Hopefully you know Snopes.com. They’re a first stop, along with Wikipedia, to sniff out hoaxes that appear in your email, Facebook, or other social media. I’ve used them many times to check if some story passed on to me is true or bogus.Today I discovered that evidence of my having existed on this planet is now indelibly stamped into the digital pages of the Snopes online encyclopedia of internet hoaxes.
I’m not credited or anything, and it’s definitely not my best work, but it is my creation, and it’s becoming part of the popular imagination. If you already know me, than you know I must be talking about the Mutant Chicken, which went viral in March of 2014 [see my article about that here].
I dug up the photo from Google images of some featherless birds, and then I took off the beak, added the extra set of legs, and two more pairs of wings. In order to make it look passably convincing I had to do a lot of tinkering. However, I never intended to put in online when I made it, and I pretty much slapped it together as fast as possible.
The story behind it is that while I was eating lunch at KFC in the small city of Ankang in China a friend told me not to eat the chicken because KFC created their own mutant strain of poultry. These genetically modified organisms had no beaks, no feathers, and extra legs and wings. My first reaction was a mix of very healthy skepticism and a burning desire to see what the thing looked like, if it actually existed.
A quick internet search, which probably took me to an earlier version of the Snopes.com entry, clearly revealed it was a hoax. The story would end there for me, except that I was working at a university teaching “Oral English” and was responsible for making my own lessons and curriculum, which required a fair amount of thought and creativity. There was only one Western restaurant in the whole city, and it was the KFC, so all my students knew it, and many already knew the hoax. I decided to do a lesson about hoaxes.
In order to make the lesson more interesting, I created a picture of what such a mutant chicken might look like. This lesson spanned two classes, so I didn’t reveal whether it was a hoax or not until after we’d debated it. Also, students wrote their opinions, and I wrote some of their arguments for and against on the board, before the debate. In the second class I revealed that it was indeed a hoax, and I had made the image myself in Photoshop.
Note to ESL teachers. I’ve provided the lesson plan in question, along with the picture, and the handout (including a gap fill, matching exercise, and survey) below:
Years later, I put the picture online here. It became my most popular post, and garnered hundreds of views a day, until a couple big sites usurped the image and my traffic. Business Insider’s post using my photo manipulation, for example, has over 260,000 views, while all my posts on my blog combined have only just over 100,000. But I still get 10-30 views a day from it, while the rest of the traffic goes elsewhere.
Today I discovered the image had made it’s way, kind of like Paddle to the Sea, to what is probably the preeminent online authority on hoaxes and urban legends. You can now find my handiwork in the entry debunking the claim of KFC Mutant Chickens.
If something terrible happens to me, my last thought may be, “I will be remembered for my Mutant Chicken”.
Of course, the image itself isn’t really what went viral, but rather the urban legend, and mine is just the image that apparently best suits the story.
There’s one more thing that interests me about this though, as an artist, and that’s the power that images still possess. Contrary to a lot of Post Modernist theory, which claimed that nothing new can be imaged or imagined (in which case the best thing to do is appropriate images from popular media), there just wasn’t a picture of a mutant chicken until someone came around and made it. I don’t think I was the first, and I’m not sure mine was the best, either. The point remains that whoever was the first person to do it did created something that hadn’t been seen before, and my version at least captured people’s imaginations.
This is something I try to do in most my work: a new and captivating image. Hopefully some of my better ones get a fraction of the attention the throwaway mutant chicken has.