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Shill is a role in The Con. This is an accomplice who falsely "approves" the proposition in such a way that his "support" encourages The Mark to go for the deal. A good shill gives the impression that they are going to grab all the goodies, so the The Mark had better move fast, with an increased bid. A Napier is a specific kind of shill.

In online contexts, a shill can be a specific form of Sock Puppet. If someone is praising a product on a forum a little too loudly, they may be actually be the one who makes it. This sort of shill is sometimes called a plant (originally an espionage term) or an astroturfer (more recent and deriving from politics, it refers to fake grassroots support). This variant of The Shill often engages in Derailing to spread their point of view or attack or discredit people who oppose it.

There is also a Real Life casino employee called a shill who is a professional poker player who uses the casino's money to keep a game going, and to fool gullible tourists into thinking the game is easier to win than it actually is. Casinos being what they are with their money, shills who keep their job for a measurable amount of time are very good at poker.

Another example is shill bidding: The illegal practice of secretly employing a third party to bid up the price of an item you are selling at an auction. This is a scourge on eBay, where you don't need someone else to help, and the nature of the net makes it almost impossible to get caught.

The word "shill", used more loosely, has applied not-quite-accurately to any public figure who uses their fame and profile to endorse a shady position in the eyes of the speaker. Such as legislators who do what lobbyists tell them to do, lobbyists themselves, or celebrities who endorse products.

A lot of accusations of a person being a shill are a result of Opinion Myopia, where the accuser believes no one could possibly honestly hold an opinion that disagrees with that of the speaker, unless they were being paid to.

Sometimes, shilling may be done to a Creator's Pet, rather than The Con.

Examples of The Shill include:


Comic Books

  • One issue of The Muppet Show Comic Book reinvents Veterinarian's Hospital as Veterinarian's Medicine Show. Snake Oil Salesman Dr Bob gives a spoonful of Medicinal Compound to The Shill Julius Strangepork ("My old friend ... who I've never seen before in my life!"). Strangepork disappears offstage, and is replaced by Link Hogthrob in the same suit.

Film

  • In Ocean's Thirteen Danny Ocean and his crew demonstrate a new casino game at a convention as part of their scheme to rob Willy Bank. Terry Benedict plays the shill who wants to install it in his Biloxi properties, which in turn gets Bank interested.
  • In the opening to Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, the antiheroes are selling stolen goods in the street. One of them, playing the shill, triggers the audience's enthusiasm by saying "Did you say ten pounds? That's a bargain; I'll take one."
  • In The Marx Brothers first film The Coconuts Groucho employs Chico as an shill to bid up the prices of the plots of land he has for sale. Chico does this too well and ends up winning each auction.
  • Early in The Journey of Natty Gann, Natty acts as an impromptu shill for a street vendor played by Scatman Crothers; finding him haggling with a woman over the price of a pot he is trying to sell her, Natty pipes up that she'll pay him his asking price for it, putting an end to the woman's efforts to talk him down to a lower amount.

Literature

Live Action Television

  • In the Lost episode "The Long Con," Cassidy shills for Sawyer. In "Left Behind," Kate plays the shill to help Cassidy avoid arrest.
  • Saturday Night Live did a series of sketches (later repackaged as a superbowl ad) starring "MacGruber," a crappy MacGyver knockoff who was too busy singing the praises of his corporate sponsor Pepsi to defuse the assorted time bombs he was presented with.
  • Del Boy's market-stall patter in Only Fools and Horses often requires Grandad, Rodney or Uncle Albert to act as a shill. None of them are any good at it.
    • When Albert took the role, demonstrating an anti-back pain medicine, his cover was catastrophically blown when his "sudden recovery" became a full tap-dance routine. A later case involving Albert however - with the Peckham Spring - was successful enough to allow the scam to eventually fool literally the entire country.
  • In an episode of Star Trek: Voyager, in which Neelix and Tom are trying to prove they're still "street", they decide to pull the cup-and-pea trick on the Doctor. To get him interested, they let him see Tom successfully finding the pea.
  • Part of Albert's role as the Roper in Hustle.
  • On Leverage Nate often plays The Shill while Sophie plays The Roper.

Video Games

  • John plays one of these (however unwillingly) early on in Red Dead Redemption at one point for Dickens, in a bid to sell his 'medicinal' tonic. He gives incredibly neutral responses to any questions that Dickens asks him, and even openly spits out the foul-tasting tonic when made to drink it in front of the crowd. Fortunately for Dickens, John is Badass enough to display above-average ability in marksmanship and combat, which was enough to convinve the crowd to buy the stories. It does, however, come back to bite them later when Dickens attempts to repeat this in another community, and gets called out for his fraudulence.

Western Animation

  • Homer shills for Grampa when selling "Simpson & Son's Revitalising Tonic" in The Simpsons. It doesn't work, largely because his face is on the bottle
    • Another episode has one of Snake's con tricks facilitated by a guy who looks and sounds remarkably like Snake himself, who is almost 100% certainly related to Snake in some fashion ("Way to go, bro!").

Real Life

  • Lee Siegel, a columnist for The New Republic, self-destructed his career in a rather spectacularly brazen display of shilling, wherein he would blog as himself and then loudly and vituperatively defend his ideas to his many online critics pretending to be an anonymous stranger called "sprezzatura". Little, subtle gems like "You couldn't tie Siegel's shoelaces" makes it a mystery how the hell he didn't get caught earlier.
    • The most ironic and annoying part of this is that the fallout over this somehow not only failed to prevent Siegel from writing a self-serving book about how the blogosphere sucks and people on the Internet suck and online culture sucks and "blogofascism" ruins everything, it then went on to get mostly favorable reviews from folks in the New York Times and elsewhere. It's like when they let Jayson Blair write a book talking about how much newspapers suck.
  • Around July 2000, an executive at Sony created a fictitious film critic named David Manning to give their subsidiaries good reviews, only to be busted when a Newsweek reporter contacted the paper Manning supposedly worked in only to be told they had never heard of him. That eventually landed them in court where they settled for promising to refund 5 dollars to anyone who were unsatisfied with the movies Manning "recommended" ( A Knight's Tale, Hollow Man, Vertical Limit, The Animal and The Patriot)
  • Science fiction writer Kevin J. Anderson does this, and quite publicly. His site, aptly named the "KJA Special Forces", asks members to post blogs, links, discussions, and reviews on online stores such as Amazon in support of both him and his work. Doing so can land you "points", and in exchange for those points you can "earn" prizes and money.
  • The Shill is a staple of the Medicine Show, both in Real Life and in fiction.
  • The director of notoriously bad Video Game Limbo of the Lost has been doing this. Then things get kinda confusing.
  • Those who argue against conventional medical treatment are sometimes accused of being shills for the All-Natural Snake Oil industry, and vice versa.
  • Israel supporters are also frequently accused of being shills by people who sympathize with the Palestinians.
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