The Magazine Reader

Lying Like a Dog in 'Violence of the Lambs'

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By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The animals are coming after us and they're out for blood!

The birds of the air and the beasts of the field are sick and tired of being hunted, caged, neutered, beaten and eaten. They're mad as hell and they've begun to fight back. It's not just grizzlies and sharks who are ripping people to shreds these days. Elephants, stingrays, dolphins, beavers, chimps, even chickens and hermit crabs are on the attack!

The whole horrific story is laid out in "Violence of the Lambs," John Jeremiah Sullivan's article in the February issue of GQ magazine about "the coming battle between man and beast."

Sullivan interviewed Marcus Livengood, a zoologist who blows the whistle on the alarming worldwide increase in animals attacking humans: In India, leopards invaded Mumbai, killing 22 people! In Albania, a pack of 200 wild dogs rampaged through the town of Mamurras, attacking humans! In Sonoma County, Calif., chickens turned on local children! In North Carolina, hermit crabs besieged a jogger on a beachside boardwalk!

The animals are fighting back against human encroachment, says Livengood: "We are a threat to the animals. They're just doing what nature designed them to do."

The article is terrifying! It's horrifying! It's . . . It's . . .

It's baloney. It's a fake, a fraud, a hoax, a prank.

To learn that, you've got to read through seven pages of gaseous prose until you get to the second to last paragraph in the story, where you find this little revelation: "Big parts of this piece I made up. I didn't want to say that, but the editors are making me, because of certain scandals in the past with made-up stories." Sullivan admits in the piece that he concocted Marcus Livengood, who does not exist, but he swears that the animal attack stories he cited are really true.

"All the facts are real," Jim Nelson, GQ's editor, said in a phone interview. "All the bizarre animal attacks are real."

Sullivan, a National Magazine Award-winning writer, has been collecting news stories of weird animal attacks for years, Nelson says. And he wanted to write a piece that played with the idea of what Nelson calls "a 'Planet of the Apes' mythology." When Sullivan couldn't find a real scientist willing to entertain his apocalyptic ideas, he invented one, with Nelson's permission.

"He plays with the reader's incredulity until the very end," Nelson says. "You have to stay with it. We were betting that the readers would stay with it until the end."

Reaction has been mixed, Nelson says: "It runs the gamut from 'Oh my God, that's the scariest, most fascinating piece I ever read!' to 'I can't believe you made it all up!' " Hoaxes are, of course, nothing new in the magazine biz. Remember Esquire's 2006 hoax about a nonexistent Texas millionaire's plan for a "fat tax" that would balance the federal budget by taxing the obese? And GQ's 1997 article about problems on the set of the nonexistent movie "God," with Marlon Brando fired from the title role because he kept walking around naked? And Esquire's 1996 profile of a nonexistent airhead starlet named Allegra Coleman? Who says fiction is dead?


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