#3. Man Becomes World-Famous Artist, Also While Not Existing
There are some artists that are so famous that everyone's heard of them, even people without the slightest interest in the art world. Michelangelo, da Vinci, Rembrandt, Nat Tate, Monet...
We... ah... we got nothing.
What's that? You've never heard of Nat Tate? Well congratulations, because by admitting that you have more credibility than a lot of people who make a living in the art industry.
Back in 1998, author William Boyd wrote a biography of Tate, an abstract painter who lived from 1928 to 1960. Tate was a troubled genius, who created brilliant paintings but eventually destroyed them all before committing suicide. The book included photographs of Tate and his work, as well as recollections about the man by other famous artists. Oh yeah, and the whole thing was a hoax.
The book was intended as a satire of the New York art community, but Boyd wasn't content to stop at that. He recruited the one group of people with more spare time and boredom on their hands than even our Georgia Tech student up there: celebrities.
He called up Gore Vidal, who promoted and endorsed the book and the claim of it being true, and David Bowie, who arranged a huge launch party for the book in New York on April Fools' Day. Invited were famous artists, collectors, historians and dealers.
A strict dress code was enforced.
So with that many experts on art in one place the scam was quickly revealed, right? Not quite. As Bowie read excerpts from the book everyone nodded sagely and talked about their familiarity with Tate's work.
Only a single newspaper editor realized it was a joke, because he was the only one who would admit to having never heard of Tate. So he did some real in-depth investigation and uncovered the truth. By which we mean he flipped through the book and discovered it had obvious flaws, like using names of supposedly famous art galleries which didn't actually exist.
The hoax made international headlines, the world had a good laugh at the too proud art community and David Bowie went back to leaving flaming bags of his shit on his neighbors' porches.
#2. The $2 Billion Prank
So you've got some panicked people, embarrassed "experts" and a cursing dictator. But no real monetary damage, right? Well, this one makes up for that.
2004 was the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, an industrial accident at a Union Carbide plant in India that killed thousands and created lifelong health problems for many more. No, that wasn't the prank. That would have been horrible.
Families of victims were thrilled when a representative of Dow Chemical, the owner of the plant, appeared on BBC News and finally claimed full responsibility for the disaster. He announced that Dow would be liquidating $12 billion worth of assets to help pay for medical costs, clean-up and research into the dangers of their industry.
It was an amazing corporate gesture, and immediately created a huge stir in the business world. And, of course, it was bullshit. The Dow representative was actually Andy Bichlbaum, a member of a group called The Yes Men, who have a history of doing just this kind of thing. Of course, nobody realized that while he was chatting away with a BBC reporter, particularly the people holding Dow stock. When it looks like a company is claiming to be responsible for the deaths of thousands of people but planning to make up for it by giving away billions of dollars, well, that has a bit of an impact on the markets.
Compounding things, of course, was the fact that when the real Dow issued a press release saying that they did not in fact have any plans to help the sick people, it was pretty much impossible to clear things up without looking like jerks.
"...And furthermore, we intend to continue our 'kick customers right in the dick' policy. Any questions?"
By the time the whole affair was sorted out, the fake announcement had made international headlines and Dow stock plummeted in value by $2 billion. Billion. With a "B."
All because some guy at the BBC couldn't check some fucking credentials.
"You say you work for the State Department? Great, put this mic on."
#1. A Military Prank Wins a World War
One of the largest scale and most expensive pranks in human history was kept secret for 50 years. The perpetrators were a team of artists in the U.S. Army, and the victim was Hitler. And what they did was more ridiculous than anything the zaniest of movie fraternities could have come up with.
After the American military landed in France after D-Day, they faced a German war machine that by this time was good and pissed off. Borrowing something straight out of Wile E. Coyote's playbook, they set out to baffle the Nazis with a completely separate army armed with nothing but fake inflatable tanks and other bullshit.
Yes, the tanks were literally inflatable.
What the Germans thought was a 30,000-man armored battalion was in fact a thousand artists (mostly art students recruited for the task) wearing fake uniforms, sending out fictional battle reports over the radio (complete with a war sound effects record playing in the background) all while trying to keep their tanks from getting knocked over by the wind.
They would then intentionally do a half-assed job of covering their tracks, so that German planes and scouts would spot them and report back about this huge-ass army waiting at the location. The Germans had to completely rethink their battle plan each time, while the real American forces were sneaking around, raising hell somewhere else.
How convincing were they? Well, it's thought they saved up to 30,000 allied lives purely with the power of bullshit. Oh, and some German units even surrendered to them. Which must have been pretty humiliating when they were marched past an armored division they could have taken out with a sharp stick.
You can read more from Mark at Gunaxin.
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For more cases of ridiculous deceit, check out The 5 Ballsiest Lies Ever Passed off as Journalism and 6 People Who Faked Their Own Death (For Ridiculous Reasons).
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