false alarm

Real costs extra (False Alarm! part v)

A Fake in the Crowd (False Alarm! part iv)

Many of us are struggling with the real and the fake – but if you’re willing to pay enough, you don’t have to worry about it. Your host collaborates with 99% Invisible on a story about the Emeco Navy chair (the real one and the knockoffs). Artist Sam Stewart introduces us to a creature and his luxurious useless furniture. Starlee Kine of Mystery Show explains that my real podcasting problem isn’t the real vs fake but ads… and it’s true, dear listeners, because without more ad money, this means I might have to let my amazing producer Andrew Callaway go! Unless our new ICO pulls in millions! Learn all about it.

Illustration by Jordan Crane and new series logo by Val Dorito.

The Torpedo Proof Chair

The Navy needed an indestructible chair. Emeco got the contract because it had a lightweight aluminum super strong chair – and the founder proved this by throwing it off an eight story building. The contract this feat won them kept the company afloat for decades… but things weren’t looking so great for Emeco when Gregg Buchbinder took over in the 1990s. But he discovered the chair was beloved by designers and architects around the world and he turned things around.

But this newfound popularity led to some new challenges.

A real Emeco Navy chair vs. a Restoration Hardware Naval chair.

Gregg Buchbinder uses Emeco’s trade dress protection to fight the fakes.  For him, the worst things about the knockoffs chairs are how disposable they are. His chair is made with a 77-step process in the USA and will last forever — Navy Chairs made in the 1940s are still in circulation — while the knockoffs rust, break and fill landfills.

He’s been pretty successful at taking down the knockoffs from bigger companies. He’s won battles IKEA and Restoration Hardware — but the one chair that he can’t take down is Crate & Barrel’s Delta chair.

A real Emeco Navy chair vs. a Crate & Barrel Delta chair.

The Delta chair is just different enough that Emeco can’t go after them but he still believes them to be knockoffs. Sure, they took out the crossbar, but the butt divot is still there… and they even kept the signature welds on the back of the vertical bars.

Christopher Sprigman wrote a book called the Knockoff Economy in which he argues that lookalikes and fakes are actually a net good for society. The Emeco Navy chair costs over $500 — not a seat for the masses. The knockoffs are  democratizing, allowing for regular people to make similar aesthetic choices to rich people.

But how real is  this knockoff? To find out, I decided to use the same test that won over the Navy… the throwing-it-off-an-eight-story-building-story test. It didn’t do well.

The Cryptid

Artist Sam Stewart took over a commercial/residential space in the former meat packing district of NYC and filled it with art pieces and furniture he made for a fictional client, the Cryptid


Mystery Show

To conclude my rounds of getting advice from podcasters, I talk to one of the masters of helping people… Starlee Kine. It turns out she’s been thinking a lot about the real and the fake.

She told me that this thing about having ads in the middle of shows is the real/fake problem manifesting itself in the podcasting world. In fact, it’s part of the reason she has no plans to come back to podcasting… because it almost seems like there’s no way to do this without relying on the ad model.

But we here at Theory of Everything are trying out another way. That’s right… our ICO is real.


A Fake in the Crowd (False Alarm! part iv)

A Fake in the Crowd (False Alarm! part iv)

The power of the fake person, multiplied! Curator Karen Patterson puts a fake artist in the museum and artist David Levine puts on a museum show about the fake crowd. We hear from a 1937 radio play that featured both Orson Welles and the first fake crowd ever broadcast on the radio. And backstage on the Radiotopia live tour, your host turns to fellow ‘topes Roman Mars and Helen Zaltzman for help deciphering an unexpected laugh.  PLUS!!!! The long awaited return of ToE’s original extra: Peter Choyce.

Illustration by Jordan Crane and new series logo by Val Dorito.

Dispassionate Participation

According to artist David Levine, analogue fake crowds still matter in the digital age, perhaps more than ever. He tells us about his new show, Some of the People, All of the Time, opening May 24th at the Brooklyn Museum. He also shares a bit from the lecture he is doing May 23rd (let’s all go!).

Meanwhile at the Kohler Arts Center it’s a real crowd with a fake artist. Curator Karen Patterson tells us about her show on Florence Hasard, a fake person created by the real artist Iris Häussler. This show is up until August 19th, 2018… and btw, Karen is the one who commissioned my Wisconsin series from last year.

Orson Welles and the birth of the fake crowd

The fake crowd makes its radio debut on March 4th, 1937 in Archibald MacLeash’s Fall of the City. This radio drama used innovative sound techniques to create the illusion of an enormous crowd awaiting the arrival of a conquering dictator.  Orson Welles is brilliant in the role of the radio announcer. Although he didn’t perform in MacLeash’s next radio play, Air Raid, you can see in the photo below that he visited the set. MacLeash was using even more advanced techniques to create super realistic sounds of an attack on an American city. Just four days later, Orson Welles debuted a radio piece that would shake America

You gotta let the crowd laugh

Meanwhile, at the live Radiotopia tour, your host got some lessons from Roman Mars and Helen Zaltzman on how to accept reality and roll with the laughs.

The return of Peter Choyce

It’s been three years since we last heard from Peter Choyce–he’s moved from Hollywood to Tennessee where the kinds of job offers he’s getting as an actor have changed quite a bit.

S-Coin (False Alarm! part iii)

S*Coin ( False Alarm! part iii)

Our investigation of the real and the fake continues as your host hunts for a way to monetize it! We ask Alex Goldmark from Planet Money and Bitchcoin artist Sarah Meyohas for advice and author David Golumbia explains how bitcoin really works. Lyn Jeffrey takes us to China to learn about the multi level marketing craze of the mid 1990s and Jed Rothstein tells us about his new movie The China Hustle. Journalist Zeke Faux explains why scammers love Facebook and Toe’s Andrew Callaway visits Supreme to learn how to get rich off Streetwear. PLUS… the ToE coin!

Illustration by Jordan Crane and new series logo by Val Dorito.

Monetizing the Fake

We’ve been talking to an artist and a podcaster looking for advice, so this week we hit up Alex Goldmark from Planet Money and Sarah Meyohas, the creator of Bitchcoin. This time, instead of getting tips on how to deal with the fake, I wanted to learn how to monetize it!

Technology that doesn't work

David Golumbia believes that bitcoin is classic snake oil. It doesn’t even work as a currency! He sees the fanatical faith in bitcoin as making it like a cult — a cult that’s backed by right wing ideology.

How can you face the real if you can't handle the fake?

A recent ICO in China that was supercharged by MLMs led me to Lyn Jeffery to tell me about her experiences in China so I can understand how to make people believe in the fake. I also spoke to Jed Rothstein, director of The China Hustle about reverse mergers and the inherent fakeness of the global financial system.

Finding the suckers.

I sent ToE’s Andrew Callaway to the Supreme store to find out how to become a millionaire off of street wear — and Zeke Faux explains how Facebook helps affiliate marketers find the suckers.

Plus: sign up for the newsletter to get exclusive access to the first round of our ICO

Fake Nudes (False Alarm! part ii)

Fake Nudes (False Alarm! part ii)

The future of face-swapping! The REAL deepfakes speaks! Artist Lynn Hershman Leeson tells us how technology has transformed the way she plays with fact and fiction. Dipayan Ghosh warns us about AI powered ad-targeting. Criminal’s Phoebe and Lauren drop knowledge on the untrue in true crime. Plus your host meets STORMY DANIELS!

Illustration by Jordan Crane and new series logo by Val Dorito.

Age of American Unreason in a Culture of Lies

When Susan Jacoby published her book on anti-intellectualism and public ignorance The Age of American Unreason in 2008, it was timely — so now that she’s updated it for 2018, we settled on this new edition being… bigly timely.

The new edition is subtitled “In a Culture of Lies.”

Susan is not a technologist or even a technology critic. She is a scholar of ideas, a scholar of culture. In 2008, she told me she felt like a technophobe. The main reason she updated her book was a realization that she gets culture better than the real technologists and the real technology critics. 

The real deepfakes

We have an exclusive interview with the one… the only… deepfakes. I’m not even sure how to describe what went down… but this meme from 4chan will give you the basic idea.

Building a fake you can believe in

The blurring of fiction and reality is central to the art practice of Lynn Hersman Leeson. You will find a reference to it in almost everything she does, including her latest film Vertighost.

Vertighost was made for San Francsico’s Legion of Honor — an important location in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Lynn uses archival footage of Kim Novak along with interviews of several woman discussing their relationships with the real and the fake. Natasha Boaz is an art critic who explains that we’re not at war with the fake: we prefer it.

Being a San Francisco Artist, Lynn Hershman Leeson has taken full advantage of the technology booms. For example, she made dolls with webcams in their eyes that were livestreaming onto the internet… in 1996!

In 2000, she made Agent Ruby and Dina, chat bots that could do more than Siri, which didn’t come out til 2012. For example, Agent Ruby’s mood would be affected by how many people were talking to it at once and Dina ran for election!

But perhaps Lynn’s most famous invented person was analog. When one of her pieces was kicked out of a gallery show for using sound (!!) in 1966, she decided she needed a space of her own, safe from the closed minds of curators. She filled this room with artifacts of a fake person. This was the birth of ROBERTA BREITMORE.

There were some similarities between Lynn and Roberta but they were totally separate people. Roberta went to her own psychiatrist and worked her own job as a secretary to pay her rent at her own apartment. Roberta had bank accounts and a driver’s license. She even went out on dates!

Lynn also created a few male alter egos. Art critics! Hebert Goode, Prudence Juris and Gay Abandon. These men would write reviews for journals and newspapers — of her work! She also made a series of fake fires… sometimes the fire department came, even though Lynn says they had permits.

Pieces like that I have a hard time imagining being possible to do today — but Lynn thinks Roberta would be the hardest piece to do today… because of computers.

Targeted advertising is the sun

Dipayan Ghosh is a fellow at New America where he studies disinformation and internet platforms, but unlike pretty much everyone — he’s NOT focused on bad actors like Cambridge Analytica or Russian Trolls. He’s focused on the digital advertising infrastructure that makes disinformation campaigns possible. He’s recently co-authored a report called Digital Deceit on the technology – the tools and services both real advertisers and fake disinformation campaigns use to get their message out. As platforms like Facebook augment these tools and services with AI, we warns that the good the bad and the ugly will all use them to target us.

AI makes it so easy to not only target, but to create custom content for individual users. This was once called a “dark post” since it didn’t show up to anyone except for you, but they prefer to call them unpublished posts.

Since he wrote a paper warning us about AI enhanced tools, I figured Dipayan would agree with me that Mark Zuckerberg’s faith in AI tools to battle fake news and misinformation was ridiculous… but he didn’t! He felt that AI was essentially inevitable– that for these companies to use AI  like that is as natural as a plant reaching for the sun. 

Murder Podcasts

Phoebe Judge and Lauren Spohrer are the producers of Criminal, a widely loved true crime podcast — which is why i was surprised to hear that some true crime diehards aren’t into their show. These people prefer, “murder podcasts” — where they can confirm that fucked up things actually happen.

I too have listeners who complain — who are confused about what’s true and not. Phoebe and Lauren told me how they deal with the unknowns in their stories: admitting that they’re unknown!

But Phoebe ultimately doesn’t believe that the true part of the crime in her show matters… people just like crime.

I believe Stormy Daniels

A few weeks before Stormy Daniels got her new awesome lawyer and went on 60 Minutes to tell the world about her relationship with Donald Trump she went on a tour of stip clubs across america — the Make America Horny Again tour.

We were disappointed to find the place was full of journalists. They all were hoping to find a real Trump supporter. We weren’t looking, but we did end up finding a Trump supporter– Toni-Ann who was opening for Stormy Daniels. She loved Trump because he understands how to lure people into the world of fantasy and then run away with their money. According to her, Trump would have made an excellent stripper.

Finally at Midnight, Stormy Daniels strode out on to the stage in her little red riding hood outfit and as she took off her cape and then her cap… I realized all of my hopes are riding on this woman!

Which is unfair I know… but if an unabashed, unashamed exibitionist can’t make us see that the emperor has no clothes… then who can???

This Is Not A Drill (False Alarm! part i)

This Is Not A Drill (False Alarm! part i)

Our New ToE series on the battle between the real and the fake begins with a text alert sent out to everyone in Hawaii on a balmy Saturday morning. We also hear from the man who has written the text alert that will go out to all New Yorkers in the event of a real emergency. Photographer Stan Douglas shows us how to reconstruct a future that makes sense, and your host turns to fellow podcaster Jody Avirgan for advice on how to own the “real-ish” podcast genre. Plus the little boy who cried wolf meets the Emperor with no clothes!

Read our Medium page for details on the entire episode

Illustration by Jordan Crane and new series logo by Val Dorito.