The Jimmy Kimmel Hoax And Why We Really Laughed At A Woman Being Set On Fire

September 11, 2013  |  

Well, what do you know!  The video of the girl, who had her leg set on fire after falling on a table full of candles while twerking, was all just a clever lark, set up by late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel. And America weeped.

Seriously, folks are pretty pissed that it’s not real. Here is a small sampling of comments I’ve read around the blogosphere after the video was revealed to be just a hoax:

twerking girl who caught on fire was just a well-devised hoax from the jimmy kimmel team. sad but only bc i want twerking to die forever 😦

‘Twerking FAIL’ Video Was Hoax…Too bad, I was hoping it was real karma

I am kind of sad this was a fake video…… suddenly I am a little ashamed to admit I am sad someone was not set on fire by twerking haha.

damn. I was kind of cheering some skank wannabe ghetto ho suffered a little for her nastiness lol it’s like looking at some 3rd world mating dance in the bush.

Hoax or not, a lot of parents used this as an example of what not to be when you grow up, so mission accomplished.

The video, “Worst Twerk Fail EVER – Girl Catches On Fire!” went viral last week, garnering more than 11 million views in a matter of days and making it to the pages and airwaves of just about every major (and many minor) news agencies around the world. Supposedly, the video, which featured a tall girl twerking while doing a hand stand before crashing onto a glass coffee table filled with lit candles and a bottle of liquor and catching on fire, was made for the benefit of the twerking girl’s boyfriend. However, it was revealed on Monday night’s episode of Jimmel Kimmel Live that the video was created and planted on YouTube months ago and that the twerking girl was actually a stunt woman named Daphne.

Of course, everyone is howling about how Jimmy Kimmel managed to punk major news networks, who were guilty of running with a story with little to no verification of its authenticity. However, what about the way in which us ordinary people found ourselves duped? Particularly how Kimmel was able to get folks to co-sign some pretty violent acts against women – all under the banner of  “she deserved it.”

It is widely believed that a good hoax relies on our biases, fears, and preconceived notions in order for it to work. However, the best hoaxes also manage to serve as cautionary tales, mostly meant to reaffirm why we should maintain our biases and hold tight to our fears in the first place. What made the video funny for many people, who viewed and shared it, was not just that she accidentally set herself on fire, but that she set accidentally set herself on fire while engaging in an activity, largely viewed through a negative lens. There was a shaming aspect beneath all the laughter. Here we have this lily white “normal” girl moving her hips and behind provocatively and basically engaging in activities largely associated with the dysfunctional behavior of undesirable groups. After all, twerking has largely been vilified and side-eyed for a couple of years now. Therefore, something bad had to happen to her. The witch needed to burn – if not to soothe our own carnal desires for retribution, but to send a message to other lily white girls, who too may want to get out of line and want to exercise sexual liberation – or just even dance around, just like the natives.

And of course, this has historical significance. The proverbial witch hunt is not just a term reserved for McCarthy-era irrational prosecution of alleged communists, but rather, its roots can be traced to 16th and 17th century-Europe, when mass outbreaks of hysteria led to the actual persecution of women, thought to be engaged in witchcraft and other anti-Christian behavior. Women like folk healers and priestesses, female scholars and midwives were among the women deemed “witches” and burned at the stake. According to this article from 2005 in Salon, upwards of five million women are believed to have been burnt alive during this period:

 “Witch hunts were a collaboration between lower-level authorities and commonfolk succumbing to garden-variety pettiness, vindictiveness, superstition and hysteria. Seen that way, it’s a pattern that recurs over and over again in various forms throughout human history, whether or not an evil international church or a ruthless patriarchy is involved, in places as different as Seattle and Rwanda.”

Patterns of witch burnings reveal themselves in various forms, inclduing a recent British survey, where one in seven respondents thought it was acceptable for a man to hit or slap their wife or girlfriend if she dressed in too s*xy or revealing clothes in public. And also through certain religious observances, such as the Christian Domestic Discipline movement, which advocates for the complete submission of women through regular beatings and spankings. And honestly, also through the films of Tyler Perry and TD Jakes, among others, who regularly dole out punishment to wayward female characters who dare to decline their husbands or other men in their lives. And in places like Nepal, Yemen and in Pakistan, where disobedient women are horribly disfigured by acid and occasionally still burned alive. Or through the endless parade of male on female beatdown videos, which are celebrated on sites like WorldStarHipHop. And yes, even in viral videos of lily white girls twerking,where the whole world laughed at a woman literally being set ablaze and were disappointed when they found out it was all just a hoax.

Well played Kimmel, as clearly the joke is really on us.

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