In 'Bunk,' Kevin Young explores uniquely American, uniquely racist hoaxes

Wednesday, 15 November 2017, 06:02:32 AM. In examining the racial underpinnings of flim-flam, Kevin Young's new book, 'Bunk,' asks: 'Is there something especially American about the hoax?'
Most people probably know that the word “bunk” is short for “bunkum,” meaning insincere talk, claptrap or humbug. Fewer people are likely familiar with the word’s etymology, coined out of racial unrest in 1820 in relation to the Missouri Compromise, which admitted Missouri as a slave state. That year, on the floor of the 16th Congress, even though an immediate vote had been called, North Carolina Rep. Felix Walker insisted on filibustering in favor of Missouri’s slave state status in the name of Buncombe, his home county. If there’s bunk around, then it probably needs debunking, and Kevin Young does the job admirably in “Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News.” Drawing on incidents and etymologies such as the one above, he anatomizes the lengthy American and international history of entertaining deceptions — from P.T. Barnum to Rachel Dolezal, from to Nasdijj, from the Hitler Diaries to Jerzy Kosinski — and does so in a way that reveals and critiques the racist underpinnings of many such notorious fabrications. Young acknowledges various European hoaxes while raising the central question: “Is there something especially American about the hoax?” Exploring the answers, he continually returns to the multifarious ways in which “an eighteenth-century Counter-Enlightenment, with its mistrust of science and history of hoaxes, could actually join with the Enlightenment and its love of systems to spawn the pseudosciences of the nineteenth...Read more
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