.

John Middlebrook/AP

Jeffrey Epstein’s apparent suicide Saturday morning in a Manhattan jail cell has spawned conspiracy theories he was murdered and sent feds scrambling to figure out how the wealthy sex offender could have died in their custody.

Now two attention-hungry men whose collaborations tend to fail spectacularly say they want to crack the case by offering a $100,000 reward for information.

Epstein’s body was discovered around 6:30 a.m. on Saturday at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, where he was being held while facing federal sex-trafficking charges. While no official cause of death ruling has been made, the New York City medical examiner has said she is confident Epstein killed himself. Meanwhile, the Justice Department is investigating “serious irregularities” at MCC, such as the reported failure of guards to check on Epstein every 30 minutes. (Epstein had been taken off of suicide watch days before his death.)

On Monday, lobbyist Jack Burkman and conservative operative Jacob Wohl—the hapless serial hoaxers behind several earlier failed schemes—announced that they were going to “enter the fray” and investigate Epstein’s death. (more…)

Right-Wing Website Dosed With Own Medicine

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, The World of the Prank

The op-ed site Quillette has risen to prominence in the Trump-era conservative firmament by condemning progressive orthodoxies around race and gender, providing a platform for accused sexual predators, defending “Google Memo” author James “Fired4Truth” Damore, and promoting the “Sokal Squared” hoax, an effort to discredit academic disciplines by categorizing them as “grievance studies.”

This week, the site took a blow to its own credibility when left-aligned mischief-maker “Archie Carter” submitted a critique of the Democratic Socialists of America littered with lies, cliches, and errata. The piece was promptly published and promptly retracted by Quillette, leaving leftist publications Alternet and Jacobin (along with broad swaths of Twitter) to gloat over the fallout.

Will Sommer, a journalist/provocateur focused on far-right movements, scored an interview with the hoaxer.


Quillette Duped by Left-Wing Hoaxer Posing as Communist Construction Worker
by Will Sommer
The Daily Beast
August 9, 2019

Construction worker and avowed Leninist Archie Carter has plenty of gripes with the Democratic Socialists of America, the left-wing group that’s enjoyed a new wave of popularity during the Trump era.

In an essay published Thursday on the conservative op-ed website Quillette, Carter declared that DSA had been overrun with overeducated, oversensitive college graduates, blinding itself to the true needs of the working class.

“DSA is doomed,” Carter wrote.

Carter’s piece seemed like exactly the kind of argument that’s turned Quillette, a self-described “platform for free thought,” into a hotbed for the right-wing online “Intellectual Dark Web” movement. Carter had impeccable blue-collar bona fides, with his Quillette bio describing him as a committed union member who’s always “watching the Mets blow a lead.”

But there’s one problem with Carter’s story: He doesn’t exist.

DSA members started picking holes in Carter’s story almost as soon it went live on Quillette. New York City’s DSA local couldn’t find any record of a member, current or former, named Archie Carter. And while Carter claimed to have participated in sit-in protests as part of his DSA work, the group hadn’t organized sit-ins in New York in years.

By Thursday evening, Quillette had retracted Carter’s essay, saying Carter had failed to “supply answers to our follow-up questions in timely fashion.” Read more.


Citroën’s WWII Subterfuge Remembered

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Fraud and Deception, Political Pranks, The History of Pranks, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction, Urban Legends, You Decide

True or not, this is an inspiring bit of sabotage.


Citroën Sabotaged Wartime Nazi Truck Production in a Simple and Brilliant Way
by Jason Torchinsky
Jalopnik.com
July 24, 2019

Citroen

In case you forgot to change the batteries in your calendar, you may not be aware that this year is the 100th anniversary of Citroën. We’ve been shooting a Jason Drives special mini-series for this centenary, and while doing some research I happened to stumble upon a fascinating bit of wartime Citroën lore. It involves screwing with Nazis in a genuinely clever and subtle way that nevertheless had big repercussions. I’ll explain.

So, when France was occupied by the Germans in 1940, major French factories like Citroën were forced to produce equipment for the Nazis. Citroën president Pierre-Jules Boulanger knew he couldn’t just refuse to produce anything, but he also knew there’s no way in hell he’s going to just roll over and build trucks for a bunch of filthy Nazis. Pierre had a plan.

John Reynolds’ book Citroën 2CV describes Boulanger’s sabotage efforts. Of course, he instructed workers to set a nice, leisurely pace when building trucks (likely Citroën T45 trucks) for the Wermacht, but that’s fairly obvious. What was brilliant was Boulanger’s idea to move the little notch on the trucks’ oil dipsticks that indicated the proper level of oil down just a bit lower.

By moving the notch down, the trucks would not have enough oil, but German mechanics would have no idea, because, hey, the little notch on the dipstick says its just fine. Then, after the truck has been used for a while and is out deployed somewhere crucial, whammo, the engine seizes up, and you’ve got a lot of angry, stranded, vulnerable Nazis, balling up their little fists and redly barking curses in German.

It’s such a fantastic act of sabotage: it’s extremely cheap to implement, it’s subtle, there’s no way to see something amiss is happening as the trucks are being built, and it delivers its blow away from the site of the sabotage and when it will cause the most inconvenience and trouble.

I suppose it could be apocryphal, but this is one of those cases where I’m going to choose to believe.

That’s some mighty good sabotaging, Pierre.

Cutting the Cheese Takes on New Meaning

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Parody, Prank News, Pranksters, Publicity Stunts, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

Food: Bigger than the Plate at Victoria and Albert Museum, “examining various approaches to the future of food through contemporary design, art, and engineering”, opened on May 18 in London and is scheduled to run through October 20, 2019.


These Dairy Devils Are Making Cheese From Celebrities’ Bacteria
by Rohini Chaki
MAY 14, 2019

Aged, ripe, and not for consumption.


(right), trying to brie calm, with Thomas Meany, maker of cheeses from humans. COURTESY OF OPEN CELL

ON MAY 18, A TEAM of renegade cheesemakers will showcase some very outré cheese at the Victoria and Albert Museum’s forthcoming exhibition, Food: Bigger than the Plate. No samplings of this cheese, which will be showcased in climate-controlled glass, shall be on offer. Which is just as well, since they have been made with bacteria from the bodies of British celebrities.

Alex James of the rock band Blur, Michelin-star chef Heston Blumenthal, former Great British Bake Off finalist and author Ruby Tandoh, the singer-songwriter Suggs, and the rapper Professor Green all volunteered their bodily bacteria for science. More specifically, a chef, a synthetic biologist, and a biodesigner turned their body swabs into starter culture for the five cheeses that make up the exhibit, named Selfmade.

Helene Steiner and Thomas Meany are the team behind Open Cell, a biotechnology research hub housed within 45 shipping containers in Shepherd’s Bush, London. Together with chef John Quilter, who goes by Food Busker, the human-cheese artisans have been maturing a cheshire cheese (from Alex James), a comté (Heston Blumenthal), a mozzarella (Professor Green), a Stilton (Ruby Tandoh), and a Cheddar (Suggs). All five cheeses are maturing at the Open Cell lab, and will continue to age at the V&A’s Food exhibition, one of 70 exhibits examining various approaches to the future of food through contemporary design, art, and engineering.

The Selfmade team has launched a Youtube series to promote and explain the project, whose first episode aired on May 11, on Food Busker’s channel. In it, Professor Green gamely declares, “I hate cheese, but I’m here to be made into one.”

Read the rest of this article here.