As a child I distinctly remember being upset by Candid Camera: “What right did the show have,” I thought, “to inconvenience others in order to profit from their unease?” So maybe I was a bit naïve about fame and unpaid labor but the sentiment has haunted me as American culture has become increasingly influenced by reality television.
And although the intertwining of media and deception is certainly nothing new, one might argue that the emergence of the Internet has allowed a resurgence in pranking that often revolves around representation and identity. From efforts like “A Gay Girl in Damascus” and the YouTube series lonelygirl15 to the Jimmy Kimmel “twerk prank,” we see producers developing stories that play with authorship and authenticity in storytelling.
It is against this backdrop that we consider a hoax perpetuated by Elan Gale during Thanksgiving 2013. While on a flight, Gale, a producer for The Bachelor, tweeted the passive-aggressive exchange between himself and a passenger, “Diane,” that quickly escalated into a note that, in part, read “Eat my dick.” Popularized by Buzzfeed, the incident spread before finally being revealed as a hoax.
In a certain light, Gale’s tweets could be thought of as the production of engaging real-time creative content that shifts serial storytelling onto a micropublishing platform. Simultaneously, however, the Gale “hoax” is perhaps indicative of a shift in the way Americans view themselves in relationship to the world around them as a result of exposure to the most recent wave of reality television.
We can use the Gale hoax to ask, “What happens when we begin to perceive our surroundings through the logic of reality television?” What does it mean to think of the environment as something to be manipulated in order to produce entertainment? To capitalize on situations, if not manufacture them outright? Used with skill and empathy the practice of deception can afford us new insight into the world around us but, at their worst, hoaxes privilege our perspective of the world as it already is, finding delight in the thought that we, of all people, know the “truth.”
With that I hand it off to fellow contributor Elizabeth Lenaghan to muse on the implications of "catfish" becoming a verb.