Hoax

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Some might call it a publicity stunt, but I prefer to call it a hoax – the “x” makes it sound more exotic. Yes, the whole “Something’s up in Lowertown” routine was just a little game that a few of us cooked up to get attention to a part of Saint Paul that’s been struggling through the construction that has ripped up their streets and made access nearly impossible. It was a pretty tame gag, really, and it appears that most people have taken it in the spirit of fun it was intended. But is it ever acceptable to lie to your customers?

By the way, that shirt really looks great on you – it brings our your eyes nicely!

The plot of the campaign was simple – the digging was proceeding at a snail’s pace because something had been uncovered. Lowertown was inaccessible because “they” were hiding something from us. It turns out to have been … none other than the lost grave of Boreas Rex, the first true King of the North Winds! And we’ll have a party at the Black Dog Café to celebrate this find – and the arrival of Winter – on November 5th.

If you’re not from Saint Paul this hoax might take some explanation. Every year around the coldest day (January 28th) we have a celebration where King Boreas takes his throne and declares that winter now reigns throughout the Saintly City. But there is trouble in his kingdom. The Vulcans, the imps of spring, form an active resistance to the king, stirring up trouble (mostly in bars). After a week, Boreas is de-throned in a ceremony and the leader of the Vulcans is declared Vulcanus Rex. Spring is on its way! We celebrate with the Torchlight Parade and fireworks, awaiting the day that it really does become warm out.

Our li’l hoax played off of this ancient pageant that is a central mythology of Saint Paul. After all, if we can celebrate the arrival of spring, why not the arrival of winter? And if excessive street construction gives you lemons, why not dig up some cream, eggs, flour, and sugar and make a lemon meringue pie – because everyone loves pie. You can always throw it at people if you want to get really silly with the whole thang.

A good hoax is rather tricky. It has to be fun and not too over the top. My original post on the topic will be around forever, so I had to make sure that with time it came to look like a parody of bad blogging and not just a really stupid post. Every statement in that post is true, after all, but somehow it adds up to something far less than the truth.

Some people have a habit of writing this way, elevating nonsense to something that sounds far more important than it is. Making sure that each bit is true may comfort the writer, but it’s the ring of truth in the whole piece that the reader is going to care about. Good writing is about the reader, after all. An obvious parody can be forgiven if the big lie that it adds up to has a different ring of truth to it in the end – a statement about how simple things get out of whack.

Some famous hoaxes have started with an outright lie told with a straight face. When Taco Bell announced that they were buying the Liberty Bell in 1996 there were thousands of angry calls and letters – but also a huge bump in sales. When it was all over everyone realized how ridiculous it was, too stupid to be true, and got a good laugh.

Contrast that with the most famous hoax recently, Balloon Boy, and you can see how important the spirit of fun and call to legend is to making a good hoax:

Archeological find and City legend – good
Sellout of a cherished icon – good
Imminent threat of harm to a child – NO

Will there be some people who stay mad at me because I lied to them? Perhaps. But this is Saint Paul, and it’s nearly impossible to keep a secret of any kind. Nearly everyone got wind that this was a hoax even as the initial “something’s up!” message was delivered.

Will this help the Black Dog Café and other local businesses survive the construction that has cut them off from everything? I certainly hope so! In fact, that’s all I care about in the end.

Come on down and get in on the hoax with the rest of the city on November 5th. Think of it as an early Winter Carnival as we celebrate the arrival of Boreas Rex. It’s a legend that might as well be true as we embellish it just a little bit year by year.