The weirdest side-show acts ever

I’ve just been reading about carnival sideshows. They seem quite cruel to us these days, but maybe we haven’t changed as much as we think. Any magician will tell you, people are definitely still drawn to the weird and wonderful things in life. Here are some classic sideshow acts – would you have paid to see these?

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The word ‘gullible’ isn’t in the dictionary…

Richard Gere goes to extraordinary lengths to keep his hoax going

I’ve just watched a brilliant Richard Gere film called The Hoax. It’s based on the true story of Clifford Irving, a writer who persuaded everyone that he was writing Howard Hughes’s autobiography. It was a huge scale scam! Irving played on the fact that Hughes was so reclusive and went to great lengths to fake all their communications. He even faked a meeting, hiring a helicopter which he claimed couldn’t land because of Hughes’s OCD – all very ingenious!

Very stressful too though, and I did start to feel a bit sorry for him. In a funny way Irving probably did come close to writing the first Hughes autobiography, because he researched Hughes so thoroughly he knew him as well as anyone.

Anyway, it got me thinking about other famous hoaxes. Have a look at these and see whether you can sympathise with the perpetrators…

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How to read minds

Back to the Future’s Doc had limited success with his psychic device

Close your eyes and let me read your mind. Hmm. Would you say you sometimes feel insecure, especially with people you don’t know very well? I sense you need others to like you, and are quite self-critical. I get the feeling you are mostly reserved, but when you feel like it, you can easily be the centre of attention. And you… you seem to be on the brink of making a big decision. I’m getting something about telephones; does a broken phone mean anything to you?

This is the Forer or Barnum effect. P. T Barnum was a fascinating 19th Century showman and hoaxer. He said he had “something for everyone” which of course he did! These statements are so general they can apply to anyone and are still used by psychics, palm readers and astrologers all the time to great effect. Some even cleverly contain totally opposite ideas in one sentence: remember when I asked you if you were sometimes shy, but then sometimes outgoing, too?

Horoscopes are full of Barnum statements – but don’t take my word for it. Look at these predictions from different star signs on How many of them apply to you (or anyone who might be likely to read and believe their horoscopes)?

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