PT Barnum: Lovable con man?
"I am a showman by profession...and all the gilding shall make nothing else of me."~Barnum
Barnum was a philanthropist, entertainer, business man, and served two terms in legislature.
Most people are familiar with the name PT Barnum, the founder of Barnum & Bailey Greatest Show on Earth. From the time he was 12 years old PT had already began setting up shop, selling lottery tickets and cherry rum to solders. His business savvy led him to a number of different ventures, some conventional, some anything but. However, its when he tried his hand at being a professional con artist that things really took off. Having been claimed as the man who coined the phrase, "There's a sucker born every minute," this dude pulled the wool over the unsuspecting eyes of the masses like no ones business.
Example: The Feejee Mermaid. Essentially he took the head and torso of a monkey, and then slapped a fish tail on it, popped it in a jar, and claimed that it was proof of mermaids existence. When asked about his reasoning for perpetrating such hoaxes he replied, "advertisements to draw attention...to the Museum. I don't believe in duping the public, but I believe in first attracting and then pleasing them."
So essentially he is saying that these little, fantastical untruths he is propagating are for the people, so they can have some entertainment, not to deceive them. OK.
Now this brings me to wonder about the value of entertainment, do we hold the value of entertainment over the value of truth?
When people go to see these oddities like the Feejee Mermaid or Tom Thumb, very few go with scholarly aspirations in mind. None of these exhibits were being endorsed by any credible institutions, or were even that entirely convincing esthetically. When people bought tickets it was billed as a show, nothing more, nothing less, the individual is left to extrapolate what they will. I wonder if that's not a bit like Leroy?
JT Leroy, an "avatar" for writer Laura Albert, was condemned by the public as being a hoax when it was found that the character JT did not exist, and the person representing him was not even the creator of the persona...
Prank: A trick of an amusing or sometimes malicious nature
When Leroy's physical representation was put out into the public they questioned very little, blatant disconnects were prevalent from the beginning and the public was eager to turn a blind eye. Why? Because Leroy was exciting, entertaining and new.
Leroy's books, although billed as fiction, were being morphed by the public into memoir accounts. Is it really the Leroy's and Barnum's who are pulling the con/ prank/ hoax, or are we doing it to ourselves?