Nathan For You: The Viral Pig Apex Episode
Nathan Fielder is back! His new HBO show, The Rehearsal, promises to bring the cringe as the spiritual successor to his Nathan For You. In its four seasons, Nathan wreaked plenty of havoc among the normals, from Dumb Starbucks to Gun Collectin’ Santa to Andy vs. Uber. But our favorite satirical social experiment has to be the time that a baby pig “rescued” a baby goat. Oh baby.
Let’s review: The premise of Nathan for You was that one-time marketing student Nathan Fielder finds ways to help struggling businesses drum up new customers. So for a petting zoo? Nathan and his producers decided to create an animal star attraction, like Sea World’s (totally problematic but hey) Shamu. Petting a pig is fun for kids of all ages, but petting a famous pig is a Sunday afternoon must-do. Load up the minivan!
A study of viral videos provided the elements most likely to generate views: Baby animals. Water. An element of danger (but with a happy ending). Unlikely animal friendships. Put all of those social media triggers into a blender and voila! It’s a (faked) video about a baby pig rescuing a drowning baby goat. The YouTube description was poorly written and grammatically incorrect, but it said it all:
Pig saves goat who’s foot was stuck underwater at petting zoo.
“We uploaded it and it just went crazy,” remembers Fielder. “I woke up the next morning and it was on Gawker and Reddit and everywhere.”
Unlike the shenanigans of Chop & Steele, two faux strongmen who set out to prank local television news programs, Nathan’s pig and goat story had journalists of all stripes fooling themselves. Among the duped: The Ellen Show, ABC World News Now, and Fox & Friends.
In reality, it took about 20 animal trainers, scuba divers, and humane officers to pull off the trick, along with an underwater track for the pig to follow to the goat. That “drowning” baby goat was having such a good time frolicking in the drink that the show had to dub in terrified bleats after filming. Some journalists did reach out to verify the video’s validity, but Fielder felt no obligation to confirm or deny. His non-response seemed to give news outlets an assumed green light to run with it.
Oops! The journalists who decided to share the video were an embarrassment to the profession, says Kelly McBride, senior faculty for ethics, reporting, and writing at the Poynter Institute. “It’s almost a form of malpractice.” Comedy Central, in McBride’s opinion, had a low level of responsibility here, one that “pales in comparison to the obligation of journalists who vet information, because the journalists have made a promise to their audience that they will tell the truth.”
But don’t blame Nathan for You. “We didn’t try to actively trick the news,” says Fielder. The only thing his crew was guilty of was putting a staged video on YouTube. Sites and shows overeager for clicks took it from there. “It was fun to watch,” he confesses. “The best part was seeing it shared on Facebook, people that I was friends with were posting it just like a normal video.”
And the incident served to remind us all of an important lesson: All improbable animal friendships are dirty lies.
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Top image: Comedy Central