It’s a fool who thinks he can’t be fooled
Photo: Tanja Kanazir / Drugo more (Flickr gallery)
New York artist Joey Skaggs, “the godfather of the media hoax”, visited Rijeka (Filodrammatica) on May 5 and 6 for a lecture presentation and a workshop on the subject of social activism and media manipulation.
Back in the Sixties, people belonging to the American countercultures realized that elaborate media pranks could be an effective form of social activism. What they have done in the last decades has been of great importance for the new generations of artists and activists that learned from these pioneers how to challenge the system by using the disruptive potential of jokes: a practice that, as the design collective Metahaven argues in the book Can Jokes Bring Down Governments?, is especially effective in times of austerity.
Video report from Filodrammatica (Moja Rijeka)
Artist, social activist, educator and prankster Joey Skaggs was one of these people. For decades, mass media have been the main stage for his performances. His work incorporates guerrilla tactics and traditional advertising and public relations techniques to promote his staged performances. Throughout his career, Skaggs has used several aliases such as Kim Yung Soo, Joe Bones, Joseph Bonuso, Giuseppe Scaggioli, Dr. Joseph Gregor, and the Rev. Anthony Joseph. He has been a doctor, a lawyer, an Indian chief. He ran a bordello for dogs, directed a celebrity sperm bank, and was the capo de capo of the Fat Squad, a paramilitary organization dedicated to wiping out obesity. His cockroach extract vitamin was invented to cure the world’s ailments, and he was the only man ever to windsurf from Hawaii to California.
These and many other performances have been diligently reported as fact by domestic and international news media for over fifty years. Yet every one of these so-called news stories was the creation of conceptual artist and performer Joey Skaggs. His elaborately staged media hoaxes, which brilliantly satirize socio-political and cultural issues, have two overriding goals: to expose hypocrisy and effect social change.
In 2015, filmmaker Andrea Marini made a documentary Art of the Prank about Skaggs as a man who has turned the media hoax into an art form.
Art of the Prank Trailer
Abandon any preconceived ideas about news media. Your mouth will drop open and your eyes will pop with disbelief as you see Skaggs in various disguises and personas repeatedly fooling the people whose job it is not to be fooled. Using extensive video documentation, Skaggs reveals the stories behind his most provocative and successful work. In hilarious detail, he chronicles fifty years of manipulating the media to address such issues as cultural intolerance and racism; scientific cure-alls that exploit people’s weaknesses and vanities; inequities in the American judicial system; and the misuse of power and authority by government, big business, people with an agenda and the media itself.
As a committed and passionate advocate of media literacy, independent thinking, and creative activism, he always reveals the truth behind his hoaxes and explains his intent. Skaggs teaches how to analyze and extract the underlying messages in the news; question authority in all its forms; not give up critical analysis for wishful thinking; look to more than one source for information; and not trust everything you read, see and hear.
The experience will profoundly change your own relationship to mass media.
The workshop is based on the Culture Jamming and Media Activism course that Joey Skaggs developed and taught for the Media Communications Department of New York’s School of Visual Arts.
With the advent of online social networks and Twitter, new opportunities abound for social activism. Skaggs explores the field of new technologies to communicate ideas and grab attention, and also shows how performance art, video, theatre, graphic design, advertising and public relations can be used to manipulate media in order to advance a cause.
Participants in the workshop will identify the social issues that concern them, analyze their target audience, and conceive and/or initiate a plan for social action by manipulating the media.