As Bret Michaels recovers from a brain hemorrhage that nearly killed him (and gears up for the Celebrity Apprentice finale), a nagging question keeps popping up online: "Was it all a publicity stunt?" Is nothing in public life believable, anymore?

First the internet was for porn. Then it was for viral videos of cats. Now it's for hoaxes, stunts, and viral marketing campaigns. Consequently, our media-consuming lives are full of suspicion—is that picture photoshopped? is this Justin Bieber tattoo photo real? are we sure Michael Jackson is dead?—and the internet is for incredulity.

The new class of conspiracy theorists aren't worried about Goldman Sachs enslaving us on a global plantation. They aim their paranoia at pop culture, and even when their claims are ludicrous (sure, Bret Michaels' recovery was speedy, but faking a brain hemorrhage? Who even thinks of that?) they aren't doing it without reason. Everything that should be natural isn't: Paparazzi candids are staged, romances are vetted by Hollywood agents, bodies are fake, and even reality television—that great bastion of burping and zits—is scripted. If a genre with the word "reality" in it isn't real, then why should we think anything is?

And it's not just the PR mavens of Hollywood we suspect—the Brets and Gagas and Speidis—but each other. Even the comment board mantra of sketpcism, POIDH (Pics Or It Didn't Happen) has come undone as pranksters photoshop screengrabs and digital photography with abandon. Even the pranks play with the idea of artifice, like the Lindsay Lohan HIV scam that faked fake messages in Michael Lohan's Twitter account. When Justin Bieber was discovered on YouTube, America celebrated him. But now that another person has repeated Bieber's career path—Lady Gaga-singing "Paparazzi kid" Greyson Chance—the wide-eyed wonder has already worn off. It's too good to be true, the conspiracy theorists say. Greyson is a record industry-manipulated fraud.

Falling for a fake is like falling for a lover who's just using you—when you play into the fake's hands, you feel like a fool. And so the mass proliferation of internet myths and fabrications has trained everyone to take a Snopesian eye to everything we read, watch, or see—even the true ones. Gone are the days of wide-eyed wonder. But hey, at least we got a few good pranks out of it. [CSM]

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[Photos via Getty Images]