|The following is reprinted
Best of The Best of
Uncle John's Bathroom Reader.
Think everything you read in the newspaper or see on the news has been
checked for accuracy? Think again. Sometimes the media will repeat whatever
they're told ... and Joey Skaggs is the guy set out to prove it.
Photo: Joey Skaggs
MONKEY SEE, MONKEY DO
Joey Skaggs' career as a hoax
artist began in the mid-1960s when he first combined his art training
with sociopolitical activism. He wanted to show that instead of being
guardians of the truth, the media machine often runs stories without verifying
the facts. And in proving his point, he perpetrated some pretty clever
HOAX#1: A CATHOUSE FOR DOGS
In 1976 Skaggs ran an ad in New York's Village Voice for a dog
bordello. For $50 Skaggs promised satisfaction for any sexually deprived
Fido. Then he hosted a special "night in the cathouse for dogs"
just for the media. A beautiful woman and her Saluki, both clad in tight
red sweaters and bows, paraded up and down in front of the panting "clientele"
(male dogs belonging to Skaggs' friends). The ASPCA lodged a slew of protests
and had Skaggs arrested (and indicted) for cruelty to animals. The event
was even featured on an Emmy-nominated WABC News documentary. But the
joke was on them - the "dog bordello" never existed. (The charges
HOAX #2: SAVE THE GEODUCK!
It's pronounced "gooey-duck" and it's a long-necked clam native
to Puget Sound, Washington, with a digging muscle that bears a striking
resemblance to the male reproductive organ of a horse. In 1987 Skaggs
posed as a doctor (Dr. Long) and staged a protest rally in front of the
Japan Society. Why? Because according to "Dr. Long," the geoduck
was considered to be an aphrodisiac in Asia, and people were eating the
mollusk into extinction. Although neither claim had the slightest basis
in fact, Skaggs' "Clamscam" was good enough to sucker WNBC,
UPI, the German news magazine Der Spiegel, and a number of Japanese
papers into reporting the story as fact.
HOAX #3: MIRACLE ROACH HORMONE CURE
Skaggs pretended to be an entomologist from Columbia named Dr. Josef Gregor
in 1981. In an interview with WNBC-TV's Live at Five, "Dr.
Gregor" claimed to have graduated from the University of Bogota,
and said his "Miracle Roach Hormone Cure" cured the common cold,
acne, and menstrual cramps. An amazed Skaggs remarked later, "Nobody
ever checked my credentials." The interviewers didn't realize they
were being had until Dr. Gregor played his theme song - La Cucaracha.
HOAX #4: SERGEANT BONES AND THE FAT SQUAD
In 1986 Skaggs appeared on Good Morning, America as a former
Marine Corps drill sergeant named Joe Bones, who was determined to stamp
out obesity in the United States. Flanked by a squad of tough-looking
commandos, Sergeant Bones announced that for "$300 a day plus expenses,"
his "Fat Squad" would infiltrate an overweight client's home
and physically stop them from snacking. "You can hire us but you
can't fire us," he deadpanned, staring into the camera. "Our
commandos take no bribes." Reporters from the Philadelphia Enquirer,
Washington Post, Miami Herald, and the New York
Daily News all believed - and ran with - the story.
HOAX #5: MAQDANANDA, THE PSYCHIC ATTORNEY
On April 1, 1994, Skaggs struck again with a 30-second TV spot in which
he dressed like a swami. Seated on a pile of cushions, Maqdananda asked
viewers, "Why deal with the legal system without knowing the outcome
beforehand?" Along with normal third dimensional legal issues - divorce,
accidental injury, wills, trusts - Maqdananda claimed he could help renegotiate
contracts made in past lives, sue for psychic surgery malpractice, and
help rectify psychic injustices. "There is no statute of limitations
in the psychic realm," he said. Viewers just had to call the number
at the bottom of their screen: 1-808-UCA-DADA.
In Hawaii, CNN Headline News ran the spot 40 times during the
week. When people called the number (and dozens did), they were greeted
by the swami's voice on an answering machine, saying, "I knew you'd
call." Skaggs later revealed that the swami - and his political statement
about proliferation of New Age gurus and ambulance-chasing attorneys -
was all a hoax.