A hoax made to fool a large audience whether for personal benefit or to get the better of a group of people. A hoax usually operates with a more complex and long-term agenda than a simple prank. Take J.T. LeRoy, for example. LeRoy was an alter-ego created by author Laura Albert. Her initial creation of LeRoy was not intentionally a hoax. According to Albert, she wanted the perceived author of her books to match the voice of her books. When Albert recruited sister-in-law Savannah Knoop to stand in as the real and physical J.T. LeRoy on a very regular basis, it became a hoax. The character of LeRoy fooled not only the books’ audience, but also a celebrity audience. This fictionalized persona fooled Hollywood and
Joaquin Phoenix also fooled the Hollywood audience when he announced that he was retiring from the acting business and starting a rap career. For two years, the actor gained weight, grew out his beard, and pretended to have a drug problem. The entire hoax was a plan hatched by Phoenix and friend Casey Affleck in order to create the mockumentary, I’m Still Here – a statement on celebrity and the media, most notably the “disintegration of celebrity without all the preconceived notions,” according to Affleck. Friends and family of Phoenix and Affleck were in the loop about the hoax, because Phoenix stepped out of character when not on film or in public. Everyone else was left in the dark and subject to the hoax’s effect.
A hoax like the one documented in I’m Still Here is a harmless one. What makes this hoax harmless is that it is expository. No one became emotionally invested in the rouse as they did with J.T. LeRoy. All that the mockumentary, the hoax, did was expose the break-down of celebrity. The only person seemingly effected in a negative way by the hoax was David Letterman who seriously interviewed Phoenix while he was in character. Hoaxes like J.T. LeRoy can be detrimental because they don’t seem to serve a larger purpose other than to benefit the person(s) in control, but meanwhile they call on an audience to participate and become emotionally involved in the hoax. When an audience feels they have been lied to for no reason other than to benefit a single person or small group of people, they feel slighted and angry. Phoenix and Affleck’s hoax provided a piece of art.