The Scam Sham


In the 1860s, a con man persuaded a farmer near Syracuse to bury a cheap gypsum statue that had been altered to resemble a huge fossilized man. The statue was then “discovered” and proclaimed the “Cardiff Giant,” a specimen of a race said to have wandered the hills prior to the coming of man.

Although immediately dubbed a fake by a few who smelled rats, there was popular acceptance of the bogus thing, which spilled over into the news media. Andrew White, the first president of Cornell and a skeptic, wrote: “There was evidently a ‘joy in believing’ in the marvel, and this was increased by the peculiarly American superstition that the correctness of a belief is decided by the number of the people who can be induced to adopt it.”

In 1988, Negativland and their label—SST—issued a press release implying trouble with authorities because a piece of the act’s music was connected with a real teenage ax murderer. As far as hoaxes go, the trick was lame. It neither took the physical labor of the Cardiff Giant nor had the power to inspire of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

But some media ninnies, including rock critics, bit—remarkably, because Negativland had not much more than a dozen fans. Anyway, a reissue of Helter Stupid, the Negativland record that subsequently capitalized on the scam, names reporters and publications, the Voice among them, who were sucked in. It’s rationalized as a novel satirical lesson: Grasping journalists on the daily news hunt are gullible and cannot think critically.

Holy Hannah, such truth! But now that we agree hoaxers are swine—those scammed never learn, always remaining as clueless as on the day they were fooled—what’s left over in Helter Stupid is tape splicing of TV announcers, schlock, and other stuff. It’s supposed to be annoying but thought-provoking. So, are you intellectually challenged by a shit sandwich?