Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking

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Joey Skaggs Remembers His 1994 National Enquirer Hoax

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Illusion and Magic, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Pranksters, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

Note to Jeff Bezos: Take a page from me and screw the National Enquirer!


In 1994, after The New York Times Magazine published John Tierney’s article, Falling For It, about my Dog Meat Soup hoax, the National Enquirer called and said they were doing a profile about me. They wanted an exclusive photo shoot. Not liking or respecting this publication, I declined. They said they were going to do the story with or without any assistance from me. So, I sent an impostor to two different photo shoots.

They published this story:

Page Six of the New York Post exposed the hoax:



Full details of the National Enquirer hoax are here
.

Confessions of a Rock and Roll Poser

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Hype, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Publicity Stunts, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

Last autumn, Jered “Threatin” Eames staged the most alienating, least explicable rock tour stunt since the Sex Pistols hit the deep south. He recently broke his silence.


“The Great Heavy Metal Hoax”
by David Kushner
Rolling Stone
December 14, 2018

In November, managers of rock clubs across the United Kingdom began sharing the same weird tale. A pop-metal performer, Threatin, had rented their clubs for his 10-city European tour. Club owners had never heard of the act when a booking agent approached them promising packed houses. Threatin had fervent followers, effusive likes, rows of adoring comments under his YouTube concert videos, which showed him windmilling before a sea of fans. Websites for the record label, managers and a public-relations company who represented Threatin added to his legitimacy. Threatin’s Facebook page teemed with hundreds of fans who had RSVP’d for his European jaunt, which was supporting his album, Breaking the World.

But despite all the hype, almost no one came to the shows. It was just Threatin and his three-piece band onstage, and his wife, Kelsey, filming him from the empty floor. And yet Threatin didn’t seem to care — he just ripped through a set as if there was a full house. When confronted by confused club owners, Threatin just shrugged, blaming the lack of audience on bad promotion. “It was clear that something weird was happening,” says Jonathan “Minty” Minto, who was bartending the night Threatin played at the Exchange, a Bristol club, “but we didn’t realize how weird.” Intrigued, Minto and his friends started poking around Threatin’s Facebook page, only to find that most of the fans lived in Brazil. “The more we clicked,” says Minto, “the more apparent it became that every single attendee was bogus.”

It all turned out to be fake: The websites, the record label, the PR company, the management company, all traced back to the same GoDaddy account. The throngs of fans in Threatin’s concert videos were stock footage. The promised RSVPs never appeared. When word spread of Threatin’s apparent deception, club owners were perplexed: Why would someone go to such lengths just to play to empty rooms? Read more.

Improv Everywhere: Phone Booth Coworking

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Parody, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Pranksters

This past November, Improv Everywhere turned a pair of phone booths on 6th Avenue into coworking spaces. Real New Yorkers were invited to try out the new “WeWork Street” service and learn about the many benefits of outdoor coworking.

Watch the video:

This unauthorized project was a collaboration with Deanna Director and Maggie McClurken, who we worked with on the Fake Apple Store project, as well as public space artist Jordan Seiler, who lent his phone booth expertise. This project was not a collaboration with WeWork, but we hope they like it and hope they will consider the idea for their ever-expanding empire.

More Trump TV Time Travel

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Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fact or Fiction?, Political Pranks, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

There are an eery number of showbiz coincidences foreshadowing the political rise of Donald Trump. This 1958 TV Western, “Trackdown: The End of the World”, anticipates some pretty specific details, including the need for a wall to save the people from annihilation. Fact or fiction?


“A 1950s TV show had a fear-mongering conman named Trump who wanted to build a wall”
by Clara Sinclair
Boing Boing
January 10, 2019

On May 8, 1958, art imitated life in 2018. In an episode of a TV show called Trackdown, there was a conman named Trump, who tried to scare the bejeezus out of a town by preaching, “at midnight tonight, without my help and knowledge, every one of you will be dead.” The only way he could save them is by building a wall.

One sane man tries to talk some sense into the sheriff, with Trump in their presence. “How long are you going to put up with this?” he asks. But the brainwashed sheriff replies with a dumb, “What do you mean?”

How long are you going to let this conman walk around town?” the man persists.

Then Trump speaks his signature line: “Be careful son, I can sue you.” Read more and watch the entire episode here.

Watch a 4 minute promo clip:

The Political Prank That Ensnared the Wall Street Journal

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

Laura Loomer is a far-right media provocateur known for shambolic publicity stunts. Her toxic racial rhetoric has resulted in her removal from a number of social media platforms, and she hasn’t taken it well. Anxious to stay in the public eye, she was recently tricked into a bizarre caper that oddly also sucked in the Wall Street Journal. This comedy of errors encapsulates much of what is so ridiculous about the current media landscape. See if you can keep up.


“Did the Wall Street Journal Fall for a Prank Directed at Laura Loomer?”
by Jared Holt
Right Wing Watch
January 15, 2019

EXCERPT FROM THE FULL ARTICLE: “She didn’t verify who I am once. Never did she make an attempt,” Gillen said. “Everything I gave her as ‘info,’ she took as gospel. She hasn’t batted an eye or questioned anything that I said, ever.”

In a recorded phone call Bernard shared with us, Loomer expressed her willingness to leverage all means possible to retaliate against Twitter.

“I’m down with anything, honestly. So if whistle-blowers like yourself just want to come to me—I mean, I’m looking to escalate this as much as I can. I don’t even care. The gloves are off right now. [Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey] is banning people simply because they’re conservative. … He is taking money from all these Muslims and implementing Sharia law,” Loomer told Gillen during a phone call.

Bernard told Right Wing Watch that the goal of their stunt was to see if Loomer would go on-air at Alex Jones’ Infowars and repeat what they had told her, after which they planned to reveal the details of their joke in order to make a point about what they said were Loomer’s and Infowars’ non-existent journalistic standards and confirmation bias.

But something else happened.

“Don’t worry it will be big,” Loomer wrote to the pranksters in a December text message. “I have a big network of journalists I know.”

Read the whole story here.


Meet the Robert Mueller Action Figure

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Just for Kids, Political Pranks, Prank News, Satire

Tired of waiting for the latest indictment? With this toy special prosecutor, you can lay down the law in the comfort of your own living room.


“Robert Mueller is getting his own action figure”
by Emily Jacobs
The New York Post
January 15, 2019

Robert Mueller has a new action figure, and its as tight lipped as the real-life special counsel.

The six-inch figurine was produced by FCTRY, a Brooklyn-based manufacturer that also sells action figures of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The company also has a Donald Trump doll they refer to as “Evil Trump Action Figure.”

FCTRY’s description of the figurine says that it includes a “fixed gaze, because he knows you know he knows,” an “extended finger” which “pokes holes in flimsy alibis,” an open right hand that is “ready for the smoking gun,” “sturdy pockets” to “hold his strong moral compass” and “impermeable shoes in case of tweetstorms.”

As for the company’s reasoning behind them making the Mueller figure, the product description states: “We’re not trying to be melodramatic here but the Special Counsel sure seems to be the last thing standing between us and utter chaos. In fact, it’s almost impossible to dream up a more perfect foil to Donald Trump.” Read more.

The Great Jimmy Page Robbie Williams London Times Hoax

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fact or Fiction?, Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, You Decide

This is an amusing, ridiculous, and absurd story. But more importantly, it’s an example of how a story can grow from a snowflake into an avalanche. Particularly when the media is interested in nothing more than creating click-bait to enhance its bottom line.

It started with this tweet:

The next day I was contacted numerous times by Harry Shukman, a London Times journalist, wanting to know if I was responsible for a letter sent to the Kensington and Chelsea borough in the UK purporting that singer songwriter Robbie Williams (the former Take That star) has been mocking Jimmy Page (of Led Zeppelin fame) with ridiculous stunts because Page has been trying for five years to protect his historic mansion from potential damage that could be caused by Williams’ proposed construction of an underground pool next door.

In other words, he wanted to know if the whole thing was a hoax perpetrated by me. (more…)

AeroMexico Offers DNA Discounts

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Media Pranks, Political Pranks, Prank News, Satire

A huge number of people who dislike Mexicans don’t know they have Mexican DNA. AeroMexico offers “inner discounts” because “there are no borders within us.” Brilliant ad!


Watch the commercial:

Cardi B’s Anti-Trump Rant Remixed

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking

The Gregory Brothers have remixed Cardi B’s anti-Trump government shutdown rant to her hit, “Bodak Yellow.”

Watch the video:

Reality: Now Faker Than Ever

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Media Literacy, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin

In a brilliant and dizzying end-of-year rant, Max Read takes stock of how much of our digital world is constructed from weapons-grade fraud, deception, nonsense, hokum, and miscellaneous bullshit.


“How Much of the Internet is Fake? Turns Out, a Lot of It, Actually”
by Max Read
New York Intelligencer
December 26, 2018

How much of the internet is fake? Studies generally suggest that, year after year, less than 60 percent of web traffic is human; some years, according to some researchers, a healthy majority of it is bot. For a period of time in 2013, the Times reported this year, a full half of YouTube traffic was “bots masquerading as people,” a portion so high that employees feared an inflection point after which YouTube’s systems for detecting fraudulent traffic would begin to regard bot traffic as real and human traffic as fake. They called this hypothetical event “the Inversion.”

In the future, when I look back from the high-tech gamer jail in which President PewDiePie will have imprisoned me, I will remember 2018 as the year the internet passed the Inversion, not in some strict numerical sense, since bots already outnumber humans online more years than not, but in the perceptual sense. The internet has always played host in its dark corners to schools of catfish and embassies of Nigerian princes, but that darkness now pervades its every aspect: Everything that once seemed definitively and unquestionably real now seems slightly fake; everything that once seemed slightly fake now has the power and presence of the real. The “fakeness” of the post-Inversion internet is less a calculable falsehood and more a particular quality of experience — the uncanny sense that what you encounter online is not “real” but is also undeniably not “fake,” and indeed may be both at once, or in succession, as you turn it over in your head. Read more.

Deep Fakes: Down the Horrifying Rabbit Hole

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation, The Future of Pranks

On the topic of our tenuous collective relationship with the concept formerly known as “truth,” this examination of “deep fakes,” high-tech simulated video recordings of people you recognize doing things they’ve never actually done, may be the most frightening and portentous emerging story of 2018. And that’s saying a mouthful.


“You thought fake news was bad? Deep fakes are where truth goes to die”
by Oscar Schwartz
November 12, 2018
The Guardian

Fake videos can now be created using a machine learning technique called a “generative adversarial network”, or a GAN. A graduate student, Ian Goodfellow, invented GANs in 2014 as a way to algorithmically generate new types of data out of existing data sets. For instance, a GAN can look at thousands of photos of Barack Obama, and then produce a new photo that approximates those photos without being an exact copy of any one of them, as if it has come up with an entirely new portrait of the former president not yet taken. GANs might also be used to generate new audio from existing audio, or new text from existing text – it is a multi-use technology.

The use of this machine learning technique was mostly limited to the AI research community until late 2017, when a Reddit user who went by the moniker “Deepfakes” – a portmanteau of “deep learning” and “fake” – started posting digitally altered pornographic videos. He was building GANs using TensorFlow, Google’s free open source machine learning software, to superimpose celebrities’ faces on the bodies of women in pornographic movies.

A number of media outlets reported on the porn videos, which became known as “deep fakes”. In response, Reddit banned them for violating the site’s content policy against involuntary pornography. By this stage, however, the creator of the videos had released FakeApp, an easy-to-use platform for making forged media. The free software effectively democratized the power of GANs. Suddenly, anyone with access to the internet and pictures of a person’s face could generate their own deep fake. Read more.

The Best Defense Against a Bad Guy With a Bot

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Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation, The World of the Prank

During the 2016 US election cycle, artificial intelligence was wildly successful at spreading lies and propaganda. These researchers suggest weaponizing better bots and aiming them in the opposite direction.


“Bots spread a lot of fakery during the 2016 election. But they can also debunk it.”
by Daniel Funke
November 20, 2018
Poynter

Aside from their role in amplifying the reach of misinformation, bots also play a critical role in getting it off the ground in the first place. According to the study, bots were likely to amplify false tweets right after they were posted, before they went viral. Then users shared them because it looked like a lot of people already had.

“People tend to put greater trust in messages that appear to originate from many people,” said co-author Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of South Florida, in the press release. “Bots prey upon this trust by making messages seem so popular that real people are tricked into spreading their messages for them.”

The study suggests Twitter curb the number of automated accounts on social media to cut down on the amplification of misinformation. The company has made some progress toward this end, suspending more than 70 million accounts in May and June alone. More recently, the company took down a bot network that pushed pro-Saudi views about the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi and started letting users report potential fake accounts.

Nonetheless, bots are still wrecking havoc on Twitter — and some aren’t used for spreading misinformation at all. So what should fact-checkers do to combat their role in spreading misinformation?

Tai Nalon has spent the better part of the past year trying to answer that question — and her answer is to beat the bots at their own game.

“I think artificial intelligence is the only way to tackle misinformation, and we have to build bots to tackle misinformation,” said the director of Aos Fatos, a Brazilian fact-checking project. “(Journalists) have to reach the people where they are reading the news. Now in Brazil, they are reading on social media and on WhatsApp. So why not be there and automate processes using the same tools the bad guys use?” Read more.

This Rascal’s Obituary is a Collaborative Literary Masterpiece

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Media Pranks, Parody, Prank News, Pranksters, The World of the Prank

As a fitting tribute to the prank-loving Rick Stein on the occasion of his death, his daughter Alex Walsh took some creative liberties in his honor. Then things got really ridiculous, swelling into a funny and moving tribute to the power of a life irreverently lived.


“A daughter’s hilarious obituary unravels her father’s mysterious life. You have to read to the end to get it.”
by Allison Klein
October 11, 2018
The Washington Post

The obituary that ran last week in Delaware Online is a mystery, the tale of a globe-trotting Renaissance man who disappeared in a single-engine plane over the Atlantic Ocean after learning he had cancer.

It was written by Alex Walsh about her father, Rick Stein, 71, a man who she said had an endless appetite for comedy. The huge response on social media has been comfort to the mourning family, she said, as people who never knew her father have been sending condolences by the dozens.

“All of this is bittersweet,” Walsh, 45, said in an interview with The Washington Post.

The obituary begins:

“Rick Stein, 71, of Wilmington was reported missing and presumed dead on September 27, 2018 when investigators say the single-engine plane he was piloting, The Northrop, suddenly lost communication with air traffic control and disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Rehoboth Beach. Philadelphia police confirm Stein had been a patient at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital where he was being treated for a rare form of cancer. Hospital spokesman Walter Heisenberg says doctors from Stein’s surgical team went to visit him on rounds when they discovered his room was empty. Security footage shows Stein leaving the building at approximately 3:30 Thursday afternoon, but then the video feed mysteriously cuts off.

“Authorities say they believe Stein took an Uber to the Philadelphia airport where they assume he somehow gained access to the aircraft. ‘The sea was angry that day,’ said NTSB lead investigator Greg Fields in a news conference. ‘We have no idea where Mr. Stein may be, but any hope for a rescue is unlikely.”’ (more…)

Improv Everywhere: The Giant Boom Box

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Illusion and Magic, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Pranksters, Publicity Stunts

Note from Editor Joey Skaggs: This brings back fond memories of my 1978 Disco Radio, a 4 foot by 2 foot by 8 foot wide radio on wheels, built by my New York SVA students for a class project. It was a commentary on the proliferation of loud disco radios blaring music throughout the streets of New York at that time. Students dressed in costumes, each with their own disco radio, wheeled the giant radio into Washington Square Park where they played music matching their costumed characters, all at the same time.

Charlie Todd’s wonderfully sweet Giant Boombox event, sponsored by Target, looks a lot less noisy!


Improv Everywhere’s Giant Boombox

We placed a 10-foot tall boombox on Pier 17 in Manhattan and waited for unsuspecting people to plug it in. Real New Yorkers worked together to carry the 160-foot long cord across the pier to an oversized outlet.

Once the boombox was plugged in, everyone was surprised by a massive holiday dance party with 100 acrobatic dancers, thousands of Christmas lights placed on two historic ships, and 10 hidden snow machines.

For more photos and a look behind the scenes at how this event came together, visit https://improveverywhere.com/2018/12/17/the-giant-boombox/.

Sponsored by Target

Give A Holiday Gift Guaranteed To Bring Smiles (And Get A Special $5 Holiday Discount)!

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Instructionals, Pranksters, Satire, The Prank as Art, What Makes a Good Prank?, Why Do a Prank?

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WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING:

“Art of the Prank was hysterical, sometimes shocking and ridiculous, but mostly inspiring and thought provoking.”
– Dircksey

“Really fascinating… incredible”
– Film Colossus

“If you don’t know who Joey Skaggs is, know this: he is a f*cking national treasure! One of the best pranksters in history. We see him provide comical and sometimes biting commentary on our society in Art of the Prank, all carried out with deadpan precision.”
– Fandor

“For those who still believe in Santa Claus this film is a must-see!”
– Joey Skaggs