The Art of Persuasion: Hoax Style

Making the unbelievable plausible is a quite a challenge, especially when it is our innate nature as human beings to be skeptical of one another. In order to meet this task with success, it is necessary to have relevant historical context, consider the audience that is being “hoaxed,” and finally convey a suitable tone that matches the topic discussed to build credibility. An excellent example is Barnum’s promotion of Joice Heth,” the 161-year old nurse to George Washington. Barnum tactfully builds credibility throughout the piece before mentioning the nurse’s incredulous age in the last few lines- almost so seamless that the reader often forgets to do a double take and consider the information being presented. Barnum chiefly relies upon verisimilitude and a narrative style to make the reader believe that Joice is truly an honest, pious nurse who was so righteous she could surpass the average life expectancy by at least twofold. He strategically instills hope in the reader, upholding the Christian values of the time- even going so far as to include that the nurse was baptized in the Potomac River before becoming a member of the Baptist Church; however, Barnum had to be acutely aware of the tastes, values, fantasies, and prejudices of his particular audience in order to exert control over the corporate script. During a time when slavery was socially acceptable and George Washington was (and still is) a national hero, Barnum paints Joice as an uneducated yet holy woman who sings hymns and songs straight from the Bible, embodying the people’s image of a good, honorable slave. By including additional sources at the end of the piece, it serves only to build Barnum’s argument, as throughout the work the pity and respect the reader has for the woman overpowers her dubious age.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *