By Kenz Walters
We are in the age of the horrific hoax, said Kevin Young during a speech on the rise of hoaxes and fake news.
“There was that democratic pleasure, where you could decide for yourself. But what’s sort of happened now is that there are no experts,” he said. “That idea that expertise is actually dismissed and frowned upon.”
Kevin Young spoke to a crowd of 600 people in Schofield Auditorium, a sold-out show, on October 18th as a part of the 76th annual Forum Series for the university. He spoke for little over an hour about his newest nonfiction book, “Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News”.
Young, an essayist, poet, editor, and professor, focused on the history of hoaxes, specifically on PT Barnum and the history of the hoax and the origins of how we got to where we are today. “We didn’t invent the hoax, but we really perfected it and Barnum was one of the people that did so,” Young said, before explaining a few of Barnum’s hoaxes, including the Fiji Mermaid, and Joice Heth, who was labeled
George Washington’s nursemaid. “People wanted to be connected to George Washington, the father of our nation,” Young explained. Young then went on to explain where we are now with the current trend of hoaxes. “Hoaxes are now often horrific,” He said, following it up with, “Things are bad as we fear they are, and the hoax plays on that.” Young finished up his speech by stating that we need to be skeptical, but not cynical, to “protect our facts, but not necessarily be cynical.”
After the speech, a few audience members were a bit confused that Young didn’t address current events. Jan Otterholt appreciated the background he gave, but “missed the connections to what we were experiencing now,” she said. Kaye Mulvaney offered similar concerns. “We realize the book was done in 2016. If someone would’ve asked that question, I’m sure he would’ve addressed it.”
The 76th annual Forum Series concluded with a reception immediately after the speech for the public to meet and talk with Young further. The next Forum guest will be Barry Burden, a professor of political science, who will be speaking on partisan Gerrymandering in Wisconsin, on February 13th at 7:30pm in Schofield Auditorium.