Chapter 1: Introduction
The Hoax Under Attack
In our world of electronic media simulations, the Hoax is under attack, despite its proliferation and notoriety. With the rise of mass culture the classical concepts of hoax and paradox have been knocked from a place of intellectual and social honor into the realm of the inconsequential and trivial or the purvey of unabashed maliciousness. How could any concept, particularly one which had been held in high esteem, be considered either immaterial to where it is not worth seriously discussing, or treacherous to the point where it should not be tolerated? Surely the hoax still holds great power if our current attitude towards it is so openly paradoxical. “Nevertheless, as frequently happens, the misunderstanding and the minimization of a phenomenon, far from signifying that it is remote and extraneous, are rather symptoms of a proximity so intolerable as to require camouflage and repression.” (Agamben 1992, p.5)
Throughout the history of western civilization the hoax, like theatre, existed in tandem with accepted historical knowledge. The genres of parody and paradoxorgaphy existed literally side-by-side with accepted canons of literature. Only with the rise of rational scientism and free market capitalism in the early modern era did the hoax, and other forms of dissimulation in art, face their current plight.
“ ‘Techne’ was the Greek philosophy of life. In that time, art was not yet conceived of separately from technology, from the work of the artist. Not until the one-sided preference for usefulness in the modern age, and the systematic design for the domination of nature following Bacon’s teachings, did technology become a weapon against nature. And with it, meaning of art was subjugated.” (Schirmacher 1983) Modern epistemologies could only conceptualize and allow ‘revealing’ as a mode of knowing. This was a result of the ossification of rhetoric in the linear mold of literate thought which could not allow paradox and hoax to challenge its hermeneutics. This literate, rationalist culture could only allow for reasoning by induction and deduction. To eliminate complexity, the Enlightenment thinkers of the 17th and 18th centuries excised intersubjectivity and emotional logic. The result was a loss of imagination within the realm of empiricism and rationalism.
This Enlightenment project was already in the thrall of a technological enframing which sets upon humanity to conceive of hoax and paradox (as well as science fiction, advertisements, etc) as fodder and content for media, and not as media itself. This enframing forces us to conceive of media in terms of its utilitarian instrumentalism, and the genres of media simply as content – not as techniques with which an audience interfaces with its world. Thus despite a proliferation of images and moving images, despite the fact that there is an imagistically dense electronic media, replete with hoaxes and paradoxes – these hoaxes and paradoxes are under threat of being ignored and sidelined in the world of media, exactally when we need them most.
As a people of media, as those who live their lives in, with, and through media – as contemporary philosophers, we must come to the aid of Hoax and Paradox.
From Mimesis to Simulation
Most of humanity lives in an artificially constructed world, where the majority of day-to-day knowledge and general learning is derived from electronically mediated sources. Electronic technologies are used to create and distribute audiovisual information to humankind. With each new technology there is a greater ability for this audiovisual information to be endlessly altered, edited, improved, or counterfeited. By living in, with, and through their electronic media, and in an epistemology of electronically mediated learning, contemporary humankind has extended their senses and knowledge of the world into areas where previous ideas of fiction versus nonficion are no longer applicable. Hypermedia leads naturally to hyperreality, which is not a loss of reality, but instead a new relationship to reality. However, within the philosophy of rational empiricism it would appear to an academic, literate skeptic that an audience which perceives their outer world through an electronic medium would have few guides for discerning a simulation of reality or a representation of an actual occurrence, from an entertaining dissimulation or simulacra of a fantasy.
The rise of technical images in audiovisual simulations has changed how humanity conceives of itself as ‘audience’ and their surroundings as ‘spectacle’: “…the spectacle’s job is to cause a world that is no longer directly perceptible to be seen via different specialized mediations.” (Debord 1994, p. 17) The rationalist, alarmist, reaction to this change would be to rail against the highjacking of images by audiovisual electronic media, “When you are watching television all categories of your own image-making capacities go dormant, submerged in the television image. TV effectively intervenes between you and your images, substituting itself.” (Mander 1978, p. 240) This view is typical of media critics who seek to delineate fiction from nonfiction in media and simulated from immediate experience, “Once the images are inside your head, the mind doesn’t really distinguish between the image that was gathered directly and the one derived from television.” (Mander 1978, p. 245) Others simply try to reconcile entertainment into rationalism.
“Every film is a documentary. Even the most whimsical of fictions gives evidence of the culture that produced it and reproduces the likenesses of the people who perform within it. In fact, we could say that there are two kinds of film: (1) documentaries of wish-fulfillment and (2) documentaries of social representation. Each type tells a story, but the stories, or narratives, are of different sorts.” (Nichols 2001, p. 1)
Rationalists who strike out at any non-rationalism are dangerously zealous and are unaware of the influence of technological enframing upon them. Any crisis of reality in media is overstated. Living in their simulated worlds, audiences of electronic media are able to discern which realities may be consciously trusted and those which are entertaining fantasies, and to the consternation of rational empiricists and media theorists, most audiences simply do not care. This does not make an average audience less aware than rationalist media philosophers who point to their ‘intellectual flaw’. As a group, humankind is not completely in the thrall of television, film, and other visual entertainment media. This is not to say that some individuals of human society aren’t. The majority of humankind has learned how to discern – not perfectly, not always, not even consistently – useable true facts from entertaining fictions. And living through, with, and in their media, audiences remain aware of these distinctions, but then self-conceal this differentiation, in order to continue perceiving their world through their media. This revealing and concealing of an audience’s relationship with media has been a philosophical inquiry throughout western history, it is currently mis-identified as a “Willing Suspension of Disbelief”. The suspension of disbelief is only, very occasionally willing; it quickly retreats into self-concealment.
As Heidegger points out in The Question Concerning Technology, the essence of a concept and its praxis are not identical. The essence of suspension of disbelief is not at all like its technical manifestation. In order to come to the rescue of the hoax, we must come to understand the true essence of suspension of disbelief, and the nature of the truth it retrieves as Heidegger’s concept of ancient Greek ‘aletheia’. In practice, the nature of suspension of disbelief and hoax are self-concealing, they are necessarily misunderstood by most inquiries which seek to understand them.
Ancient Greek philosophy of theatre brought forth the concepts of ritual and audience. Aristotle saw in the ritual aspects of the theatre an ability to transmit archetypal truths within individual fictitious narratives. It is the contrivance of the ritual and the suspension of disbelief, the willingness to be hoaxed, by a group of people coming together which reconceptualizes them from a simple group into a dramatic ‘audience’. Effectively the ritual nature of suspension of disbelief creates the concept of audience. Once self-created, the audience’s function was to engage with the narrative, despite its spectacle, in order to culturally learn from the story. “The poet’s function is not to report things as they have happened, but rather to tell of such things as might happen, things that are possibilities by virtue of being in themselves inevitable or probable.” (Poetics §14451a)
As the first media epistemologists, the ancient Greeks were active at a time where the rise of written language was separating learning-from-theatre and learning-from-writing, which persisted for 2,500 years of western history. Valued information and facts were transcribed into the linear form of writing, while the archetypal knowledge of the world from drama and theatrical representations was, over time, relegated to the realm of entertainment or moralistic fables for the masses. With the rise of the mass production of images through electronic technologies, learning from dramatic representations is reintegrating with literate knowledge. This makes the rescue of the hoax and paradox all the more important at this phase in history. The time is right, we have never needed the hoax more.
Representations in Media
At the beginning of the modern era, the creation of images moved from small scale theatrical representations and individual works of art to the mass production of images and the photographic recording and electronic distribution of events. Vilém Flusser refers to these as ‘technical images’ – those images which are created based on applied scientific texts. These images differ considerably from older traditional images. These mass-produced technical images seek to rejoin learning from writing and learning from seeing, however, “…they cannot reduce culture to the lowest common denominator, as was intended, but, on the contrary, they grind it up into amorphous masses. Mass culture is the result.” (Flusser 1983, p. 19) Additionally the enframing of technology that was the result of the proliferation of mass production created a philosophy which sought to denigrate hoaxes and paradoxes. Philosophers and media critics stuck in 19th century rational empiricism began to see dissimulation as a negative effect of their new mass media.
As these technologies spread, humanity is returning to learning of its environment from representations of outer events. However, along with simulations of reality, they will encounter new media simulations which are openly dramatic contrivances. Walter Benjamin remarked that, “By close-ups of the things around us, by focusing on hidden details of familiar objects, by exploring commonplace milieu under the ingenious guidance of the camera, the film, on the one hand, extends our comprehension of the necessities which rule our lives; on the other hand, it manages to assure us of an immense and unexpected field of action.” (Benjamin 1969, p. 248) To the rational empiricists this return of conductive logic and intersubjectivity was viewed negatively because these developing media of mass production had created a new middle class, with a new connection to old archetypes and a powerful means of new life through this new media. Among the growing middle class there was a growing mental self-determination.
Therefore at the beginning of the attack upon the hoax by logical positivists and rational empiricists, there was a 19th century revolution in media epistemology, brought about by the invention of the photographic camera and the mass production of public ideas through the mechanization of the printing press. Perhaps the most decisive blow against the hoax was Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s coining of the phrase “willing suspension of disbelief”:
“…my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to produce for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.” (Coleridge 1817)
Although the idea of suspension of disbelief had been well charted in western literature, particularly in the study of ritual, play, and paradox, Coleridge was the first to coalesce the idea into this exact description in 1817. Although he was defending the idea of romanticism and the fantastic in literature against dry realism, his phrase did exceptional damage to the concept by couching suspension of disbelief in terms of conscious rational beliefs. Before it had been experienced in terms of contrivance and play, and was never rationally attempted. Once suspension of disbelief became conscious and ‘willing,’ it was subject to technological enframing. From this point in history the technology of image-making grew quickly in complexity and proficiency until it reached the current level where differentiation between truthful representations and fictitious representations in media simulations becomes difficult, exactly when the mechanism for unconsciously differentiating them had been co-opted into rational discourse.
As all communication takes place through some form mimesis and all electronically mediated experiences are simulations of one kind or another, suspension of disbelief is a necessary technique for a mediated representation to be a functional mode of epistemological learning. However Coleridge’s ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ in its attempt to reveal without concealing, enframes and oversimplifies the process, from a multi-leveled event to a simple phenomenon.
Although Heidegger believed that “the question as to how we arrive at a relationship with technology always comes too late.” (Heidegger, p. 14), Conceiving of media through ‘suspension of disbelief’ was popularized by Coleridge at the historical point where image making was about to become industrialized. This life technique, this philosophy, this cliché, this idea – coalesced in society just in time. Wolfgang Schirmacher sets forth the idea that these life techniques are not usually conscious, “a Technique needs no justification or understanding in order to work”. He continues that they often conceal their very existence. Addressing the concept of “Media Cloning”, as a form of extended simulation, explains how this function of media can work:
“What cloning does with its spectacle is to reveal our fundamental activity as Homo generator and at the same moment to conceal the way any generation makes a home in the ethical worlds of bioscaping, soul, Geviert (balance) and kairos (timing). It is the signature of truth to erase its signing right after the fact in order to allow the on-going folding, unfolding and refolding to be done in peace.” (Schirmacher 2000)
Media hoaxes function as this type of life technique, helping to bring about this sliding suspension of disbelief in individual members of an electronic media’s audience, while allowing this sliding suspension of disbelief retreats and is almost completely unknown to this audience.
The ‘life technique’ of media contrivance and suspension of disbelief occurs at the perceptual level and the empirical level. The audience must allow the representation to be perceived as a reality, long enough to appropriate its meaning. Only after the initial meaning is appropriated and digested, can the audience either continue to suspend disbelief, in order to enjoy a pleasing fiction, or to skeptically discard the information, at a rational level. Without a means for testing, the process of suspension of disbelief would allow all audiences to be totally permeable to any and all media representations regardless of how useful or true they were. Without a desire to test media, audiences would discard all mediated simulations as worthless. In other words a perfectly un-skeptical suspension of disbelief would not allow an audience the ability to act based on their media perceptions; a perfectly skeptical lack of suspension of disbelief would not allow an audience to gather perceptions or meaning from electronic media at all. Suspension of disbelief must be able to adapt to the situation in which an audience finds itself.
Throughout literate history paradoxes and hoaxes have filled this need. Paradoxes formally lay out the limits of knowledge in theory, while hoaxes test the limits of credibility in practice. Many paradoxes and hoaxes became historically significant in and of themselves: the Liar’s paradox, the Trojan Horse, Zeno’s paradoxes, Swift’s A Modest Proposal, Mencken’s Bathtub Hoax, Welles’ War of the Worlds, and Sokal’s Transgressing Boundaries. Paradoxes mark the edge of accepted academic learning. Hoaxes are the test that an audience undergoes at odd intervals to remind itself that the mediated experience is a simulated experience and that representations can just as easily be false as true. Hoaxes briefly unconceal suspension of disbelief, but then retreat into spectacle, and thus allow an audience a broader (mediated) picture of which could be based on the audience’s cultural archetypes.
Because new media technologies have changed mediated representations into an electronic simulation through (perceptually coercive) technical images, contemporary media hoaxes keep an audience critical of important non-fiction simulations, while at the same time allowing them to access their archetypes through the spectacle. ‘Spectacle’ and ‘fascination’, as defined by the French post-modernists, play a large part in electronic media in general, and mass entertainment in particular. Their upside is a playfulness and détournement; their downside is coerciveness and the blinding of the audience to the essence of media. How an audience, and individual members of that audience, learns to live with, through, and inside these inherently coercive technical aspects of visual electronic media will determine whether television and film, in general, and journalism and documentary filmmaking in particular, remain free to function in their true nature, or whether these genres, as well as hoax and paradox, will be appropriated into larger media instrumentalist matrices concerned primarily with persuasion and commerce.
Suspension of disbelief is never static and is only rarely conscious. When an audience engages with a specific mediated narrative, it does so at specific levels of suspension of disbelief. Individual works of media take on the aspects of ritual as event, whether they are categorized as fiction or non-fiction, rely on narrative form, mimesis, and representation. This ritual aspect is detailed in Aristotle’s Poetics and further expanded by media philosophers in the 19th and 20th centuries. “Ritual Participation is not primarily a matter of watching, but acting and being engaged with the sights, sounds, smells of the ritual event.” (Goethals 1981, p. 127) The contemporary technological equivalent of classical theatrical narrative representation is media simulation, particularly visual simulation. Both experiences are representations of character and archetype, as defined by psychoanalysts like C.G. Jung: “…the archetype is an element of our psychic structure and thus a vital and necessary component in our psychic economy. It represents or personifies certain instinctive data of the dark primitive psyche; the real, the invisible roots of consciousness.” (Jung 1949, p. 341)
Simulations of Mimesis
Film, television or any electronic mediated experience of a narrative story is a simulation of a representation of character and archetype, an abstraction of an abstraction. The technology adds another level of complexity. Both representations and simulations actively retrieve older archetypes through contemporary media production clichés. This is a key argument from McLuhan’s Cliché to Archetype. “The archetype is a retrieved awareness or consciousness. It is consequently a retrieved cliché – and old cliché retrieved by a new cliché.” (McLuhan 1970, p. 21) However, the simulation extends perception farther with unintentional cultural results. “As we tend to extend consciousness itself by new technology, we probe all, we scrap all, in a deluge of fragments of cultures for creativity.” (McLuhan 1970, p. 158) This is mirrored in Zizek’s Parallax View where he criticizes society, “in neo-Darwinism, human individuals are conceived as mere instruments – or rather vehicles – of the reproduction of ‘their’ genes, and analogously, human culture, the cultural activity of mankind, as a vehicle for the proliferation of ‘memes’.” Zizek fights against this instrumentalism, “Insofar as nineteenth-century ‘demystification’ is a reduction of the noble appearance to some ‘lower’ reality (Marx-Nietzsche-Freud), then the twentieth century as another turn of the screw by rehabilitating (a weird, previously unheard-of) appearance itself.” (Zizek 2006, p. 151)
Assuming that Jung and McLuhan’s archetype-retrieval system is a workable model for media representations, then Martin Heidegger’s idea that the essence of technology as an ‘enframing” of the world as a ‘standing reserve’ (of deep archetype images that are used as a means-of-learning), are an epistemological category regardless of whether they reflect true facts. “Enframing means the gathering together of that setting-upon which sets upon man, i.e., challenges him forth, to reveal the real, in the mode of ordering, as standing-reserve.” (Heidegger 1977, p. 20) The essence of technology is not technical in the way that film or television production techniques are technical, but rather it is a “means that way of revealing which holds sway in the essence of modern technology…and which is itself nothing technological”. (Heidegger 1977, p. 20)
Conscious ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ is simply another form of technological enframing. It seeks to ‘set upon’ fictional or fantastic narratives and to make them part of the spectacle in the service, first of the commercial interests of media production, then by technology itself which requires humanity to see all phenomenon as resources to be exploited – including humanity’s own imagination!
A multi-leveled ‘sliding suspension of disbelief’ is a “poetic faith” (Coleridge) that allows the archetypes to be retrieved and used for empirical learning. At the height of rational empirical western culture in the mid to late 19th century, literate representations in media quickly reached an single operating level for suspension of disbelief. The individual would remain at this level of suspension of disbelief for the duration of the mediated narrative. In contemporary media usage, the late 20th and early 21st century, post-literate hypermedia require a sophisticated audience to seamlessly, rapidly, and frequently move between different levels of suspension of disbelief within narrative structures – e.g. tabloid newspapers, internet websites, online games, television documentaries, docu-dramas and many more. Due to an overall increase of information exchange, made possible through new media technologies, narratives become units in meta-narratives.
Each individual narrative requires a different level of suspension of disbelief. Simply to engage these new complex media, a sliding suspension of disbelief must be developed by members of the electronic media’s audience. This sliding suspension of disbelief – this epistemological movement – is required when moving between news broadcasts and commercial messages, within docu-dramas which include archival footage inside mediated narratives, and constantly while moving through websites via hyperlinks.
Because suspension of disbelief is engaged at a perceptual level, an empirical level, and only occasionally at a rational level, the term ‘sliding suspension of disbelief’ only rarely involves conscious rational empirical epistemology. Suspension of disbelief is first the unconscious creating of perception, then the liminal creating of empirical facts and ideas, then finally the rational creating of an understanding and knowledge. Only at this highest level could the term ‘willing’ be attached to the technique of a sliding suspension of disbelief.
Why Study Hoaxes?
In a electronically mediated world, a sliding suspension of disbelief becomes necessary to gather useable truths through mediated simulations about the external world. Throughout written history, humankind has developed formal and informal means to test the credibility of sense perceptions, empirical data and rational abstractions, immediate or mediated. Scientific quantification, skepticism and formal pragmatism, paradoxes and hoaxes have all played this role. However, due to the hidden nature of technology and science, skepticism and formal pragmatism only create truth by revealing. This in turn leads to more technological enframing of all phenomenon as resources, and eventual collapse of meaning into the spectacle.
On the other hand, paradoxes and hoaxes conceal as much knowledge as they reveal. They create more unknown than known, and by concealing themselves as means of knowing their own paradoxical nature rescues them from the enframing of technology.
Because of this unique attribute, and their suitability to the narrative form of entertainment media and electronic media, this investigation seeks to explore the history, nature, and operation of hoax, and by extension paradox. Both paradoxes and hoaxes allow their audiences access to narrative archetypes. However, formal paradoxes are slow and, like rationalism and skepticism, require a high amount of education and literacy in order to be effectively engaged by an audience. Hoaxes, on the other hand, are easily accessible, and often serve an entertainment function in and of themselves. A hoax is difficult to adequately define, largely because the hoax is self-concealing by nature. Thus the hoax runs the risk being confused with other forms of instrumental deception and malicious dissimulation. For the sake of discussion and as a point of departure, this investigation will use the malleable definition, put from by Alex Boese in his popular work The Museum of Hoaxes: “A hoax, then, is a deliberately deceptive act that has succeeded in capturing the attention (and, ideally, the imagination) of the public.” (Boese 2002, p. 2) He clarifies further, “A deception rises to the level of a hoax by achieving public notoriety.” (Boese 2002, p. 2)
Before the degradation of the hoax by rational philosophy, they were a valuable epistemological means of testing dramatic representations and media simulations. Despite the rise of postmodern epistemological philosophies, which embraced the ideas of inter-subjective truth, the hoax is still in peril, because some postmodern philosophers fear hoaxes could undermine and subvert the authority they have wrested from empiricists. They couldn’t be more mislead. In their application, both postmodern philosophy and hoaxes create an alternative to the enframing of technology – they offer mental technologies for interacting with the world and reinventing themselves. These life techniques in general, or credibility-testing hoaxes in particular, are used to mentally engage with new sense perceptions which require sliding suspension of disbelief. The future generations of humanity will require not only improved technology, but also improved life techniques for both seriously and playfully engaging with the electronic media from which they gather facts. Although suspension of disbelief occurs both consciously and unconsciously, an undisciplined suspension of disbelief is likely to be highjacked by an inhuman corporate construct concerned with persuasion and commerce.
Putting On The Audience
During the early phases of ancient Greek drama, a poet/performer was considered to ‘become’ his audience while performing for them. This was accomplished by the technical use of masks and stylistic clichés of poetic language syntax. The phrase ‘You’re putting me on!’ is derived from this relationship between mediator and audience. As a performer donned a costume and mask, they physically ‘put on’ the archetypes that were inherent in the audience. The performer was expected to ‘put on’ the audience, and with their active contrivance, deceive the audience. To the Greeks, mimesis in drama was a space where the audience could allow itself to be carried away, and conceptually expanded, in order to retrieve and reconnect to the long-standing archetypes that were implicit in itself, but which must remain concealed by their nature. “If the narrator avoids realistic pictorial description in favor of stylized and iconic blocks, he can include more of the environmental complexity and motivation than realism permits.” (McLuhan 1970, p. 204) “…to get into a role as opposed to merely having a job, is to put on the corporate social power of one’s culture.” (McLuhan 1970, p. 204)
The growth and proliferation of media technology and production clichés, for example in big-budget, high-concept Hollywood filmmaking, which requires very high levels of suspension of disbelief, attests to this continuing need of mass audiences. The technical use of film effects and stylistic clichés of scriptwriting have replaced physical masks and spoken hexameter. These media production values, which require suspension of disbelief in media narratives, have filtered down into all forms of electronically mediated communication. In order to use electronic media effectively, the audience must unconsciously appreciate the production clichés, be able to test its suspension of disbelief, and then adjust it accordingly. In contemporary mass media culture, the ability to suspend disbelief while still critically engaging media is of utmost importance.
It is in not surprising that the phrase ‘You’re putting me on!’ is still in the popular vernacular for describing the event when an audience notices that a hoax has moved into a media realm which had been considered ‘nonfiction’. What is interesting is how these hoax-esque production clichés move from narrative fiction into other genres of media. This relationship between hoaxes, production clichés, and nonfiction electronic media is perhaps the most active area of hoaxing and paradox, and will inform many of the practical explorations of this investigation. What is the relationship between documentary film production and famous hoaxes? What role do archetypes play in media clichés?
Structure of Explorations
In order to better understand why the hoax has been under attack and to devise methods for its reëvaluation and rehabilitation, this investigation will seek to explore several questions. The first exploration, as it is fundamental to both hoax and media, will concern the suspension of disbelief and delve into the epistemologies of media, the relevance of archetypes, and the challenge of the spectacle and technological enframing (Chapter 2). After conceptualizing media epistemology, this investigation will explore with the documentary film, because it is a paradoxical media genre which claims to represent a truth in media simulations. Exploration of this history will also look for the connections between the history of documentary simulations and the technologies which have been employed to create and distribute them (Chapter 3). Following the identified connections to technology and technical images, this investigation will probe the background of literacy, its birth in ancient Greece, its massifiaction through industrialism, and its rationalist assault on hoaxes and indirect communication, then finally literacy’s evolution into Ulmer’s concept of electracy in hypermedia (Chapter 4). Using Zielinski’s concepts of deep time and media archeology, this investigation will embark on an ‘archeology of hoaxing’ and find the points in history where hoax and paradox were especially pronounced and active, and explore 19th century pop culture and the relationship between reproducibility and credibility (Chapter 5). Using the artifacts and ideas from the explorations into documentary and hoaxing which will lead to an “Immodest Proposal”. A paradoxical proposal of searching for mediated truth through deliberate, but archetypal misinformation. This “Immodest Proposal” entails creating, producing, releasing, and nurturing occasional hoaxes and playful epistemologies in the global internetworks of entertainment, journalism, and commerce. For the sake of scope, only the popular television documentary will be parodied – because it has an established history and easily copied genre conventions. This investigation will suggest a new media form based on documentary film and television called the “Hoaxumentary” (Chapter 6). Because all good hoax media is a balance of concealing and revealing of reality and knowing, this investigation will compare media and paradox in terms of their ability to engage in narrative while testing technologies (Chapter 7). Lastly this investigation will return to the initial discussions of contrivance and theatrics which created the audience in the forge of paradox and suspension of disbelief – specifically the ideas of epideixis, epyllion and epic theatre (Chapter 8).
All of this investigation will give some insight into the nature of suspension of disbelief, theatrics, contrivance, documentary film and television, literacy and electracy, technology and the value of hoax and paradox in contemporary media and hypermedia. Although this will answer the question of why the hoax is persecuted and belittled, it leaves unaddressed what can be done to rehabilitate hoaxes, and why rehabilitation of the hoax is so vital. For this we turn from the media hoax as phenomenon to conceiving the media hoax as event (Ereignis). As stated earlier in this chapter, the hoax is a form of life technique which requires a leap of faith on the part of its audience, and repays this leap with a much deeper and fuller experience of their world (Chapter 9).
A Call to Action, A Call to Hoax
As contemporary media users, humankind needs to devise for itself increasingly and concisely believable scenarios and narratives, in order to test the believability of electronic media, and then immediately ignore this test and continue living in this very same media. Any media which attempts to rationally say something about itself will by nature become a paradox and automatically re-conceal its nature. The “Immodest Proposal” of hoaxumentaries should act as a contemporary media version of the classic Greek epyllion, coercive advertising, the imagination of children, or contemporary science fiction. We must create a genre of media hoaxes designed to push far past the fastidiousness of rational skepticism, to create hoaxes that are funny, outrageous, scary, dramatic, and intense enough to ‘cover their tracks’ but remain ever so close to its audience. To be interesting enough to allow for what Schirmacher calls the ‘secret task of media’ – for the media to allow humanity to see what it could become without being aware of the self-same functioning – to be a media life technique.
There is an obvious epistemological paradox of searching for truth in media by looking at deliberate untruths, and of using misinformation and lies within hoaxes to create a larger and more durable notion of truth. Playfully, Debord points out an interesting paradox of contemporary mediated epistemology, “In a world that really has been turned on its head, truth is a moment of falsehood.” (Debord, p. 14)
We now stand just before another turning point in the history of image making, when images begin to return to the primary means of moving information, the primary means of learning and the primary means of epistemology. As a global network blends written and imagistic symbols and the idea of post-literate, post-historic culture emerges, electronic media epistemology will need to move from willing suspension of disbelief to sliding suspension of disbelief.
We must rescue and rehabilitate the hoax, and restore its unique mode of epistemology and entertainment. We must learn to hoax ourselves better with our new audiovisual hypermedia, at the point where suspension of disbelief moves from being a phenomenon to an event. Now is the time to act. Now is the time to hoax.