Efficiency of Provocation. S.B. Cohen's Show 'Who Is America?' and 'Grievance Studies' Hoaxes - Statistical and Apolitical Analysis

27 Pages Posted: 14 Dec 2018

Date Written: November 21, 2018


Sacha Baron Cohen’s show “Who is America?” ran in USA July-August 2018. The actor disguised himself under the masks of six characters and met with various people, including some very famous ones, putting them in skillfully designed traps, which intended to reveal their “real identity.” The show was a rather commercial success, watched by more than a million people and got intense, if mixed, critical acclaim. It generally strengthened Cohen’s reputation as one of the best comedians of our time. However, no one analyzed systematically what the “results” of the game are: did the artist reach his goal and catch his subjects in the way it was intended? If yes – what exactly was revealed? How successful were all the traps? Approximately at the same time, there was a scandal that emerged in the academic world where many hoaxed published articles were revealed, first by the outsider, then by their authors. They also disguised themselves under the mask of scientific research in such respectable fields as gender, race and social justice. The hoax also revealed many interesting things – surprisingly similar in a certain sense to ones in the show. This paper mainly analyses the efficiency of the provocative setting in Cohen’s show (making unstructured data – the show itself – compartmentalized and statistically analyzed) and compares that with the efficiency of the hoax in academia. This type of comparison is not common, but in my view, helps understand the importance of “truth” in our time of “fake news” and polarized society, under the angles of art and science.

Keywords: artistic provocation; confirmatory bias; obeying authority; comedy show; hoaxes in science; statistics in arts; empirical aesthetics

JEL Classification: C10

Suggested Citation

Mandel, Igor, Efficiency of Provocation. S.B. Cohen's Show 'Who Is America?' and 'Grievance Studies' Hoaxes - Statistical and Apolitical Analysis (November 21, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3288673 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3288673

Igor Mandel (Contact Author)

Telmar Group Inc. ( email )

470 Park Avenue South
New York, NY New York 10016
United States

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