Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Myths, hoaxes, and Zardulu

Unless you avoid social media entirely, you've probably seen the photograph of a raccoon hitching a ride on the back of an alligator.  It caught on because of its sheer weirdness, and was widely circulated on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere.

What you may not know is that it's a fake.  It's cleverly done, I'll admit, but it's an admitted hoax by a woman who calls herself "Zardulu," and who has been responsible for a number of photo and video hoaxes, one of the best known of which is "Pizza Rat:"

She's also responsible for a photoshopped image of a "three-eyed catfish" that was allegedly caught, and started a panic over toxins and/or mutagens in waterways:

"Zardulu," who refuses to give her name or show her face in public, agreed to an interview in The Washington Post a couple of days ago.  In the interview, which you can watch a clip of at the link provided, "Zardulu" appears wearing a creepy-looking bearded mask.  She is also completely unapologetic about suckering people.

These aren't hoaxes, she says, they are "myths," "pearls of merriment for the world to enjoy."  "Why wake the world from a beautiful dream," she says, "when the waking world is all so drab?"

She's even put out a manifesto, which would be an odds-on winner in the Pompous, Self-Righteous Artist's Statement contest of 2016.  Here's an excerpt:
All that once truthfully lived is now a mere effigy.  Images have displaced authentic human interaction.  Before the advent of the Internet, human life was already not about living, but about having.  Those who wished to exploit us produced images to dictate what we needed and desired.  While this continues today, social life has moved further, leaving a condition of having and moving to a state of simply appearing as the image. 
Zardulism is the art of creating and perpetuating myths.  Dramatic images and language created for the purpose of reawakening and following of genuine desires, experiencing the pleasure of life. 
In Zardulism, the imaginary streams into the actual and washes over it, floods it until it has been engrossed.  In a world where nothing is absolutely real, appearance becomes meaningless and our presumption of truth in what we were told is lost.
What I object to about all of this is not that some pretentious artist has found a way to weasel her way into the public eye with a publicity stunt.  She's hardly the first pretentious artist to do that, after all.  What bugs me is that she's blathering on about "living truthfully," when by "creating myths" what she actually means is "manufacturing hoaxes and bamboozling people."

To be fair, she's even-handed about other people's hoaxes.  You've probably heard of the Cottingley Fairies, the photograph that fooled the great Arthur Conan Doyle:

"Zardulu" thinks the Cottingley Fairies are awesome.  She says, "It was decades before anyone used the term hoax, when eventually the girls came forward and admitted what they had done.  I think that it is delightful.  Absolutely delightful to have given the world such a gift.  And it does indeed resonate with me particularly that the truth [did come out.]"

The problem, of course, is that this kind of hoax causes people to doubt everything they see, devaluing media as a whole.  I can't put it any more eloquently than Sharon Hill does, over at her outstanding site Doubtful News:
The fact is, our media system of news and information is already poisoned and rickety.  We have so much bullshit asshattery and hoaxing going on in the world today that affects peoples’ lives – their feelings towards their government, their opinions on policy and law, their choice of medical treatment, what kind of food they buy, and how they vote.  Hoaxing is not generally funny, it makes people feel foolish and angry.  They also do not necessarily learn from being conned because they often lack the foundation and skills to think critically about anything...  This artist is in no sense “brightening the world” by faking charming scenes people like or making people scared of environmental harm (the mutant catfish).  By presenting lies as not untrue, she reveals that people are dark and perverse and what may seem adorable and special is really manufactured and ugly.
To which I can only say, "Amen."  We already have enough people creating fake news to get the advertising revenue, we really don't need someone doing the same thing in the name of art.  If you want to create myths, do it the way that our great modern mythmakers and visionaries do -- people like Neil Gaiman, Alex Grey, Terry Pratchett, and Thijme Termaat -- by creating beauty, and being honest about what they're offering.  They know that the most important role of any creative endeavor is to portray the eternal truths, even in a fictional setting.

Zardulu, on the other hand, would prefer to portray banal frauds and pass them off as the truth.

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