Michael Burdick, the hoaxer made infamous for his naked-women-paintball Bambi-hunting "business," is a philosopher. He believes in free speech, free will, a free America and ... free publicity.
And he loves a good joke, which is apparently what he pulled on a gullible media, including yours truly. Mea culpa. I hang my head in shame. I'm sharpening my cat-o'nines for ritualistic flagellation.
Not only were the "Bambi" hunts of naked women not real, according to Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman's office, but Burdick didn't even have a business license, even though he sold adult "Bambi" videos on his Web site. The city intends to pursue Burdick for his "legal failings," Elaine Sanchez, spokesperson for the mayor's office, told me late Thursday.
By now, most are familiar with the story, which was broken a couple of weeks ago by LuAnne Sorrell of KLAS-TV in Las Vegas and had been subsequently covered by MSNBC, CNN, Fox and newspapers around the world.
In Burdick's alleged "hunts," which mimic his adult videos, grown men supposedly pay big bucks to wear camo and shoot paintball rifles at naked women, who run around trying to capture flags without getting hit. The women's pay was said to be $1,000 if they got hit and $2,500 if they didn't. Or so the story went.
Bottom line: Burdick orchestrated a staged hunt for Sorrell's benefit. She reported a four-part series on Burdick, and the story blew across the nation like a hot wind. When I subsequently heard theories of a hoax, I tracked down Burdick, with whom I had not spoken before.
"Everything is a joke," Burdick told me Wednesday at the end of a byzantine phone conversation that reminded me of what an interview might be like with the Riddler, who answers every question with a riddle. "Our video, our company, our attitude toward women, our concept of what we're doing. It's a comedy."
And the hunts themselves? Jokes? Hoaxes? "They were real women being hunted by real men with real paintball rifles," he said. "How real can you be? How can it be a hoax?"
That's the question everyone had been asking after the spoof-busting Web site snopes.com called Burdick into question. How did we get taken in? I can only speak for myself. To me, the Bambi saga was believable, symptomatic of a societal sleaze that grows unabated. "Hunting for Bambi," after all, is only a hopscotch square away from "Girls Gone Wild," the videos that are supposed to capture college coeds on spring break in rapturous spontaneity.
And, I confess to a fairly low opinion of the human race. Burdick, who claimed all along that he wasn't clever enough to have created a hoax for TV, affirms that opinion.
He is more than clever. He's like a moral cyborg, who absorbs environmental data and instantaneously adjusts his attitude, his posture, his message to whatever works and advances his greed-driven agenda.
In one breath, for instance, he told me he may never do another hunt because of the annoying media attention. When I reminded Burdick that he was the one who faxed invitations to Las Vegas television stations, he froze like Bambi in the headlights. Long pause.
"I want as much publicity as I can get," he quickly amended.
Here's what was true: Burdick wanted to sell his videos, gambled on a press release that got Sorrell's attention, organized a hunt for her to witness and savored the free exposure.
In my original column, I asked: What do we have here? What we had was a hoax, a conspiracy to deceive, a media moment perfect for July, men hunting naked women, a symbiotic summer blend, a faked climax, a lesson in human gullibility and deception.
Burdick isn't so much spinmeister as he is the human hairball coughed up by a culture that embraces the corrupt. His closing remark to me, a quote from his favorite philosopher, comedian Andy Kaufman, may best capture the depraved spirit and cynical persona of our times: "F-you if you can't take a joke."