Hippo Eats Dwarf: A Field Guide to Hoaxes and Other B.S.
Did you hear the one about the meat growing trees?
By Steven Martinovich
It is ironic in that in the Information Age, when claims and statements can be checked for accuracy more easily than ever before, that we seem no less susceptible to hoaxes and misinformation than our forebears in other allegedly less enlightened times. From our email boxes to the major media, we continue to fall prey to clever hoaxers looking for fun or profit. This era may be more accurately dubbed The Misinformation Age.
Alex Boese has built a popular web site entitled Museum of Hoaxes chronicling hoaxes, spawning two books the latest of which is his engaging Hippo Eats Dwarf: A Field Guide to Hoaxes and Other B.S. Part encyclopedia of recent hoaxes, part guide for readers to protect themselves, Hippo Eats Dwarf illustrates that we -- in the words of Boese -- live in a world "that's fake and growing faker every day."
Boese divides his book into a series of chapters that begins with "Birth" and ends with "Death" and covers pretty well everything else in between. Have you heard that there is a thriving market for cow urine as health drink in India? (True) That Microsoft attempted to buy the Catholic Church in the early 1990s? (False) The designer facemasks that Louis Vuitton released in response to the SARS outbreak? (False) You can find them all in Hippo Eats Dwarf.
Interspersed with the hoaxes are what Boese calls "Reality Rules." Examples include "Reality Rule 3.4: If unusual sex claims are physically possible there is a high probability they will become true -- even if they aren't initially so" and "Reality Rule 7.2: If an email urges you to forward its message to everyone you know, it's probably a hoax" -- the later which ought to be stamped on every computer sold to a new user.
As many of the hoaxes illustrate, there is usually an element of truth to each story that is necessary for it to be plausible to the potential victim. Every April 1, countless are taken in by news releases for new "left-handed" products such as new cell phone announced by Sony Ericsson in 2004. Dozens of web sites carried the story believing it to be legitimate until learning that it was in fact a prank. It played on the frustration by many southpaws with right-handed oriented products and was just convincing enough to be believable.
Interestingly, technology often plays a role in the modern hoax. Many of Boese's examples rely on the Internet for their birth, transmission and plausibility. Indeed, popular auction web site eBay rates its own short chapter with stories that include the infamous Wedding Dress Guy and the Virgin Mary Grilled Cheese Sandwich auction, won by an online casino in 2004. And who among us hasn't received some incredible picture via email purporting to show giant Iraqi spiders that attack camels or impossibly large house cats?
Perhaps the only criticism that a reader could make of Hippo Eats Dwarf is that it leaves one wanting more -- 278 pages filled with hoaxes simply isn't enough. Once opened it's quite an effort to tear oneself away from Hippo Eats Dwarf. Fortunately Boese's web site, www.museumofhoaxes.com, will fill the gap until his next effort.
The line between reality and the fake has become so blurred that one can be forgiven for falling for some of the more ludicrous hoaxes. "Our world isn't just fake or phony. Any society that produces Michael Jackson's nose, breast-enlarging mobile-phone ring tones and human-flavored tofu has gone well beyond that. Our world is hippo-eats-dwarf," writes Boese. Hippo Eats Dwarf reminds us that in such a world we always need to be skeptical, whether they're emailed instructions on how to raise a bonsai kitten or the latest proclamations by our political leaders.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
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