A hoax is contrived in order to deceive or mislead, an imposition carried out under fair pretenses. A hoax requires a level of skill and dedication that goes beyond casual fib, skillful exaggeration, calculated evasion, and bold lie.

Most advertising is a hoax. The purpose of advertising is to convince us to buy loads of crap we don’t need, which keeps the hallowed hamster wheel of commerce spinning.

Sarah Silverman does a great bit on this subject. It involves feminine hygiene products, and it’s a wonderfully frank explication of the fraudulent nature of advertising.

Silverman is a fearless comedian. In ancient times, she would have been forced to drink hemlock for pointing out the obvious. Comedians are among the few public figures who can still speak truth to power from a relatively large platform.

Without a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down (in this case, the laughs provided by Silverman’s outrageously daffy persona, an affectation that allows her to get away with murder, at least in the eyes of her fans), we don’t want to hear about it. You know. The truth. That we are suckers, and buy into this shit.

Advertising is a hit-and-miss affair. It’s always involved throwing crap at the wall to see what sticks: the celebrity endorsement, the jingle that slithers through the ear canal and gnaws its way into the brain, the mini-narrative that offers a comedic or dramatic arc, animation, talking animals, the bark of the hard-nosed salesperson, the soothing rumble of the accomplished actor, the anxious complaint of a “real” consumer …

These days, the people who make commercials have their work cut out for them. Thanks to the internet, everyone has now seen everything, except, perhaps, for elderly Amish persons, certain tribes living in the Amazon basin, and blinkered reactionaries. So now we are faced with a barrage of ham-fisted ads produced by dimwits who think their 30-second spots are just as compelling as, say, the works of Samuel Beckett or Andy Warhol.

Trying to cloak the absurd with flimsy approximations of the same is a desperate move, but that is where we are. We are running out of art movements to rip off, decades to deconstruct. We are approaching the tipping point where advertising will have nothing left to launch at us except a message that might as well be hardcore pornography.

Funeral homes, hospitals, drug companies and the like are more or less stuck with a somber approach to advertising. Personally, I’d like to see more circus clowns as spokespersons for these industries. No one is really going to care if you use a clown to sell pills. Pills and clowns and caskets, they go together.

We take a dim view of the lesser practitioners of the advertising hoax. For subjecting us to their developmentally-challenged visions of beer and trucks, we want these hacks dead, before dawn, if possible–

No, that was only once, after my unsuccessful run for county commissioner a few years ago. I was in a bad mood that evening, having received only three percent of the vote. My beautiful wife and six lovely children were asleep, having consoled me somewhat with hugs and kisses before trundling off to bed. It had been a long election day, and there was nothing to drink in the house except the last of Viv’s wine coolers. I hesitated to take it, but I decided Viv probably wouldn’t notice. (I was wrong about that. Apparently, Viv jealously guards her wine coolers.)

I drank it alone in my study in the glow of television, bombarded with one hoax after another, in the very study I’d sweated out plans for dozens of genuine county improvements. A 16-story duck tower, open to ducks of all principalities. Turn In Your Deadly Cell Phone Day. Whitewater rapids right next to the county courthouse. A giant mural of Malcolm X and the Atlanta Rhythm Section (I was never able to locate a definite site for the mural, but in my stump speech I mentioned several favorable possibilities, including the west exterior wall of the Foodland, which could use some sprucing up).

Politics is the ultimate hoax. It is carried out under fair pretenses, namely the unbelievable good will of the electorate.

Bud Light commercials have pushed a lot of citizens over the edge. I was blaming one hoax for another, and I felt awful about wishing death on moronic beer pimps, because, deep down, I’m a fair and gentle guy, and I have what it takes to be county commissioner, no matter what anybody says.

It’s just a commercial. Nobody made you watch it. And what’s another spasm of nausea in the 21st century? You’ll be dead anyway when some asshole talking on their smartphone cuts you off in traffic and kills you next Wednesday. I thought these thoughts as I drained the last sugary sips of the bottle. I wasn’t looking forward to taking down those campaign signs, either.

There is nothing wrong with beer or trucks. I’ve had a Ford Ranger for eight years. My truck has roughly 175,000 miles on the odometer and I wouldn’t trade it for a dual autographed glossy of Lenny Bruce and Elvis Presley. I have no evidence that Lenny and Elvis ever met, or were photographed together, but that would make for a good hoax, and, perhaps, a Tony Award-winning play.

The political hoax is so old we can no longer resist it. It’s become a glowing strand in our DNA. We fiercely guard the reputations of our political hoaxers, until they do something unbelievably dumb. Then we beat them without mercy, and they roll away without a sound.

The hotel clerk just called to let me know my debit card has been declined. I guess Viv emptied the account. I’m sure they’ll take a check.

Even the cleverest hoaxer is human. This is why all hoaxes break down, lose steam. A hoaxer is proud of his or her work. It’s only a matter of time before the details begin to leak out, and the falsehoods are revealed.

A hoax is often the work of a lifetime. The hoaxer is in it for a significant payoff.

Without the revelation of the hoax, there is no story, no glory.

I wish I had a hoax to run, a mad scam so preposterous and concrete it would immediately scan as international art. Please keep in mind I’m writing this from humble quarters, eating cold pork and beans from a can.

I’m running Windows XP, for the love of god.

But I think Viv and the kids will have me back as soon as I calm down a little.


John Hicks is not a jazz pianist. He is not the last lineman to be remembered as the runner-up in the vote for the Heisman Trophy. He has never been an economist.

About the Author

John Hicks

Havin' a wild weekend.

John Hicks lives outside the city limits, where eagles dare.

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