Friday, 14 April 2017

Writing - Literary scams

In the recent rise of false news, as Trump coined the phrase, we have an example of the internet, in its global naivete, being exploited. In the future this may increase but that is not to say that methods of communications have been misused in the past.

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Jean Shepherd (1921 - 1999)

This is a subject I've referred to in the past but Jean Shepherd became really frustrated with the system of literary PR and reviewing and decided to do something about it. He enlisted the help of listeners to his radio programme to demonstrate how a sensation could be created artificially.

What do you say tomorrow morning each one of us walk into a bookstore and ask for a book each of us knows doesn’t exist?” he asked his listeners.
The response was overwhelming. Ideas for the title were phoned in and Shepherd settled on I, Libertine.
Faced with a barrage of requests, baffled booksellers sent questions up the food chain and soon demand for the phony novel saw it placed on the New York Times bestseller list.
The prank was eventually revealed by the Wall Street Journal but not before the publisher Ian Ballantine, of Ballantine Books, had commissioned a new title of the same name to capitalise on the craze. The proceeds were given to charity.

The method of communication no more sophisticated than radio and word of mouth.


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In 1983 the Times announced they'd found diaries purportedly belonging to Adolf Hitler. Newspaper owner, Rupert Murdoch, went against all advice and had the scoop printed. It took a fortnight of pressure and proof from experts to convince Murdoch to print a retraction.


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In 1796 opinion of the work of William Shakespeare was briefly reshaped by the ‘discovery’ of a hoard of documents, including several plays, apparently written by the bard.

Law clerk William Henry Ireland claimed to have found the documents in a trunk. They included plays Vortigern and Rowena and Henry II and, even more sensationally, a 'Profession of Faith' in which Shakespeare declared himself a Protestant.
The son of an author and engraver who was himself obsessed by Shakespeare’s work, it was said Ireland junior fabricated the fraud to impress his father.
As is often the case with such sensational ‘discoveries’, things quickly got out of hand and soon the Drury Lane Theatre was planning a production of Vortigern. The production was practically laughed off the stage.
Like Rupert Murdoch with The Hitler Diaries, it is believed the theatre doubted the authenticity of the play but went ahead anyway, presumably to sell tickets.

If it is possible to cause such sensationalism by word of mouth then it is easy to see the damage that could be done on the internet. In fact in some ways we have seen isolated examples when the personal reputations of individuals has been damaged and perpetrators have been given jail terms for their 'cyber' crimes.
Watch this space!

God Bless