Hoaxing Is Dead: Choose Your Truth from All the Lies Online. It’s Fun

Fake Dan Cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas
Cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas

One of the hallmarks of Dan’s Papers is hoaxing. Publish a story so preposterous that it couldn’t be real, and then enjoy letting the readership tell their friends about it to have a good laugh. Ultimately, the readers will come across a gullible person who believes it. Then there’s the fun about convincing a gullible person they’ve been had and get with the program.

There was the time when I wrote a story that next summer it will be illegal for any car other than a Mercedes-Benz to park in the Hamptons. It would be good for business.

Another time I reported that Hamptons potato farmers staged a rebellion against the government by sealing off the South Fork at the Shinnecock Canal. U.S. Marines trying to cross it were driven back by farmers firing vegetables from potato bazookas at them. (Eventually the U.S. lost.)

I have to say, though, it is getting harder and harder to pull off a harmless hoax. It’s not only because every day our President tweets a few dozen fictional statements as if they were real. It’s also because of the changing times. Today, with the internet, so many stories told turn out to be both preposterous and real.

There’s a radio program I like called Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! It is broadcast on NPR each Saturday at 11 a.m. The host introduces a celebrity whose job it is to listen to three “facts” and decide which one of the three is real. A. B. or C. Win and you get a prize.

Here’s a recent collection:

The topic is Spam, the food. Recently, the marketing department at Hormel decided on a new slogan.

Which is real?
1. “Meat with a Pause Button.”
2. “Extruded Meat for Extra Safety.”
3. “That Military Bunker Won’t Wait.”

The correct answer is A.

Which Christmas tradition is real?
1. In Venezuela, Catholics go to mass and communion on Christmas Day wearing roller skates.
2. In Norway, Christmas is celebrated with candy corn, which is raw corn dipped in candy.
3. In Spain, there’s a song about logs that melt and go down a hole. They’re called Pooping Logs.

The answer is A.

What’s the customary way for a boy to let a girl know that he is interested in her in Wales?
1. Walk loudly past her.
2. Carve her a homemade spoon.
3. Go far away, as far as you possibly can, and write her a letter.

The answer is B

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Did I ever tell you about the truthiness of the Hamptons Subway Newsletter that appears in Dan’s Papers every week? Yes, as a public service, we have agreed to publish their newsletter every week. You can learn about delays and new services, safety concerns and new hires. When an employee has a birthday, we sing “Happy Birthday” and cut the cake in the cafeteria of the Hamptons Subway building in Hampton Bays.

When I tell people about this, there is usually a long pause while they process it, and if they don’t smile, I say, “Actually, there is no Hamptons Subway, but if there were, we’d publish their newsletter.”

When I first started publishing the newsletter, which was over 10 years ago, about 20% of the people made that pause. Today it has risen to 50%.

Yes, the internet is a good thing. It’s a good thing if you need to know the exact date that Napoleon fought the battle of Waterloo. Or how old Vice President Pence is.

But did you know that Napoleon’s most shocking loss as a leader wasn’t at Waterloo, but to a bunch of bunnies?

It was one of the correct answers on Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! To celebrate signing the Treaties of Tilsit (ending the war between the French and the Russians), just for sport Napoleon arranged for his senior generals to join him on a rabbit hunt. They let the bunnies loose, but instead of running away, the bunnies attacked Napoleon and his officers.​

Is the truth dead? Has Hormel put out a new variation of Spam for those who eat only kosher food? Is it possible that American democracy will die because of its inability to tell truth from fiction?

Only the Russians (and the Chinese) know for sure.

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