A Nude Horse Is A Rude Horse: Alan Abel’s Society For Indecency To Naked Animals

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The hoax morality campaign that fooled the US media for years.

In a world of identity politics run rampant, widespread outrage at the mere idea of anyone even questioning the perceived wisdom on assorted current hot topics and ever more cranky niche groups getting their way through the virtue of shouting the loudest, we really need people like serial prankster Alan Abel, who spend most of his life carrying out hoaxes aimed at prinking the pretensions of the morally superior and the media’s insatiable appetite for scandal. Imagine how he would run rampant in an age of clickbait headlines, where fact-checking comes a distant second to telling people what they want to hear (or what you want them to hear). Then again, in a world awash with fake news, perhaps Abel would struggle to compete with the more cynical and malicious players out there.

Abel’s crowning achievement came in 1959, when the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals, or SINA (pronounced, of course, ‘sinner’) was formed. The idea started life as a satirical article for the Saturday Evening Post, but it was rejected, and Abel – rather than simply moving on – decided that the idea might work more effectively if presented as a genuine organisation. The idea behind SINA was simple, and inspired – it would be a conservative religious organisation that was appalled by the fact that animals were allowed to parade around without clothes on (the ambiguity of the name was explained as a compromise because ‘the Society Against Indecency to Naked Animals’ would have to be called ‘SAINA’, and they really wanted to emphasise the ‘sin’ bit). At a time when morals were just starting to shift and a culture war between the permissive society and the Christian moralists was just a few years away, SINA didn’t seem that out there; it’s not hard to imagine that there are people who find the wanton displays of genitalia by animals – be they pets, farmyard animals or wild beasts – genuinely distressing. We should remember that even in the late 1970s, the British censors were insisting on scenes of horse copulation being removed from Walerian Borowczyk‘s La Bete, lest the sight of the inflamed beasts be considered indecent.

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The back story of SINA had that the organisation had been formed sometime earlier by G. Clifford Prout Sr, and was now headed by his son – G. Clifford Prout Jr. The organisation believed than any animal “that stands higher than four inches or longer than six inches” should be required to wear clothing in public places – sensibly, the threat from mice and goldfish was deemed to be minimal. Prout Jr was said to be a man of independent means who would not accept donations or membership fees to his organisation (a protection for Abel against possible charges of mail fraud for running a bogus charity – any donations received were returned to sender).

SINA launched itself into the public consciousness on May 27th 1959, when Prout Jr appeared on the Today Show. He was portrayed by comedian Buck Henry, who would play the role in all media appearances over the years – an improvisational comedian, Henry could handle interviews by coming up with spontaneous answers to the sometimes mocking but often very serious questions put to him.

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Abel set up shop in a New York office, from where he would publish a newsletter. Among the contents were the SINA ‘national anthem’:

High on the wings of SINA/we fight for the future now;
Let’s clothe every pet and animal/whether dog, cat, horse or cow!
G. Clifford Prout, our President/he works for you and me,
So clothe all your pets and join the march/for worldwide Decency!
S.I.N.A., that’s our call / all for one and one for all.
Hoist our flag for all to see/waving for Morality.
Onward we strive together/stronger in every way,
All mankind and his animal friends/for SINA, S-I-N-A!

There were also essay contests, debates about how much clothing was necessary and other discussions of moral decency. Some people seemed to take this very seriously – by all accounts, Abel was offered some pretty substantial donations by supporters, and the organisation boasted tens of thousands of members – though of course, this was also part of the wider scam. Nevertheless, it’s not hard to imagine the more sexually hung-up puritanical Christians eagerly supporting the view that naked animals were indecent and obscene.

In 1964, there was even an LP – Inside SINA – that featured spoken word pieces expanding on the SINA philosophy. But by the time it was released, the jig was up. It was perhaps inevitable that someone, somewhere would recognise Henry in one of his media appearances – he was, after all, a working comedian. On August 21st 1962, very serious journalist Walter Cronkite interviewed Prout Jr on his CBS news show. Some staffers recognised Henry, who was also working on another CBS show at the time. Cronkite was, according to Abel, absolutely furious. This was, after all, a journalist with a long and storied career that would include covering the Nuremberg trials and reporting from the front lines in the Vietnam War, Watergate and the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. Here he was being made to look a fool by someone pretending to be outraged by undressed dogs. Of course, we might ask why SINA was considered newsworthy to begin with – but that, of course, was Abel’s genius. He knew that the media would eat this sort of thing up, and elevate an organisation of cranks – without any proven support – to the point of national importance. It could be that, had Abel chosen a more anonymous frontman to play Prout Jr, then SINA could have run and run, growing in influence. After all, how many groups do we see on our TVs and in our newspapers right now, claiming to be the voice of the people without ever being challenged or questioned on just how widespread or representative their views are?

A 1963 Time article finally exposed the SINA hoax to the public, though Abel continued to publish the newsletter for a few years afterwards, just for the fun of it – and because there were readers who either didn’t hear about the exposé or just didn’t care and were enjoying the joke.

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Alan Abel

Abel would continue to run hoaxes, spoofs and social satires throughout his life. During the watergate scandal, he hired an actor to pose as informant Deep Throat during a press conference (the actor was offered $100,000 for the story rights by a literary agent); he faked his own death in 1979; in 1985, he organised a mass fainting during the recording of the Phil Donohoe show; in 1993, he set up Euthanasia Cruises Ltd, which offered to take to suicidal on an ocean cruise where they could jump into the sea and kill themselves; and in 1997, he set up a company selling Jeny McCarthy’s urine – his pseudonym this time was Stoidi Puekaw – ‘wake up idiots’, backwards.

You might think that the media would become wise to his games over the years, but that would be to underestimate their desperation to believe what they want to believe. In 2000, Abel launched a new moral campaign at the Republican National Convention, demanding that breastfeeding be outlawed as “an incestuous relationship between mother and baby that manifests an oral addiction leading youngsters to smoke, drink and even becoming anti-social.” Astonishingly, he was interviewed by news outlets over two hundred times in two years before he exposed the hoax – but of course, this was exactly what liberal news media thought that the Republicans would do, and never bothered to check facts. Of course, Abel’s campaign once again really did attract Republican supporters, showing that no satire is too absurd to become true.

He died, aged 94, in 2018. At least, that’s what is claimed. With Abel, you always have to have your doubts…

Here are a couple of tracks from the LP to enjoy.

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