Saturday, February 23, 2008

Herschel's Hoax

These articles involved in the great hoax, were an attempt to increase circulation and profit within the New York Sun. Is this proof that people will always believe what they read? Can this happen again today? In the article by Sir John Herschel, New York Sun 1835, he uses words that are believable and to any normal everyday reader, seem plausible. If the intelligence, or proof, isn’t out their yet, then a little imagination can go a long way. The articles make a point using words that are easy to understand. Once the reader has an image of what the writer is talking about, the article begins to use sophisticated words that sound good, but mean nothing. The reader has been captured.
Herschel talk about all of these animals and foliage on the moon. He goes on to mention rivers, islands, and red mountains. Even without the technology of a high powered telescope, we know that there is no water on the moon. I think that if you can bring up a topic that most people are hopeful about, or curious about, then you can get them to believe anything. For example, if you were a well known author, and you had proof that the second coming of Christ was going to be sooner than later, you would catch a lot of attention. Life on other planets is something that we know nothing about other than what astronauts report, or sophisticated technology. To be able to see and hear for ourselves would be great.
Slave propaganda found in Philadelphia doesn’t seem that far fetched. This could lead to chaos as people begin to turn on African Americans, assuming that some sort of riot will develop. The article doesn’t mention the very well respected name of the man the box of propaganda was addressed to. A lot of detail is left out. As quickly as it was discovered, it was destroyed?
Most of these articles seem meant to spread panic across the city. Winged, human like creatures, that hold the ability to have conversation, seems like its worth further investigation. All of these articles stop short of something. What happens next? They just take off and we never see them again? It is all very entertaining. This newspaper has the makes of a modern day “Star“, or some other entertaining magazine.
On page seven, the papers integrity is challenged. “and in the meantime our readers may depend that the cry of hoax and humbug will be crammed down the throats of its too knowing exclaimers…” The last page explains the intent of the articles as entertainment, and something to keep our minds off of everyday life. However, they don’t exactly claim it to be false. They go on to mention that many Scientists find the matter to be true and it is up to the reader to determine whether it is false or fiction.


At 4:28 PM, Blogger A. Mattson said...

A substantive post. You have raised a couple of key points.

First, why did so many people fall for this hoax? What does that tell us about the people and the era?

Second, what is the connection between the Moon Hoax material and the article about abolitionist propaganda? What does the editor of The Sun say about this?

Third, what does this type of story tell us about the function of the modern newspaper in lives of 19th c. urban dwellers? --was it "something to keep our minds off of everyday life"?


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