I work in the department of SB Nation that, among other things, is tasked with posting Internet Stuff. Sports appreciation in 2014 has an extra, non-traditional layer wherein small, vaguely sports-y things can live outside the games and news stories. First, we want to save and cherish frivolous moments from and around sporting events. Moreover, since our sports figures are themselves active participants in the internet, we take interest when their presence gets weird. And so while most of SB Nation is dedicated to analysis, opinion, and deep thought on every level from small-market team to worldwide sport, some of us spend some of our time scouring our televisions and internets for dunks of the year and dogs on the field and strange tweets and people farting on each other and moments which would be improved if set to Ginuwine's "Pony." Stuff the internet likes.
If you spend enough time trafficking in Internet Stuff, you're bound to get had now and then. You fail to realize context, you "discover" something that is in fact quite old, or you bite on something fake. All those feelings suck. Make enough of those sorts of mistakes and you'll accrete a chronic distrust -- an oversensitive skeptic nerve that makes you ask questions like WAS THAT REALLY A DUNK I THINK SOMEONE LIFTED HIM IS HE ON A HARNESS #BENGHAZI and WAS THAT LADY REALLY SURPRISED BY THOSE SUPER BOWL TICKETS ARE WE SURE THIS WASN'T STAGED STAY WOKE. Mostly, that makes you an asshole hesitant to enjoy the internet's blithest offerings. Occasionally, it makes you right.
I work the night shift. I got off at 1 AM Thursday morning, at which point I switched hats and climbed into bed to sleepily recap that night's Knicks game. My beloved colleague from the morning shift was still up on the west coast, and he passed along something we on the night shift hadn't noticed:
We ended up agreeing that it could wait until morning, provided it wasn't debunked by then. We posted it, then we got an expert to confirm the widespread suspicion that it wasn't a
real full-blooded wolf. Later, we added an update when reports revealed it was, indeed, a Jimmy Kimmel hoax. I sprinted down the street with my shirt off screaming "I KNEW IT! I KNEW IT! HASHTAG BENGHAZIIIIIIIIIIIII." I spent the night in prison mumbling about the melting point of steel.
But for real, there were ways to tell the wolf video was a hoax -- not just a non-wolf, but totally staged -- and even that it was Kimmel. Kimmel is one of several television show people who likes to do this stuff (Nathan Fielder being the other major one I can think of, but his stuff is so much more clever). Jimmy Kimmel Live most famously pranks people in the form of Lie Witness News, wherein interviewers use bogus questions to catch citizens straddling the line between fabrication and politeness. Folks on the street look dumb on the spot, folks on the internet laugh. In September, we internet folk became the butt of the joke when this video of a fiery twerking mishap fooled us for a few days until Kimmel revealed himself and we all wished we could spit in his hair. The Kimmel Maneuever is a careful exercise in offering bait that blends well enough into the milieu to invite interest, or at least compliance.
So with that in mind, here's what I saw when I sneered at that wolf video late Wednesday night. Well, watch it first:
Okay, so here's what stunk right off the bat:
The subject was too timely and recognizable.
We didn't know Caitlin Heller, but we knew what she was doing. Twerking was a thing. Kate Hansen is someone we knew about and it was telling that we knew about her. There are almost 3,000 athletes in Sochi, most of them not household names, plus thousands more journalists and fans and staff, and yet the one person who saw and documented a wolf in her hallway was the athlete who'd already won the internet's heart by dancing to Beyonce. TOO PERFECT.
The behavior did not fit a pattern.
1. Hansen has a YouTube channel she hadn't used at all in Sochi up to that point.
2. There were no tweets leading up to the video. If I saw a damn carnivorous beast strolling through my living quarters, I think I'd send out a few "HOLY SHIT" tweets and blurry photos before I had the mind to record and upload a video to YouTube.
3. "Epic #SochiFail" in the video title. No real person, least of all an athlete IN Sochi, says those things.
The video looked just real enough.
This is hard to describe, but the video has the same amateurish-yet-somehow-still-improbably-full feel that the twerking video did. Our view is shaky and obscured, but you still get several good, clean looks at the whole wolf. It's exactly as shoddy looking as it needs to be without sacrificing meaning.
Now, I understand that this is both unhelpful and comfortably nestled in hindsight relative to this particular hoax. I wish I'd spoken up against the SHEEPLE sooner instead of just dismissing the video. But I think these are things to keep in mind for the future. I don't want us to get got again. Jimmy Kimmel is The Yellow King of Carcosa and he wants to entrance us and make us feel stupid. We mustn't let him do that. NEVER AGAIN, KIMMEL.