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Hoaxes as Social Activism
Gay Village, June 2014
A Dutch real estate company announced plans to develop a utopian "protected" community specifically for gay people on the north side of Tilburg. It would be named "Gay Village." The company said it had come up with the idea after seeing research showing that 22% of gay men didn't feel safe in their own neighborhood. The concept immediately generated controversy, with many denouncing it as a "gay ghetto". But a day later, the gay rights organization Roze Maandag (Pink Monday) admitted it was the mastermind behind the plan, which was all a hoax designed to highlight the problem of homophobia and "create awareness." [guardian]
The Yes Men’s Bhopal Hoax, 2004
On December 3, 2004 the BBC broadcast an interview with Jude Finisterra, who claimed to be a representative of Dow Chemical. The date was the 20th anniversary of the chemical disaster in Bhopal, and the BBC had sought out a representative from Dow to speak about the tragedy since Dow had inherited responsibility for the disaster via a corporate acquisition. During the interview, Mr. Finisterra shocked the BBC's audience when he said that not only had Dow decided to accept full responsibility for the incident, but that it was going to pay $12 billion in compensation to the victims. In response to the news, Dow's stock value promptly dropped. More…
Arm the Homeless, 1993
A press release distributed to the media in Columbus, Ohio announced the formation of a new charity for the homeless. But instead of giving food or shelter, this charity planned to provide guns and ammunition. It called itself the "Arm the Homeless Coalition." News of this charity soon spread nationwide and generated enormous controversy. But when an Ohio reporter tried to track down the director of the Coalition, his investigation led him instead to a group of university students who admitted the entire thing was a hoax, designed, they said, "to draw attention to the issues of guns and violence, homelessness and media manipulation in our society." More…
FAINT, 1985
During the taping of the Donahue talk show, on January 21, 1985, seven members of the audience fainted. The producers of the show theorized that the hot temperature inside the studio caused the people to collapse, but a few days later it was revealed that "professional hoaxer" Alan Abel had paid them to pretend to faint. He said that the stunt was a protest against the deteriorating quality of daytime talk shows and claimed that a group called FAINT (Fight Against Idiotic Neurotic TV) had spearheaded the protest. "We want to raise the consciousness of the public by going unconscious," he said. More…
Black Like Me
John Howard Griffin was a white native Texan novelist and journalist with a strange idea that he couldn't get out of his head. What if a white man became a black man for six weeks and traveled through Deep South states such as Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi? More…
The Veterans of Future Wars, 1936
Future veterans march to demand their bonuses In 1935 veterans of World War One lobbied Congress to pay them their war bonuses ten years early in order to ease the economic hardship they were experiencing during the Great Depression. Congress readily acquiesced and passed the Harrison Bonus Bill in January 1936. This pre-payment was a source of inspiration for Lewis Gorin, a senior at Princeton University. It seemed logical to him that if present-day veterans could get their war bonuses early, why shouldn't future veterans also receive their money up-front — before they had fought in a war. After all, given the global political... More…

A Modest Proposal
In 1729 Jonathan Swift anonymously published a short work titled A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being a Burden to their Parents or the Country, and For Making Them Beneficial to the Public. The essay proposed a radical solution to the problem of the numerous starving beggars and homeless children in Ireland — feed the unwanted babies of the poor to the rich. Swift didn't actually intend to promote class-based cannibalism. His point was to use satire in order to dramatize how the rich exploit and dehumanize the poor. But many readers failed to recognize this. More…
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Eras: 0-1699 1700s 1800-1849 1850-1899 1900-1949 1950-1979 1980s 1990s 2000s
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  • All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.