Clothes as Pseudo-Events : Ballyhoo, Rapture Bombs and Reginald Perrin
Empty bundles of clothes have the power to signify a variety of events, including voluntary undressing and forcible denuding. In empty clothes, the human body is notable in its absence, and the use of discarded shoes and garments in Holocaust memorials attests to their capacity to represent individual victims of large-scale tragedy. By representing absence through presence, clothes index the absent wearer, and invite speculation about the event that has separated body from garment. In a number of noteworthy events, ranging from Labour minister John Stonehouse’s faked suicide (pseudocide) in 1974 to the ‘rapture bombs’ which littered the internet in the wake of predictions of the Rapture in 2011, abandoned clothes have been used to falsely signify tragedy. For the fictional anti-hero of David Nobbs’ The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (1975), undressing, and the planting of his empty clothes as false evidence, becomes the defining act of a complex act of deception, in which he fakes suicide and begins a new life under an assumed identity. This scene of ‘pseudocide’ has been recreated so many times that it is referred to colloquially as ‘doing a Reggie Perrin’. This chapter will explore the role of abandoned clothes in what Daniel J. Boorstin describes as ‘pseudo-events’ – ‘synthetic happenings’ that are ‘fabricated to make up for the world’s deficiency’. It will examine how empty clothing is planted with the intention of fueling media speculation and to provoke the generation of false narratives, drawing on examples of promotional stunts in the 1920s, pseudocides in the 1970s, and rapture pranks in the 2010s.