Is nothing sacred? Two days ago, the New Yorker broke a story revealing @horse_ebooks’ true identity. The internet’s favorite horse is NOT an automated spam account, it’s the work of Jacob Bakkila and Thomas Bender. Since then, news publications like Salon.com, Buzzfeed, the New York Times and CNN have chimed in with articles and tweeted responses to the unmasking of @horse_ebooks’ authors. Here are some reactions from Twitter that might put this announcement into perspective (for those of you who are giving your screen a strange look.)
@TheAVClub: “Everything on the Internet is a lie: @Horse_ebooks was a ‘conceptual art’ piece all along avc.lu/1alpc8b”
@paezpumarL: “It’s unfortunate the horse ebooks thing happened this week because it’s been a ‘EVERYTHING HAPPENS SO MUCH’ week.”
As it happens, @Horse_ebooks was indeed a conceptual art piece put together by Bakkila and Bender, who revealed their work in order to promote their next project. Was @horse_ebooks an extremely long-con that worked nights as a viral marketing scheme? If so, they lost a lot of credibility and respect in the process by being arrogant jerks to a reporter who was trying to help them out. To quote the horse, “unfortunately, as you probably already know, people.” In my opinion, disrespecting a journalist who is spreading the word about you is a really rude move. The Washington Post also posted an article about artist Burton Durand, who created Horse Ecomics. This, in my opinion, is the true loss we’re experiencing by losing the mystery behind @horse_ebooks.
The mention of Durand and Horse Ecomics helps pave the way to the point I’m trying to make about art and hoaxes. So does this tweet by Twitter user Dave Lozo.
@DaveLozo: “I hope the point of horse ebooks was to show how something intentionally dumb can gain popularity by people pretending to understand it.
Let’s take a quick trip back to 1944 Australia. Max Harris, the 22-year-old editor of a literary/art publication called Angry Penguins, is working on publishing his next issue of his journal. Harris named the publication after a poem he had written himself, the narcissist. He also stirred up lots of drama with Angry Penguins on campus at the University of Adelaide by angering fellow students by publishing anarchist sentiments. Enter Lieutenant James McAuley and Corporal Harold Stewart – the masterminds behind the Ern Malley hoax.
These two mediocre traditionalist poets, both in the army and stuck in the Victoria Barracks with lots of time on their hands, decided they would be the ones to teach Harris a lesson.
McAuley and Stewart essentially did the same thing that @horse_ebooks did – they created bizarre poetry from random lines of text and published it as authentic works of art. However, when Ern Malley’s true nature was revealed, the response was different.
After the prank was revealed, the hoaxers said their work had no literary merit – and that was the point. Harris, however, stuck to his guns. Whether they liked it or not, he asserted, McAuley and Stewart had written their best poetry, their only poetry of real genius. The assumed persona of Ern Malley had liberated them.
The subsequent issue of Angry Penguins largely was devoted to analyses of the poems – with contributions from Sir Herbert Read, Geoffrey Dutton, Reg Ellery, A.R. Chisholm, Brian Elliot, Adrian Lawlor, Albert Tucker and many more.
Whether they intended it or not, the creators of @Horse_ebooks made poetry that we, as an online public, connected with. We loved seeing random words from ebooks come together to form strange, if not poignant, pieces of wisdom. To paraphrase what Dave Lozo said, something made to be intentionally stupid can absolutely gain popularity by being filtered through our streams of media. And that’s not a bad thing.
Let me try and make my point as transparent as I can – sometimes it’s nice to be duped into believing something is more serious and poignant than it is. Sometimes the little things that we encounter in our lives, whether they be pieces of art or random sentences that enter our consciousness in some way or another, become big things that matter to us. If @horse_ebooks isn’t real, what is? The fun we had in following him. The days that were brightened when a tweet inspired laughter. The idea that art, however it is manufactured and inspired, can mean anything to us. In the words tweeted by the horse himself, “We speak and breathe everything.”