Some thoughts on your very interesting post on "Bride Wigout."Anonymous: Thanks for your thoughtful comment, whoever you are.
I tend to think of hoaxes as generally suspect because they're unannounced deceptions and therefore liable to be taken the wrong way or to get out of hand. Think, for example, of Orson Wells' War of the Worlds.
The difference between hoaxes and art is that art is known to be art before we decide to avail ourselves of it. We pick up a novel or go to a play fully prepared to allow our imaginations to be led by the artist's controlled illusions. We want his fabrications to take us "away" and we freely and eagerly give ourselves up to them. A hoax, by contrast, is sprung on us unawares. We have no idea that it's coming, and its whole point is literally to assault us with something that seems entirely real. A hoax isn't revealed as a hoax until the "game" is played out, often scaring, insulting, or injuring its victim(s) in the process. An "artful" hoax, though often terribly convincing, isn't art in the same way that a novel or play is precisely because we are ignorant of the "art" until it is too late and we find ourselves the butt of a joke. Or worse.
If there were an ethically valid criticism of "Bride Wigout" (I say if there were) it might be, simply, that it was a hoax, morally suspect for that reason alone. Of course, anyone who accesses the internet, and especially Youtube, unprepared to be fooled is obviously ignorant of the medium. Besides being an echo chamber of rumors and misinformation, the internet is a screening room for every amateur in the world to try his hand at putting something over on a credulous public. The very first question almost anyone viewing this clip would ask himself is: "Is this real or fake?" The context tends to rob the would-be hoax of its deceptive force. For this reason alone, it seems to me, "Bride Wigout" is not a real hoax and is in no sense blameworthy. A true hoax slams its victim with the sensation that this is real and no mistake.
Can there be morally justified hoaxes; for example, to teach a malicious hoaxster a good lesson? Or is it always wrong to teach with a lie? And what about harmless hoaxes such as the old Alan Funt Candid Camera programs? I would suggest that the motive of the perpetrator has a lot to do with the moral status of the hoax, whether its malicious, thoughtless, or just for laughs. Also, the nature of the hoax itself, what we might call the seriousness of its matter, has an important bearing on its moral quality. Faking murder or suicide is always extremely bad. Finally, morally acceptable hoaxes tend to be carefully thought out and highly controlled, with a very high probability that the "victim(s)" will be as entertained as the perpetrator(s) once the hoax is revealed.
I'm not sure how much any of this disagrees with what you've said. Thanks again for your always-engaging blog.
The one thing you say that comes closest to clashing directly with the position I've taken here is the suggestion that hoaxes are "morally suspect" as such. By "artistic hoax" (a term that unfortunately I failed to define explicitly) I meant an artistic work, depicting imaginary events, which work is presented in such a way as to implicitly claim that the fictional events are real. It's a novel presented as an autobiography, a fiction film presented as a documentary or home video, etc. What I was thinking was that since the deception is only about the fictional world, and not about the real world of the viewer, it can't possibly have the features that make a standard-case lie immoral. As I watched "Bride," I was decieved about everything that Jodi was doing, but since I had no possible contact with her, the deception had no more effect on my own control of my life than if I had not been deceived at all.
Unfortunately for me, your example, "War of the Worlds" broadcast of 1939, really is a counterexample to this view. As a matter of historical fact, I think the broadcast was not actually a hoax. Despite coy hints dropped by Welles in later life, the deception was accidental and unforseen. But if it had been deliberate, it would have been immoral by my standards: it would have been an attempt to feed people false information which they would forseeably use in managing their lives. Even if no one was physically injured in the ensuing panic, thousands were embarassed or humiliated by their hysterical behavior -- certainly a bad thing to subject thousands of innocent strangers to!
Of course it was also what I'm calling "an artistic hoax." The reason it can be both -- an artistic hoax and immoral -- is that in this case the fictional world of the artwork overlapped with the real world of the viewer. In the fictional world of the broadcast, vicious Martians invade planet Earth. Well, the audience happens to live on planet Earth. Thus the relation between the audience and the Martians in the show was completely different from my relation to Jodi as I watched "Bride". This is a situation I had not thought of when I was formulating the position I took in the earlier post.
So I guess what I should do is to carve out some suitably-defined exception to my claim that artistic hoaxes are per se not morally wrong: it doesn't apply to cases where the imaginary world in the artwork overlaps in this way with the real world of the audience. "Artistic immunity," as you might call it, is not defeated by just any overlap whatsoever. The fictional world of the artwork must overlap with the audience's world of things that are of practical concern to them (their world of what Ortega y Gasett called pragmata). As I watched "Bride," I thought that Jody had a real hair meltdown somewhere on Earth, the same planet I live on. However, although I was emotionally engaged with her, and thought that she lives somewhere on my planet, there was no way Jodi could be of any practical concern for me. Immunity is defeated in such cases because the overlap results in false information that make a forseeable difference to the audience's future choices.
I think this is ordinarily not what artistic hoaxes are like, which is why I think of this as a revision of my position, and not an ignominious retreat from it.
Anyway, way to go, Anonymous! (Love all those folksongs you wrote, too!)