Unraveling a Hoax and Hoax Culture

In the hour after the initial report of Fast and Furious star Paul Walker’s death, I did what I always do when there is significant news breaking; I spend as much time getting the news from as many different sources as I can. This was a case of both “unbelievable” and “truly unbelievable” as much of what was disseminated immediately following the report was that the story, reported first by TMZ, was a hoax. The hoax had been reported by a website (which will not be linked to and has since been taken down) that could generate stories refuting celebrity deaths when you change or input any celebrity’s name. This website created a wave of social media chatter refuting the TMZ story calling the death a hoax. It unraveled the fabric of truth and trust of social media news, as legitimate news sources had only quoted TMZ for the story. It certainly left me hoping that it was indeed a hoax, but left me frustrated that immediate news can very easily be erroneous news.

The confusion amplified perhaps, by the reputation of TMZ and their penchant for gossip. While they may be gossip hungry, they have in the past been noted for being correct on celebrity deaths (see the death of Michael Jackson) in the past. I had to take both sides with a grain of salt and waited until a more “credible” news source confirmed the tragic event. Through it all, social media sites I visit and use for news immediacy (namely twitter and occasionally reddit) were flooded by both calls of sadness and sympathy, and the unfortunate and idiotic act of what can be umbrellad under “hoax culture”. It’s easy to make jokes connecting the film franchise Paul Walker is most known for, The Fast and Furious, and the circumstances of his death. Yet as I scrolled through all these “jokes”, I found none of them remotely funny, and generally speaking, just sickening. And for some reason, there was a running joke of posting pictures of other celebrities next to Paul Walker’s name, as if this were some form of comedic tweeting. Who are these people? I know this sort of behaviour is nothing new, yet I am continually dumbfounded. Are these people serious? Is their internet personality a reflection of who are they in the real world?

Thankfully, the many people I do follow on twitter take their influence and social media accounts with a little more integrity. And through some patience, there were journalists and others involved in the media who did the work and waited until official confirmation before spreading the news. It’s just now, with such global reach available to everyone, we have the added responsibility of heeding our sources with added reserve, while watching what we say and write.

The story here of course, is that two young men lost their lives in tragic circumstances, leaving behind family and friends and fans behind. I am frustrated by both the immediacy and the free-for-fall nature of social media, twitter in particular. I am still one of those old curmudgeons that feel that influence and reach is something you should have to legitimately earn. Perhaps scrolling through the “trending” topics and reading the tweets that come from topical hashtags was my own mistake. Maybe I do not understand “trolling” and “hoax culture”, but I know I do not perceive it to be anything more than a sad and pathetic nuisance. God forbid being a family member or close friend having to discover of terrible news in such fashion.

I enjoyed his films and think that his work will go underrated as we remember them in the years ahead. I hope that his family and close friends were informed of the terrible news in a dignified manner, far away from the drudges of social media.

It took Paul Walker’s social media accounts to confirm of his tragic passing, ironic perhaps that the medium I find most frustrating to deal with when finding the truth, was the one source you could rely on for it.

Culture, Featured

Still Funny: Bovine Hearts, Drug Abuse and Robin Williams

Seeing a post-heart surgery Robin Williams perform stand up, you worry not whether the long time actor/comedian will be funny, but more so that his often chaotic, high energy routine will result in him dying on stage. Anyone who has seen the DVD Robin Williams: Live on Broadway will know that you’re guaranteed one of three things during his stand up routine; frenetic pace (he’s a 59 year old comedian going on 20), copious amounts of sweat and an unrelenting mainstream wit that leaves no situation (and celebrity) unturned.

Remarkably, this was Robin Williams’ first ever trip down to Australia for stand-up, here for his Weapons of Self Destruction tour that sees him through Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney in about a week’s worth of shows. And if there were any doubts of his appeal, the 7000+ that turned up each evening through his 3-night stand in Melbourne is proof that while his movies have been erratic for years, his razor sharp comedic tongue is still very much flexing its muscle.

Local comedians the Umbilical Brothers warmed the stage with a brief 15-minute human sound-effect set that would have made Michael Winslow proud. Brief as it was, the brevity of the set was part of its not overstaying its welcome charm. They were however, an almost perfect segue to Williams’ animated and loud routine, opened with the familiar (I hope) Good Morning Vietnam geo-localized call.


And if with that, there was little, if no respite until the show’s close some hour and a half later. No one was safe. Qantas and Australian flora and fauna got the brunt early on- from kangaroos and koalas (the latter receiving comparisons to Lindsay Lohan) and the poor old platypus which, according to Williams, was God’s joke on humanity created under a drug fuelled haze.

Now bearded and visibly aged, Williams is no stranger to these vices. His documented alcoholism and drug use becomes part of his humor- and when an eager woman in the audience calls out and tells Williams she’s had cassette (ridiculed by Williams because she pronounced it “CASS-SETTE”) tapes of him from the 1980s, he wryly thanked her for paying for his drugs.

Current global issues and American politics are in bulk, a large chunk of his attack. Perhaps he’s just catching up on 10+ years worth of material but George W. Bush jokes, while still on point and ravagingly true, feel a little outdated (“George W is so dumb he waved at Stevie Wonder”).  But when Williams talks about his homosexual dog (performing fellatio on fellow canines), drunk pick up lines (“Were your parents retarded? Because you sure are special”) and Michael Jackson’s use of the drug Propofil (“[He] used it to go to sleep. That is like having chemotherapy because you’re too lazy to shave your head”), his relentless and boundless humor is at a stadium filling best.

Robin Williams is no Bill Hicks, and his comedy is catered to an audience is probably satiated more by his comedic film roles than socially conscious stand-up. He isn’t here to change the world through his words and a lot of his material is easy to get involved with. His routine is perhaps best described by a friend of this writer who has always said that “Robin Williams’ comedy is his drama sped up and his drama is his comedy slowed down”. Yet as he closes to rapturous applause, the night is noted by one striking thing; Williams, sweat and all, appears to have had an absolute blast. Oh, and anyone worried about whether he’s funny or not can rest easy. He’s funny, damn funny.

Robin Williams
w/ The Umbilical Brothers
November 9, 2010
Melbourne, VIC @ Rod Laver Arena


Inundated: Facing the Jakarta floods

It seemed like an ordinary Friday, I had decided to grab a bite at the mall situated just behind my house. It had been raining steadily for the past few days but it all seemed normal. Until I saw the endless traffic that had amassed adjacent to the mall entrance, it didn’t move an inch – for seven hours. The news the next day reported that unlucky motorists were kept at bay until the early morning hours and in some situations, overnight. The rain had caused flooding in key parts of the city and in some cases; the level of water was as high as 20 inches. Over 300,000 residents had to leave their homes and the final death toll stands at about 142.

I had been fortunate enough to live in an area that was saved from the flooding but some of the people I know weren’t as fortunate. My cousin’s daily post-work trip includes a cross-city bus ride but since the flooding had left major roads inaccessible, he was forced to walk home, highlighted by a brisk swim in a severely flooded roadway. Businesses, houses and all sorts of buildings were hit; perhaps one of the worst cases was the Four Seasons Regent Hotel. My uncle being of a high position there has not had a moments rest since. Three sub-levels of the hotel were completely submerged under water; a cruel mix of rain, river and mud inundated the lobby area and ground floor. Cars parked in the basement levels are still buried under water, power generators, computer lines and optic cables destroyed and everything from carpeting to the walls are now useless and have to be replaced. Needless to say, the damage is devastating and early estimates have the cost of repair to be at about $US40 million and will leave the hotel inoperable for the next 6 to 12 months.

Much of the blame has fallen with the government. Not just the current office but also those preceding it, most notably the infamous Suharto regime. Corruption led to poor infrastructure, irrigation and early warning systems that have now victimized the millions. With such a poor response to such drastic events, the people have taken it upon themselves to help those in need. You can’t drive around the city without spotting a local help center, awaiting donations of food, clothes and money. Volunteers have helped with the massive clean up duties and have provided shelter for those hardest hit. All this while the government has yet to lift a finger with any form of assistance that is so sorely needed.

Although the flooding has somewhat subsided, heavy rain falls continuously and with much of the city still under water, the long lasting effects of these floods on the national economy will be crippling. To a country ravaged by political unrest, corruption and a national debt exceeding US$70 billion, it’s one that cannot be overlooked. Unfortunately, with my experience, the likely result wills that of government officials counting their opportunities to cash in on such a situation. Much of the relief will rest upon those who volunteer and to those generous enough to donate.


Music Piracy

With Napster seeing its last days as any sort of respected online music software and major corporate entities rushing to claim the next; online music continues to flourish through all the constant bickering between artists, the music industry and one balding, talentless drummer. Whether its the continued success of or Emusic, fans are finding it much easier to find their favorite music online. Most artists, sans one tired old 80’s metal band, relish in the fact that their fans are able to access their music at the click of a mouse. Its a great way for bands to expand their audience and reach people across the globe. Most of the time its legal and more importantly its free.

What about offline? What about those old fashioned, tape recorder wielding, CD pirating bootleggers? With the added ability of MP3 software, these people have been given the power to expand their trade tenfold. Most recording artists don’t mind their songs being downloaded as mp3s but when people make money from these songs without giving the band their due, thats wrong. No Lars, Napster wasn’t stealing. America has succesfully minimized such rampant music piracy but what about those less developed countries? Not even close. Having lived in Indonesia for a great portion of my life, the steady growth of such piracy is quite disturbing. Its everywhere, on the side streets, backalleys and even in everyone’s favorite shopping malls. It’s like people just don’t care. I know the country has more pressing matters to handle, like its economic instability and the general ignorance of its people, but if these problems ever cease will such issues like piracy be given a second thought? Lofty expectations for a country which a few years ago had some of worst cases of corruption this world has ever seen.

The average price of a CD at Tower or Wal Mart ranges between the $14-$20 price tag, a pirated copy in Indonesia costs about $1. They have no expensive manufacturing or printing costs and only pay small amounts for blank CDs and cheap computer printing. Their distribution costs consist of perhaps giving their street sellers a very very small portion of the take and then they reap in the profit. This is everywhere and in a country with a population of roughly 250 million people, thats a lot. Do these people even understand and grasp basic copyright laws?

I admit, I’m guilty, no, I don’t bootleg, but because on occasion I’ve found myself buying some of these records. When I hear a pop/rock band on commercial radio/MTV or the like, I know for a fact that 9 times out of ten the song I’m listening to is probably the only good one on the CD. Its no excuse but in Indonesia, the Phillipines and other countries where piracy is a common trade; there is no escaping it.

According to the International Federation of Phonographic Industry 1 in every 3 records purchased worldwide is an illegal copy. That’s astounding. It is estimated that the total sales of pirated CDs/CD-R copies was at 640 million units in 2000, up from 510 million from a year before. Where do we even begin to fight such a problem? Do you we attack the manufacturers of said CD-Rs? Probably not, the answer still looms. The bottom line is that the global market for pirated music is worth about US$4.2 billion. Not you average Mom and Pop business.

I don’t find purchasing piracted music CDs rewarding on any level. I know for fact that when I download a band’s mp3s and like the product, its more than likely I will hunt down a legal copy of the CD and purchase it. Especially when dealing with independent bands and labels I try to do whatever I can to support them. I’m proud to say that out of the 400-500 CDs I own, only two are cheap pirated copies. Being in Indonesia, that’s not so bad.

BBC News