"Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one." - Charles Mackay
Saturday, July 05, 2008
Go to ChappelleTheory.com for T-Shirts, Not Conspiracy

Voodoo dolls riddled with safety pins, inexplicable late-night telephone calls, clandestine hotel rendezvous and secret messages sent over the airwaves sound more Stephen King than Oprah Winfrey.

But according to a popular Internet conspiracy theory, Ms. Winfrey, along with Bill Cosby, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and others, employed those tactics and more to oust Dave Chappelle from his Comedy Central hit, “Chappelle’s Show,” because its “outrageous tone” was “setting race relations back 50 years.” For months this conjecture has inundated the blogosphere and e-mail in-boxes, but recently it has enjoyed a resurgence with the premiere of “Chappelle’s Show: The Lost Episodes.”

ChappelleTheory.com, supposedly written by a retired public relations executive with connections, claims that a cabal of African-American leaders, known as the Dark Crusaders, used their influence and wealth to harass Mr. Chappelle out of his now infamous $50 million contract.

Not too shocking to most, none of this is true. The hoax, while as imaginative as a Chappelle skit, was a marketing scheme employed to sell T-shirts.

“I think we all recognized it was a joke when it first came out,” said Tony Fox, a spokesman for Comedy Central. “I don’t think it requires any official comment by us.”

Tomorrow Comedy Central will broadcast the last of Mr. Chappelle’s finished work in the third installment of “The Lost Episodes.” Mr. Chappelle has called the network’s decision to show those sketches “a bully move.”

Mr. Chappelle’s spokeswoman, Carla Sims, had little to say about the conspiracy.

“If we responded to every hoax that was out there, I wouldn’t get any work done,” she said, before adding that commenting officially about the site would do nothing but give it unearned credence.

The overblown theory has been deflated as a viral Internet marketing scheme, a way for a Web site to gain popularity through file sharing and blogs. The original postings about the theory all came from Jason Hill, 33, co-founder of the Philadelphia-based Web development company WebLinc LLC.

According to several sites, WebLinc registered the domain name ChappelleTheory.com in October, two months before its unofficial debut. The plan was to use the site to promote a clothing site called anti-social.com, which sells Dark Crusaders T-shirts for $18.

“We’re definitely getting a resurgence of traffic now,” Mr. Hill said.

After a lull of several months, the Chappelle Theory site reached a high this month of 4 million hits in one day, compared to about 2 million in the last few months, according to the Internet traffic monitor Alexaholic.com.

WebLinc attributes the spike in interest to the broadcast of Mr. Chappelle’s newest material.

Chappelle Theory first came to fame on the gossip site Defamer, and then made the rounds on MySpace and Friendster in early December, a time when the Web was rife with Chappelle conjecture.

This was before Mr. Chappelle’s interviews with Oprah Winfrey and James Lipton and after the rumors of drugs, insanity and his escape to Africa. But Mr. Chappelle, though much talked about, was not talking.

“So that was the perfect time for it because everyone was sort of wondering,” said Todd Jackson, editor in chief of dead-frog.com, a news blog for what he calls “comedy nerds.”

Mr. Jackson was one of the first to debunk the conspiracy theory.

“When I first saw the site I was pretty certain it was obviously a fake,” said Mr. Jackson, 35, who, as the former editorial director of Comedy Central’s Web site, once worked down the hall from “Chappelle’s Show.”

He pointed to one of the more fantastic claims as proof. It alleges that while Ms. Winfrey interviewed Tom Cruise in January 2004 (the couch-jumping incident occurred in May 2005), she faced the camera and said, “Dave Chappelle, you should be ashamed of yourself.” She added, “I’m going to make sure you never work in Hollywood again.”

According to the conspiracy, as written by Mr. Hill and his friends, Ms. Winfrey taped that message and somehow transmitted it solely to Mr. Chappelle’s home television in Ohio.

Through the blog tracker Technorati.com, Mr. Jackson discovered the connection between WebLinc and the theory. He later exposed it on his blog.

“A lot of people were savvy enough to know this was viral marketing, but I still see the link every once in a while, and I still see people saying, ‘Hey, I don’t know if this is true or not,’ ” said Mr. Jackson, who said he received a free Dark Crusaders T-shirt in the mail.

Darren Hill, 30, Jason Hill’s brother and co-founder of WebLinc, admitted that Chappelle Theory was published to “promote the Anti Social brand.” Still, he said, he saw some value in the Web site.

Mr. Jackson agreed. “As long as it’s making people laugh, there’s some validity to it,” he said.


posted by R J Noriega at 12:07 AM | Permalink |


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