Monday, 28 December 2009

The Art Of The Hoax

Smithsonian recently posted a short article online by Rob Irving and Peter Brookesmith charting Crop Circles and their origins and was somewhat contentiously titled, “Crop Circles: The Art of the Hoax,” well, I suppose it's contentious among certain groups it is however a title that I personally thought befitting of its content. Anyway, irrespective of where you believe the origins of the circle-makers may really stem from I still found it a thought-provoking article, sections of which can effortlessly be applied to all broader anomalous phenomena, an excerpt of the article follows:



Crop circles are a lens through which we can explore the nature and appeal of hoaxes. Fakes, counterfeits and forgeries are all around us in the everyday world—from dud $50 bills to spurious Picassos. People's motives for taking the unreal as real are easily discerned: we trust our currency, and many people would like to own a Picasso. The nebulous world of the anomalous and the paranormal is even richer soil for hoaxers. A large proportion of the population believes in ghosts, angels, UFOs and ET visitations, fairies, psychokinesis and other strange phenomena. These beliefs elude scientific examination and proof. And it's just such proof that the hoaxer brings to the table for those hungry for evidence that their beliefs are not deluded.

False evidence intended to corroborate an existing legend is known to folklorists as “ostension.” This process also inevitably extends the legend. For, even if the evidence is eventually exposed as false, it will have affected people's perceptions of the phenomenon it was intended to represent. Faked photographs of UFOs, Loch Ness monsters and ghosts generally fall under the heading of ostension. Another example is the series of photographs of fairies taken by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths at Cottingley, Yorkshire, between 1917 and 1920. These show that the motive for producing such evidence may come from belief, rather than from any wish to mislead or play pranks. One of the girls insisted till her dying day that she really had seen fairies—the manufactured pictures were a memento of her real experience. And the photos were taken as genuine by such luminaries as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—the great exponent, in his Sherlock Holmes stories, of logic.

The desire to promote evidence of anomalous and paranormal events as genuine springs from deep human longings. One is a gesture toward rationalism—the notion that nothing is quite real unless it's endorsed by reasoned argument, and underwritten by more or less scientific proofs. But the human soul longs for enchantment. Those who don't find their instinctive sense of the numinous satisfied by art, literature or music—let alone the discoveries of science itself—may well turn to the paranormal to gratify an intuition that mystery dwells at the heart of existence. Such people are perfectly placed to accept hoaxed evidence of unexplained powers and entities as real.

Source: Smithsonian



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