We were supposed to have flying cars by now and yet we can’t even muster a damn hoverboard. For a few days, though, many people believed that by December we’d be floating around like Marty McFly in “Back to the Future Part II.”
A video titled “BELIEF” hit YouTube on March 3, created by HUVr Tech, a mysterious company that came out of nowhere claiming that they had discovered the secret to antigravity. The promotional footage, which begins with “BTTF” actor Christopher Lloyd pulling up in a DeLorean and delivering a supposedly real working hoverboard to a small crowd gathered in a parking lot, shows several other celebrities, including skateboarder Tony Hawk and musician Moby, testing the boards out and being completely amazed by the results. It goes out of its way to specify that all of the footage is real.
The special effects help sell the illusion, showing the riders flying around from many different handheld angles as a skateboarding video might be shot, but what is even more convincing are the actors’ reactions, particularly from Lloyd, who stands up and looks awed by the results and later gets choked up as he concludes that this invention goes “way beyond” what the 1989 film predicted. Like any good commercial, the music and editing also come together to build the viewer up and get them excited to try one out, and the company’s website features a countdown clock to December, which assumingly hints at its public availability.
You want to believe the video not only because the reality of a hoverboard would be incredible, and, as Moby notes, life-changing, but because there doesn’t immediately seem to be any reason why anyone would go out of their way to make this up. Within hours of the video hitting the web, though, snarky articles tore each second of footage apart and debunked it all almost immediately, pointing out that one of the “scientists” was an actor and another participant had the video listed on her résumé as a Funny or Die production before it was deleted. There’s also no real explanation as to how the technology works, and shadows of cranes lifting the actors are still visible in one particular part if paused just right.
Simple logic would tell you that anyone who could perfect antigravity technology would immediately sell it to the government and make much more than they ever could on movie props come to life (or it would simply get seized by men in black suits, never to be seen again), but you still want to believe. Commenters and various websites speculated that this was a publicity stunt to promote Nike’s self-lacing sneakers (which are actually in production for 2015), a new Tony Hawk video game, or even a possible “Back to the Future Part IV.” None of that turned out to be accurate. After a few days of guessing as the ruse continued on HUVr Tech’s social networking accounts, they admitted it was all a joke started by comedy website Funny or Die.
This isn’t their usual style. Most of the content, whether it be from founder Will Ferrell and his high-profile comedy buddies or from users uploading their own videos in hopes of becoming the next viral hit, is straightforward comedy. Watching “Drunk History” or “The Landlord” would never prepare you for this elaborate prank, and Funny or Die has yet to say why they went through all this trouble, other than for the “lulz,” of course.
It just seems there’s more to it in this case. Is it a parody, poking fun at commercials and marketing in the Digital Age? Is it satire, noting how quickly lies are spread by the public when they’re told from “trusted” sources like celebrities? Or is it simply pointing out that people will believe anything, no matter how outrageous, if you orchestrate a lie well enough? There’s no direct punch line here, and it’s all rather depressing when you think about it.
Comedy should leave people feeling good, even when the jokes are addressing heavy topics, and this video certainly doesn’t do that. Judging by reactions across the web, people are sad, angry, confused, and even disenfranchised – what about that is funny? Even the most biting satire I know elicits a few laughs to make the message go down easier, but this just seems mean-spirited and pointless, unless their point was to show how easy it is to frustrate millions of people. Point taken, guys.
While I thankfully didn’t believe it from the beginning, to me, the whole thing is just one big reminder of where we should be scientifically and where we are in reality. Instead of investing millions into research, we instead dump that same money into entertainment, and in this case, bad entertainment that leaves us jaded and cynical. The “stars” of this hoax got together and signed a hoverboard that will be given away to a random Facebook commenter, but this one-in-a-million chance isn’t the kind of hope comedy should inspire.
Even if this was meant to reflect the public’s stupidity or gullibility, it should have left us laughing at ourselves and wishing for a lesson learned in a better future. Instead, we’re still wondering what hit us and why. A time machine would be really handy right now to fix this whole mess, but please, don’t get any ideas for future videos. We’ve had enough disappointment for one day.
-Rich Howells is a lifelong Marvel Comics collector, wannabe Jedi master, and cult film fan. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.