Lying Like a Dog in 'Violence of the Lambs'

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?

As pranks go, Sullivan's is pretty good -- a clever parody of environmental scare stories. And I loved the illustrations, particularly the full-page color photo of a gentle little lamb, its fleece as white as snow, except for the fresh blood dripping from around its vicious little mouth.

It makes you wonder: If the animals did attack us, who could blame them? After all, we do kill them, hack up their corpses and eat them, which is the kind of thing that would make anybody a little cranky. The problem is, the little suckers are so tasty and we humans are so hungry.

A Meaty Read

Just how hungry we American humans are is revealed in Portfolio's cover story, "How Fat Won," the kind of article you hope is a hoax but turns out to be all too true.

Portfolio is Cond¿ Nast's new business magazine and this piece is about "how a fast-food chain is pushing gluttony to new extremes."

After the 2001 book "Fast Food Nation" exposed the artery-clogging horrors of American fast food, McDonald's and other chains started adding salads and fruit and yogurt to their menus. That left an opening for Andrew Puzder, the CEO of CKE, the company that owns two fast-food chains, Hardee's and Carl's Jr. Puzder decided to go in the other direction, toward the glories of all-out, unapologetic gluttony.

First, Carl's Jr. introduced the "Six Dollar Burger," with a full half-pound hunk of dead cow. Then Hardee's came out with the "Monster Thickburger," a monstrosity composed of two huge beef patties topped with bacon and gooey cheese.

Both were successful with the customers known in the trade as "young, hungry guys" and they spawned a sort of arms race in the burger biz. Burger King introduced the "Triple Whopper With Cheese" and McDonald's responded with the "Double Quarter Pounder With Cheese." Not to be outgunned, Carl's Jr. introduced the inevitable " Double Six Dollar Burger" and then Hardee's came out with the pièce de résistance, the "Philly Cheese Steak Thickburger," which is, as its name implies, a gigantic burger topped with steak and cheese.

What next, the Full-Cow Burger? The Whole Herd Burger? With cheese?

"Cardiac surgeons, expect a busy century," writes food critic Tucker Shaw. "The era of the über-burger is upon us."

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