San Francisco, California
Here's a Little Clue for You All,
The Walrus is Animatronic
I've gone and made a mess for myself and now I have to clean it up.
Before I get started, let me state it front and center for those who don't want to read a lot: the dancing video is not a hoax. It was not made with a green screen. It was not "photoshopped." I really did travel to all those places.
Now, moving on...
About a month ago I went to a conference in Monterey called EG; short for Entertainment Gathering.
It's sort of a spin-off of TED, founded by the same guy, Richard Wurman, and organized by Michael Hawley. It shares a similar format and venue, and brings things back to how TED initially started, which is an intimate gathering of nerds with diverse backgrounds.
I was invited to talk for a few minutes, and then bring everyone up on stage to dance with me. Here is what I did.
I haven't spotted him myself, but I'm told if you look closely you can see Steve Wozniak dancing up there at the end, as well as several other luminary eggheads.
The idea for this talk came a couple weeks prior, when a video called Bike Hero came out. It showed a kid riding his bicycle on a street with Guitar Hero note tracking etched in chalk onto the ground.
The chalk marks are in perfect time with the music, and at first glance it appeared that some enterprising youngster had put a tremendous amount of time and effort into creating something genuinely clever and cool.
The next day the internet was abuzz with word that it was a hoax, created by some viral marketing ad agency. Turns out it was done the cheesy way, with a whole lot of CG. I found that incredibly depressing, and of course got to thinking: What if MY video turned out to be an elaborate hoax? And if it was, to what extent would that devalue the end result?
I asked my friend, Elan, for his opinion, as he's somewhat of an expert on pulling off stunts. His sage advice was to make it totally absurd or else people would wind up believing it. And so I made up a story involving an airplane in a swimming pool and an army of animatronic puppets.
Turns out I didn't make it absurd enough.
The video was posted online on January 2nd. Within hours a post appeared on Digg with this title.
MetaFilter ran this one.
I'm pretty sure the people who posted both those links had watched the lecture and were aware it was a prank. They crafted attention-grabbing headlines that avoided spoiling the joke, so that others could go through the same process of irritation followed by relief. Unfortunately, a whole lot of people simply read the headline, took it as fact, and ran with it.
Within days, the story had filtered through a series of increasingly credible sources into a legitimate news article (which has since been removed) that appears on wire services and makes no mention of the blatant ridiculiciousness of the claims.
I did not foresee this. I am surprised, ever-so-slightly annoyed, but mostly amused.
Had I given it any thought, I would've assumed that any journalist who failed to get the joke would've done a little research. Maybe they would've checked to see if "Buzz!Brain" is a real company. Maybe they would've IMDb'd my claim of being a corpse actor on CSI. Maybe they would've glanced at the six years' worth of detailed travelogues on my site. But all that aside...seriously, did the "army of animatronic puppets" not set off any credibility alarms?
If my delivery seems a little stilted and unrehearsed, it's because I scribbled the whole thing on notecards the night before and I was terrified out of my mind. I got up in front of an audience of people I admire a great deal and spouted complete nonsense at them.
In the minutes before I went onstage, Melissa saw me sweating profusely and shaking in my seat. To help me through my panic, she asked "What can you do if this isn't working? What's your escape hatch?"
It did not help with the sweating and the shaking.
And by the way, if I was really an actor, wouldn't I have bothered to memorize my lines?
At the end of the talk, I show a final budget for the make-believe version of the video. Unfortunately, I used a small font on the pie chart and you can't read the budget items without switching to high quality mode on YouTube. The budget was intended to seal things up for anyone who still wasn't sure it was a joke. My favorite was the "Robot Uprising Insurance." That got lost in compression.
I get the feeling this is going to follow me around for a while. I'm going to be hearing a lot of, "Wasn't your video a hoax? Someone told me it was a hoax."
Now I have my own little "Paul is Dead," and the kicker is it's my fault. But it's a bit of intrigue and it's all good fun.
When things went pear-shaped today with the news article, I asked Elan for advice again. He told me to set the record straight on my site to give folks in the talkbacks something they can link to.
So here it is, stated definitively once more for the people in the back row:
The dancing video is not a hoax. The EG lecture announcing a hoax is itself a hoax. I did not make the video by dancing in front of a green screen. I did travel to all those places. No swimming pools were used to simulate weightlessness. No one (that I'm aware of) built an army of animatronic robots in order to fake a viral video. And Walt Disney never (to my knowledge) said that thing about puppets knowing how to keep their damn mouths shut. I don't think he'd really talk that way.