Sunday, April 2, 2017

Have Donald Trump's lies killed hoaxing?


     For a queasy moment yesterday, I worried that I would be the only person to attempt an April Fool's joke, that the national moment had grown so contorted, we were now beyond parody. What satire could be floated when we have a president who coins a new and incredible fallacy with every breath?
     But it was a tradition, and I had an idea, and sent it out into the world, and it was extraordinarily well-received— soon I was getting Tweets from Brazil and Japan and Russia.
    Nor was I alone. The Washington Post ran a round-up of dozens of pranks, though concluding it was, for some reason that remained unclear, a "hoax wasteland." (Mine wasn't included; they posted the story before my blog went live --a number of hoaxes were thinly-disguised corporate puffery unleashed days early; here I thought I was pushing it by jumping the gun six hours, rationalizing I was shifting to April 1, Moscow time).
    Then again, why not begin at the end of March? Or the middle? Or in August? Untruth has slipped its mooring and now stalks the land, and April Fool's Day expands, the way Christmas begins the day after Thanksgiving. My estimation of the national mood was utterly wrong: rather than April Fool's being shunned, it is growing. We're all pranksters now, enjoying our own private feast of fools.
     The Trump stamp turned out to be my best day by far, as far as numbers go, in the three and a half years I've written this blog. Which I attribute to two factors:
    First, the genius of Tim O'Brien, the graphic designer who created the Trump stamp at my request. I had greatly admired his parody of the Little Golden Books, and was emboldened to ask him to help me with a prank. My original idea was far cruder—a modern U.S. stamp honoring Hitler, cooked up by Trump's alt-right buddies—but Tim guided and refined the notion to a Russian tribute to their catspaw Donald. 
    To my delight he agreed and -- unbidden -- Photoshopped the two pictures, which drove home the verisimilitude of the hoax. I approached Tim hardly expecting a respected pro like him to react, and can't emphasize how cheerily he entered into the spirit of the thing, taking my pitiable proto-idea and rounding it into something of majesty. I can't thank him enough. 
    Second, anything related to Trump is red meat flung into the straining, baby bird mouths of the public, feeding their—our—bottomless, Hindenburg-erupting-into-flame-once-a-minute fascination with all things Donald Trump. This is sometimes dealt with as something shameful, that the public should find the fortitude to overcome our impulse to gaze in mute horror -- or, I supposed, wet-lipped admiration -- at this most improbable figure in American history, the love child of P.T. Barnum and Huey Long. 
     I can write a column where I spend the day grappling with some real-life, non-Trump social issue, interviewing stammering survivors, and write the most moving piece imaginable, and it won't attract half the attention to be snagged by checking the headlines, cracking my knuckles, and taking an hour to rhapsodize over whatever godawful stupidity Trump said or tweeted last.  It is manful restraint and a doctor's devotion to duty to ever write about anything else, and if my boss decided to peg my salary to my clicks, not to give him any ideas, that is what I would no doubt immediately start doing, along with posting naked pictures of Scarlet Johansson, real or fabricated. 
     Years ago, I wrote a nostalgic piece about my hometown in Ohio, and my editor accused me of parodying a rival columnist who constantly waxed nostalgic about his precious Columbus. And I remember replying, "Bob Greene didn't kill nostalgia. His doing it all the time doesn't mean I can't do it once." That goes double for Donald Trump and fantasy. Just because he and his supporters live in a self-flattering dream world doesn't mean that clear-headed people can't dream, can't prank and jest and offer up jovial stunts on appropriate occasions. At least we don't forevermore insist the products of imaginings are true, they have to be, because we said them, and we are always right. Our egos are so tiny that we must pretend we are always right. 
     In that spirit: the Russians didn't create a stamp for Donald Trump—not yet anyway. Something to look forward to.  


  1. American graphic designer Patrick O'Neil was your invention as well, I assume. Outrageous as the Pakistani pamphlet was, it actually added to the verisimilitude. Exactly the guy one would want for the Trump project.


    1. I invented that as Tim's background, but since he is a freelancer and must think of the range of business he does, he didn't want something so starkly defamatory out there, where it might be believed.

  2. I never for a minute thought that this was an April Fool joke. I don't know who's more naive: me, or the country.

    1. Same here-after all, it did sound like very much something ridiculous that Trump would say-worrying about his looks first. Also, the fact that it was put out the evening before the actual Apri Fool's day, made it seem more likely. I had posted then but then some of the posts were removed to preserve the joke.

    2. I read..somewhere..that Trump does not post pictures of himself with a pleasant expression or smiling. Rather a hard, stern look is what he prefers.

  3. This was your best April Fool's gotcha yet. How can you ever top that....a fake declaration by Congress of WW III, no; just kidding, heh heh :)


    1. Thanks Sandy, though my main contribution was asking Tim. I'm hoping that next year's April Fool's post can be about Donald Trump escaping prison and heading to the White House to try to get his old job back.

  4. The Trump effect on newspaper column readership is not entirely unprecedented. In modern times the utterances of the former governor of Alaska (one doesn't utter the name lest it somehow inspire her return to the public forum), although they seem almost rational by comparison, were Trump-like in that respect. And over a century ago a predecessor of Neil's in the columnist game penned a lament not unlike his observation on what inspires readership. "What can be hopped of an art which must necessarily depend on the favor of the public -- of such a public at least as ours.? Good work may, sometimes does, succeed. but never with the degree of success that befalls twaddle and unrelieved vulgarity. Twaddle and vulgarity will always have the upper hand."

    One of the pleasures of reading Steinberg's stuff is his coinages that evoke famous quotes from literature or drama. "Untruth has slipped its mooring and now stalks the land..." has a Shakespearean ring, but who said or wrote something very like evades memory. I went to Mr. Google for help, but when I typed in "...has slipped its mooring and now stalks the land." He led me back to Neil's column. If entirely original it should make it into a new edition of Bartlett's."



Comments are vetted and posted at the discretion of the proprietor.