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I talked about the Godsend Institute (the website of a cloning lab that's really a promo for an upcoming movie of the same name) a few days ago. I said that I really didn't think the site was that convincing. But maybe others have been fooled by it because someone started an online petition to ban the Godsend Institute. Of course, I'm not above suspecting that the petition was started by the movie studio itself as a way to generate faux controversy. This was a favorite ploy of P.T. Barnum. Back in 1835 he was exhibiting Joice Heth, an elderly black woman whom he claimed was the 161-year-old former nurse of George Washington. When attendance at the exhibit began to decrease, he sent an anonymous letter to a local paper angrily declaring that Heth was a fake, a "curiously constructed automaton, made up of whalebone, India-rubber, and numberless springs." Sure enough, attendance immediately picked up again as visitors returned to see if Heth really was an old woman or a mechanical automaton.
A few people have written to me about the Godsend Institute, which is supposedly a Massachusetts fertility clinic that offers human cloning as an option for its patients. Its website is quite slick and well produced, but the Godsend Institute is, of course, not real. The site is part of the advertising campaign for the upcoming movie Godsend starring Robert De Niro. Wired published an article about this yesterday. Ever since the Blair Witch Project succeeded in creating such a buzz five years ago with its companion website, movie studios have sought to repeat this trick by creating sites that try to convince websurfers that their fictional characters or companies are real. The site for the upcoming I, Robot, starring Will Smith, is a recent example. As is Lacuna, Inc., which is a fictitious company featured in The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I would say the strategy is wearing a bit thin now because a) the sites usually aren't that believable (for instance, you can kind of recognize Robert De Niro on the Godsend Institute site, which blows the whole cover), and b) they're not that interesting even if you do believe they're real. They give surfers little to do or explore. The Blair Witch site worked not only because it suggested the witch was real, but also because it gave people lots of interesting background material on her to browse through. One recent studio-created site that did understand this was Kingdom Hospital (from the ABC miniseries). It didn't simply try to convince you that Kingdom Hospital was real. Creepy things also started to happen as you navigated around the site, which made it fun to explore.
Keith Hollihan lives downstairs from an apartment that was featured on an episode of The Apprentice. The show's contestants were challenged by Trump to renovate and rent the apartment (as well as other ones throughout the city) for the highest price possible. Hollihan writes about how after the show was done, he got to know the new renter and discovered from her that the rental price she had agreed to on tv was a sham. It was far higher than the price she actually paid. In other words, the outcome of that episode was rigged. And if that episode was rigged, one can assume that other episodes of The Apprentice are also rigged. In which case, are Survivor and all the other Reality TV shows also faked?
On the Fighting Talk weblog journalism student Patrick Crewdson gives an example of how hoaxes can make the leap from being fiction into becoming fact. He once edited a journal called Critic that published a joke article about "New Zealand's least-known musician": rapper MC Emu. Of course, MC Emu was fictitious, but now references to this rapper have begun to appear in serious histories of New Zealand music... references that seem to credit MC Emu with being a real character.
A British theater group is auditioning actors for a part in its next production. But there's one catch. They're only interested in people who can promise that they'll die before the play begins its run. Your body, if you get the part, will then lie lifeless on stage. Evidently it's not a speaking role. It's hard not to suspect that this is all a big publicity stunt and that when the time comes there will be no body on stage. Wouldn't you need a license for something like that? It reminds me of Hell on Earth's Suicide Stunt from last September.
Did you know that David Duchovny released a record of trashy love songs with titles such as "Alien to Your Arms," "You Must Be From Venus," and "X-File of Love"? Or that Herman Melville wrote a novel called "Symmes' Hole" that was lost for decades but has been recently rediscovered and is now available as an audiobook read by David Byrne of the Talking Heads? I certainly didn't. So I was surprised to discover these rare CDs (and others) discussed at the Entropic Empire. Now I've decided that these rare CDs are all fake, but I only concluded that after spending fifteen fruitless minutes searching for that rediscovered Herman Melville book on Amazon.com. Why would someone make this stuff up, I kept thinking. The attention to detail is certainly impressive.
Kingdom Hospital. It's the 'Hospital that brings out the best in you.' From its website you would think that it's a real hospital, until you start poking around it a bit. Then it gets creepy. It's a tie-in, of course, with ABC's Kingdom Hospital miniseries. But it's pretty well done. (submitted by Brian Flynn).
In 2001 Sony Pictures got caught promoting its movies by using glowing quotations from a non-existent movie critic named David Manning to hype them. When the non-existence of Manning was pointed out, Sony pulled the ads, but to this day it has maintained its right to have printed the quotations, claiming they were protected as free speech. Yesterday Los Angeles Justice Reuben Ortega disallowed that defense. His remarks were notable: [if the case against Sony succeeds] "no longer will people be seen lurching like mindless zombies toward the movie theatre, compelled by a puff piece. What a noble and overwhelming undertaking."
The bidding on eBay for the phone number 867-5309 (from the Tommy Tutone song) appears to have reached over $200,000. I suspect a few hoax bids are being placed.
Half of America saw Justin Timberlake 'accidentally' expose part of Janet Jackson's breast on live tv during the Superbowl halftime show. But now a great controversy is sweeping over the internet. Was the exposure really an accident? Or was it planned and staged? Matt Drudge is reporting that it was planned and even approved by high-level CBS officials beforehand. Plus, the accidental exposure fit in remarkably well with the lyrics of the song, which made references to getting naked before the end of the song. Finally, how exactly does one 'accidentally' rip away part of a costume? I mean, it wasn't like something got snagged. He quite purposefully reached over and grabbed her costume.
The Onion has a good parody of the Reality TV genre: Antebellum Island. It's a new 'alternate reality' show, supposedly being aired by CBS, set on an island on which the South won the Civil War. The show's motto is 'Secede, Suppress, Survive.'
Man plays Russian roulette on British TV as three million viewers watch. Of course, it was just an illusion, vetted in advance by the police. But the stunt causes controversy anyway.