Categories: Entrepreneurship, Science | Technology, Sex | Sexism
“Let there be no doubt, SEXONIX offers pleasure of a different order of magnitude. By translating individual fantasies into a stunning approximation of reality, we enable our clients to experience sublime pinnacles of delight that most people only dream of.” Joseph Skaggs, Ph.D.
In the Fall of 1993, SEXONIX, the world’s first sexual virtual reality company, planned to exhibit their equipment and software at the Metro Toronto Christmas Gift and Invention Show at Sky-Dome. Headed by American inventor Joseph Skaggs, Ph.D. (a.k.a. Joey Skaggs), they secured a booth and began working on a public relations campaign in New York and Canada. This product offered not only safe sex in the era of the AIDS epidemic, but also offered a new dawn of hope for the impotent and handicapped.
Several media outlets in Canada and the U.S. reported on the company and it’s extraordinary product.
Excerpt from Canada’s City Pulse News: “Sex…Let’s Talk”:
But, the demonstration was not to be. All of the hardware and software, valued at over $300,000, was confiscated at the border by Canadian customs agents on the grounds that SEXONIX was morally offensive to the Canadian people. Thus began a long legal battle to retrieve the confiscated property.
Ironically, in June of 1992, Robert Hough had featured Skaggs in “America’s Most Gullible,” in Canada’s Saturday Night Magazine, and in July of 1992, Canada’s national newspaper The Globe and Mail published an editorial about him because he had just appeared as Father Joseph with his Portofess on the Globe and Mail front page. For the SEXONIX hoax, Skaggs used his own name to be as obvious as possible.
To push the hoax further, Skaggs posted his story, in the form of a warning and a plea for advice, to news groups on various electronic bulletin boards around the country including FidoNet, AlohaNet, and the WELL. These were the precursors for reddit, Facebook, Twitter, etc.. Denizens of the cyberworld showed concern for Skaggs’ plight and tried to console him. After all, they said, what was one to expect from Canada’s sexually repressive government?
Over the next few days, as concern for the fate of SEXONIX grew, some savvy WELLholes (as Skaggs called them) began to question Dr. Skaggs’ identity. One person recognized the name from RE/Search: Pranks!, a book published in 1987. Another confirmed knowledge of Joey Skaggs’ reputation as a hoaxer. One WELL user, Journalist Brock Meeks, decided to investigate the story.
He did exactly what Skaggs had hoped someone would do. He tried to trace the confiscation through the bureaucracy of Canadian customs. His postings recounted an hilarious Kafkaesque experience. Not surprisingly, he was unable to turn up anything conclusive. Finally, he resorted to contacting Skaggs’ neighbors to confirm his identity.
Once the ruse was confirmed, Meeks and some of the other participants in the WELL “SEXONIX Confiscation conference” expressed their outrage at being hoaxed. They blustered about the sanctity of this new medium (the Internet) and about the “rules” of Cyberspace. Meeks wrote, “When you’re jacked into Cyberspace, you are who you say you are. No exceptions. And if you try a street scam out here you’re going to be held accountable. F— with the WELL and you’ll feel like you’ve been f—ed with an elephant prick.”
Skaggs said, “Any new technology is the artist’s territory, and that means a challenge to all pre-conceived limitations. Shocking those people on the WELL was my goal. They had this mind set that ‘this is my space,’ not realizing that it was certainly not their space. BBS users can be a lynch mob. They are very self-righteous, but they’re just as gullible and irresponsible as everybody else.”
Mark Dery, cultural critic and author of Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century, wrote in an article published byThe Web Magazine, April 1997, “The Sexonix hoax is a parable for weird, wired times. By perpetrating it, Skaggs poked fun at our evangelical faith in way-new technologies. More seriously, he also encouraged us to reflect on the slippery nature of even the most basic facts online — where biography and biology can be altered with a few keystrokes, and where hoaxes, rumors, and urban myths take on an almost viral life, infecting each new wave of credulous newbies.”
- Correspondence from Sexonix to City TV, February 10, 1993
- Correspondence from Sexonix to Mondo 2000, June 9, 1993
- Sexonix Letter to the Editor, New Media, July 7, 1993
- SEXONIX Announcement to Internet Bulletin Board chat rooms, August, 1993
- Buyer be ware of on-line spout of true news and real fiction, by David Strom, Info World, November, 15, 1993
- Postscript: Gotcha!, by Robert Hough, Saturday Night, November 1993
- See and be scene: The Sexonix Prank, by Mark Kendall Anderson, Valley Advocate, January 27, 1994
- Stan Mack's Real Life Funnies: Potholes on the Information Highway, by Stan Mack, Village Voice, February 1, 1994
- The Sexonix BUST, by David Strom, Wired, February 9, 1994
- Les Gags de Skaggs, by Philippe Coste, L'Express, March 23, 1994
- "Sexonix" does the media, Adbusters Quarterly, Winter 1994
- Electronic Newsletter is Facing Libel Suit for Internet Flaming, by Jared Sandberg, Wall Street Journal, April 4, 1994
- Coming Attractions, Techno Sex, May, 1997