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How Vladimir Lenin Became a Mushroom: A Hoax That Took the Soviet Union by Storm (atlasobscura.com)
122 points by lermontov 9 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 54 comments

There's something special about documentaries -- you can convince the audience of practically anything if you're a good enough director.

My favorite case is the Errol Morris documentary Mr. Death. It follows the story of a man who went from an electric chair technician to a holocaust denier. Morris attempted to direct the movie from the subject's perspective so that the audience could understand how you could slowly become a holocaust denier.

When he showed the movie to a Harvard film class, half the class believed that Morris himself was a holocaust denier, and the other half of the class believed the subject's (holocaust denying) side of the story, specifically that the Auschwitz gas chambers never actually had poison gas in them.


Another good one is Dark Side of the Moon where amongst others Henry Kissinger, Donald Rumsfeld and Alexander Haig explain how the Apollo 11 moon landing was faked.


I must confess to falling for that one briefly (In my defense, I was half asleep at the time), they start off using very cagey language so it seems like what you'd expect in a real interview but by the end theiry're blatant enough to be unbelievable.

A more recent one was a Mermaid mockumentary, even though they are honest about being completely fictional in the credits there are still people that believe they were real documentaries sadly.

Another one, from the Australian 60 minutes.


"'Carlos' was the name of a 2,000-year-old spirit allegedly channeled by José Alvarez when he toured Australia in 1988."

The hoaxing presenter (Richard Carleton) did not even tell his co-hosts and they were pretty mad at him.

In a similar vein, BBC's Ghostwatch: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghostwatch#Controversy

The BBC's spaghetti harvest documentary from April 1 1957:


One reason for such a large crop is the virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil. Classic.

Peter Jackson also managed to fool many television watchers with Forgotten Silver: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forgotten_Silver#Reception



that hoax is my favorite because the BBC did it. I will let each enjoy the the story and video

> There's something special about documentaries -- you can convince the audience of practically anything if you're a good enough director.

The reception of Adam Curtis films speaks to this.


Advertising/PR manufactures beliefs, values, preferences and consent every day. Most people these days forgot or were not aware of how they were brainwashed by content or by other people into internalizing what they believe.

Documentaries are just on another level, in my opinion, because they take on the style of what you've learned in school. People expect advertisements to be fake, which is why they have to be so postmodern now.

It's depressing to see how gullible some supposedly intelligent and educated people can be. Perhaps colleges need to add a new question on their admission applications: "Was the Holocaust a real event where the Nazis actually murdered over 6M innocent people? Yes/No.” And then anyone who answers No can be sent back for remedial history class.

> sent back for remedial history class

Holocaust deniers aren't people that just haven't heard of the event because they weren't paying attention in nineth year. They believe that there's a global conspiracy to perpetuate a lie, and that that conspiracy is effective enough to fool most of the world (but not them!).

I don't think sending such a person to a lecture told by "them" is going to change their mind. It's much more likely to perpetuate their persecution complex.

Well, you can always have law punishing for that.

In a couple of countries you can go to prison for saying that the holocaust didn't happen. It's Germany, and Poland (where Germans made the biggest camps where they killed most over 3M Polish Judes).

The most funny thing is how uneducated journalists are. Or maybe that's made on purpose.

They still write "Polish Death Camps" while there were "German Death Camps in Poland". Also huge number of journalists write that there were Nazis, not Germans, despite the fact that the Germans chose Hitler in elections.

I agree that that such descriptions of the death camps in Poland is very misleading. Still, it’s worth bearing in mind that many of the SS guards stationed at the death camps in occupied Poland were not German citizens. Many were ethnic Germans from conquered territories (“Volksdeutsche”) and a number of camps (Bełżec, Treblinka, Sobibór) had a high proportion of guards from Ukraine, many of whom were trained for this role at the Trawniki concentration camp[1]. (Note: I’m not singling out Ukrainians in particular. Many more fought against the Nazis and died as prisoners in concentration camps).

Also, it doesn’t seem to be very well-known that the Nazi party never achieved a majority of the popular vote in the German republic. Hitler only got 30% of votes in the March 1932 presidential election. A few months later, the Nazi party reached their high point in the federal elections of July: they succeeded in getting 230 members elected to parliament, giving them 37% of the vote. No party could form a majority sustainable coalition government so this was followed by another federal election in November 1932. This time, the Nazi party actually lost 34 of their seats, giving them only 33% of the vote.

Unfortunately, the chancellors that had been appointed by von Hindenburg, the victor in the 1932 presidential election proved to be ineffectual and von Hindenburg eventually appointed Hitler as chancellor in early 1933. This was soon followed by the Reichstag fire which provided Hitler and the Nazis the opportunity to consolidate their power. The rest of this history is fairly well known.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trawniki_concentration_camp#Tr...

The distinction between Nazis and Germans in that era is important. Otherwise you lose sight of German opponents of Nazis, and things like Night of the Long Knives, which is critical for all sorts of reasons. Yes, Hitler was elected, but that doesn't explain away his consolidation of power. The slide into tyranny often happens precisely because it is gradual; tyrants sometimes obtain unchecked positions of power through democratic circumstance and then use that position to circumvent subsequent democratic process itself.

Or you know, they could take the opportunity to educate those students?

Yes, in the remedial history class.

Someone who failed to learn such a basic historical fact in high school isn't ready for college. It's akin to being illiterate or unable to do basic arithmetic.

Why would a fact mentioned in high school be considered automatically more reliable than a documentary? Both are secondary or tertiary sources.

To be ready for college, it's more important to have critical thinking skills, to understand that not everything you heard in high school is true.

Not every country (Islamic ones, for instance) actually teach kids about the Holocaust.

The issue with this is that the "diet coke and mentos thing" is generally not a requirement to be taught at school, while the Holocaust is.

Not universally. We were taught in school but it was very brief, anyone that was off sick that day would not have learned about the holocaust (or several other WW2 atrocities) in school. It never featured on any tests.

Interesting. In California it appears to be part of the requirements for 10th grade history, and we had a unit on it at school.

That’s really not the point? It’s a metaphor.

That's a meaningless answer. So colleges should be taking in any student regardless of test scores or grades, because clearly poor performers need the education more?

Should Michelson and Morley have been kicked out college because they didn't trust in the existence of luminiferous Ether?


False dichotomy there - luminiferous Ether wasn't backed by an overwhelming ton of evidence. It was a simple postulation, not really even a rigorous hypothesis.

In fact Michelson and Morley were amongst the first successful experiments around it - and fundamentally disproving it of course.

There were no storms. I lived in the USSR at the time and once even went to a show where Kuryokhin performed. Thankfully his performance wasn't the whole show (it was Viacheslav Polunin why I went there) because it was extremely lame IMHO, though it appears he wasn't so bad at pulling people's leg.

The mushroom thing was just a silly joke and a not very popular one at that.

It might have not been very popular, but plenty of people are aware of it to this day (which is what the article says anyway ).

I personally think it was brilliant, but I have a knack for absurdities.

More info (in Russian): https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%9B%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%BD...

A less formal article: http://lurkmore.to/%D0%9B%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%B8%D0%BD_%E2%80%94_...!

Yeah, that was my impression.

"storm" is a huge exaggeration of course. The joke is fairly strained; they are even laughing in the end of the video. I don't think many people seriously believed it.

BTW, another similarly popular joke is that Putin is a crab. https://google.com/search?&q=putin+crab

In early 90-ies freedom of speech, I was impressed by a newspaper which was proving that apes evolved from human (and lower animals evolved from apes). Arguments were taken from school biology textbook (gills in human embryos, fossils, etc).

I learned about this video from HN last year or so. The relevant discussion is here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11952927

...and the Youtube links still work too!



It was not “theory”, nothing about conspiracy. It was joke and everybody (kids and adults) were understanding it’s a joke. Article is full of lies.

I really don't remember this one. Granted I was young then but Lenin being a mushroom is something I would have remembered.

It was a time when commercial advertisements, tabloids, rumors like that were starting to become popular and people who haven't dealt to seen those things before were really fooled into believing them.

They were used to government propaganda and were inoculated and skeptical against that alright. Lenin being a mushroom, or the story about scientists who drilled the deepest borehole and hit hell and a creature with red eyes popped out of there. Or aliens landing. Or anyone remember https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anatoly_Kashpirovsky? people were glued to their TV waiting for their diseases to be cured.

There was also other more insidious propaganda from years before manufactured by KGB. It had a department devoted to planting fake stories in western media to undermine credibility of Western countries. One evil one they created was that AIDS was created by the American scientists to kill black people https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_INFEKTION

I find the interpretation of the event to be interesting. The atlas obscura link here and the Wikipedia link in the other HN thread both make it sound like the intention was to be a hoax, to make people believe something false. But most of the Russian observers of the actual event that are commenting here say it hardly "fooled" anyone, it was just funny. I wonder if the show was meant more as satire or parody, as in "let me make fun of the stuff they used to feed us on TV, now that access to media is more open." So it would've been a very self-aware performance, aimed at an audience that was attuned enouh to pick up on the humor. The cognitive dissonance of the mushroom Lenin was a parody of the years of cognitive dissonance from the official propaganda on tv.

I'm not sure where the hoax interpretation comes from. The atlas obscura article seems mostly sourced from Wikipedia, or vice versa, it's hard to tell. Calling it a hoax may be more of a western misinterpretation, one that reveals a bias in believing the Russian public was unsophisticated and easily fooled.

Also sometims truth is stranger than fiction. Nature's prior art is a mushroom that takes over ants: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ophiocordyceps_unilateralis

The following article explains how the game The Last of Us expands this concept until human victims turn into mushrooms: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/but-not-simpler/the-fun...

Contrary to the claim in the article, I suspect people are much more gullible coming through a social upheaval such as that in 1990's USSR.

"Yurchak says that it wasn’t that the viewing audience was any more or less gullible than they are today, it’s just that people, everywhere in the world, have a tendency to believe what the TV says"

This keeps popping on HN now and then.

>So it would've been a very self-aware performance, aimed at an audience that was attuned enouh to pick up on the humor.

Except they didn't. Up until today, there are people - equivalent of American lizardmen believers going around preaching around that the story was true.

>Calling it a hoax may be more of a western misinterpretation, one that reveals a bias in believing the Russian public was unsophisticated and easily fooled.

And the Western commentators were 100% correct in that. There was and still is a class of public in Russia that will believe anything coming from a "reputably looking official in a suite." This was the extend of Soviet three letter services brainwashing powers. They learned a lot from herr Goebbels.

Now look, these former three letter services servicemen are doing the exact thing in US. Russian propaganda in US does not target any much normally politically active population, no they target the kind of people believing in bizarre stuff, and with a remarkable success. The still raging, so called, "pizzagate" is a proof.

> Because a mammal cannot be a plant.

But mushrooms aren't plants.

Funny, because that was exactly the response to that functionary.

His body has been on display for almost a century. Some conspiracy theories make no sense but some will believe whatever they're told.

I wonder whether the idea had its origins here:


Repost. Also off topic.

From the HN guidelines:

Please don't complain that a submission is inappropriate. If a story is spam or off-topic, flag it.

That's exactly the sort of complaint I'd expect to hear from a mushroom apologist. Are you some sort of fungus yourself?

I don't know. I mean, if Lenin did use psychedelic mushrooms, maybe it did boost his charisma, creativity, etc.

But the title? It's just silly.

Read the story. The hoax is that Lenin literally became a mushroom.

I did read the story. Here's the punchline:

> Correlating the existence and use of hallucinogenic mushrooms in both Russia and Mexico, Kuryokhin posited that drugs had ultimately inspired the successful propaganda of the Russian revolution. In fact, Lenin had consumed so many mushrooms that their fungal “consciousness” had completely consumed him in return. By the end, Kuryokhin put it plainly, saying, “I have absolutely irrefutable proof that the October Revolution was carried out by people who had been consuming certain mushrooms for many years. And these mushrooms, in the process of being consumed by these people, had displaced their personalities. These people were turning into mushrooms. In other words, I simply want to say that Lenin was a mushroom.” He also made references to mushrooms being made out of radio waves, as if he didn’t already sound crackpot enough.

So no, "Lenin was a mushroom" was just a figure of speech.

Edit: The hoax was that he used psychedelic mushrooms, and that they "inspired the successful propaganda of the Russian revolution".

It was not a figure of speech. The guy said, numerous times, that Lenin was literally a mushroom (and also literally a radio wave). That was the whole point of the piece!

According to modern physics, all of us are wave oscillations.

Those would be de Broglie waves, though, not electromagnetic.

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