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Home > Media

You've been famed

20 August 2005

32-year-old Nektarios Voutas is 'very sorry, very sorry'. He is also silly, very silly. But he's slightly famous, at least.

Having processed the news of the first of this week's two fatal plane crashes, in Greece, some rebel neurons in Voutas' head fizzed into action. He picked up the phone and rang round some private television stations, telling them he had received a text message from his stricken cousin Nikos in the final moments of the doomed flight. 'Cousin, everyone is unconscious,' the stations were soon repeating, the heady whiff of the last calls of 9/11 in their newsnoses. 'We are all frozen...the pilot is dead...I bid you farewell.'

It was perturbing, it was poignant. It was poppycock. It did transpire that the passengers had frozen or suffocated after a catastrophic cabin pressure failure, but there was no cousin and no text - Voutas claimed at first that he'd accidentally deleted it. Shame for the newsmakers, shame for the viewers, big spit-in-your-sad-face shame for the grieving relatives of the actual victims. Voutas received on Wednesday a suspended six-month sentence for filing a false report to authorities, telling the court: 'I don't know what happened. Everything was a blur.'

Doubtless it was. It was probably the biggest rush of his life. To craft a beautiful lie in visceral reality's image and see it disseminated so quickly, passed amongst millions of credulous individuals within hours - he must have felt like some time- accelerated, hopped-up Goebbels. He probably didn't even consider the emotional implications for the families of the dead, or even the legal implications for himself - he was just enveloped in the life-affirming zing of the moment. He had attention (he did several television interviews, unfortunately giving differing versions of the message thus setting off the bullshit-alarms),
and he was up to his hairline in a large, tragic story.

Christopher Pierson - the tsunami email hoaxer - is only just finishing his own six-month sentence for something a little more hands-on. He described his 'momma's dead, son' mailout to three anxious people as 'ten minutes of madness'. He is also very, very sorry.

It's probably not all that aberrant, as aberrant behaviour goes - it's more or less a logical facet of the near-universal lust for airtime. It was also reported this week that 75,000 people auditioned for the new series of karaoke-your-mortal-soul outing 'The X-Factor'. People with no discernible talent. People who really couldn't afford the coach fare. People whose fragile sense of self could be obliterated by a single contemptuous sigh from Satan Cowell. People, reportedly, who'd rushed from the hospital with drip still in arm. It's becoming more important to people to get themselves noticed, although the method by which this is achieved, and the amount of time it lasts before it all
collapses, matters less.

You'll never stop hoaxers - or wannabe popstars - as long as the juicy medium-rare gratification of a spotlight is available. What they do gratifies us, too; rotten singers amuse us with their willingness to be humiliated, and hoaxers like Voutas satisfy our need for those hot injections of real human drama. Citizen reporters with mobiles are a new sort of hero for us - the essence of coolness under extreme circumstances, pluckily recording the events they've found themselves caught up in. But look at what they've led us to, already. There should be regulations. (Which wouldn't affect nuts like Voutas, who aren't battling adversity at all but just sitting at home fantasising that they are; but hell, at least it will look like something's being done, which is the important thing.)

But then, what with the police fibbing like there's no dead Brazilian, a non-existent text message seems like fairly infinitesimal beans.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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