Not suffering April Fool’s gladly

These days, April 2nd regrets are almost as common as the pranks themselves. They come from police forces (in 2013, a Dutch officer’s tweeted joke about Top Gear closed down a highway). They come from Google executives (in 2013, Google China’s Kai-Fu Lee posted a joke about China’s Great Firewall coming down, which many found more insulting than humorous). And they come from video game executives (two year’s ago, the COO of Electronic Arts, had to apologize for a joking tweet about a switch to Nintendo).

“The whole cycle of prankery – the effects of April 1’s culture-wide trolling – is as predictable and as unfunny as Black Friday tramplings and sexist Super Bowl ads,” says The Atlantic.

For a day that’s supposed to focus on being cunning, clever and comical, it’s a sad state of affairs. April Fool’s Day is, theoretically, awesome. It’s legitimate license to be highly creative, slightly mischievous and throw buckets of fun into the bargain.

Regardless of what generation you are, if you’re British you must have heard of the “spaghetti tree hoax”. It’s a famous 3-minute hoax report broadcast on April Fools’ Day 1957 by the BBC current affairs programme Panorama. It told a tale of a family in southern Switzerland harvesting spaghetti from the fictitious spaghetti tree, broadcast at a time when this Italian dish was not widely eaten in the UK and some Britons were unaware that spaghetti is a pasta made from wheat flour and water.

The BBC, God bless them, showed the world again that imagination, effort and a healthy sense of humour were the key ingredients to an April Fools’ prank, although it took them another half a century. In 2008 film maker and writer Terry Jones discovered a colony of penguins, which were unlike any other penguins in the world.

April Fools’ Day has its origins in rituals of the vernal equinox: Ancient Romans celebrated Hilaria when the weather changed from wintery to summery, making people go a little crazy in the process. Today, ritualized fun-making on or around the first day of April is celebrated not just in the UK and US, but around the world. In France, it’s “poisson d’Avril,” or “April Fish” and in Brazil, it’s “Dia da Mentira,” or “Day of the Lie”. In India too they celebrate the Holi, but this is less about pranks and more about the joviality attached to the coming of Spring.

However, things are different today, for today we have the internet and even at the best of times it’s difficult to distinguish what’s a big pile of bullshit and what isn’t. Did you hear the thing about Taco Bell purchasing a famous national landmark, thus creating the Taco Liberty Bell? Or the one about Google’s new “magic hand” smartphone operating device? Or the one about Burger King coming out with a burger-scented fragrance? Actually, no one is sure whether this last one is real or not and there are even different articles from the same publications claiming both.

On the internet, it’s pretty depressing as you can probably imagine. Search for “April Fool’s Day” and you get stories like 12 April Fools Day Pranks to Make Your Roommate Hate You and helpful tips about leaving your parents a little gift called a “soy sauce surprise.”

But if you have the patience to trawl through pages of so-called jokes online that you might have found useful aged 18 in your first year at university, to find the real gems of each year, occasionally efforts can be rewarded. The BBC penguins example above is still probably my all-time favourite, but last year there were one or two rib-ticklers dotted about and this one cause me to chuckle…

Scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research has discovered the existence of the Force, thanks to the CERN Large Hadron Collider. From the press release:

“The Force is what gives a particle physicist his powers,” said CERN theorist Ben Kenobi of the University of Mos Eisley, Tatooine. “It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us; and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.”

My favourite from last year was a very subtle yet oh-so poetic effort from The Independent: “US immigration announces new customer-friendly approach with ambassadors to offer welcome fist bumps”. Perhaps it’s so funny because it’s an accurate observation applying the complete opposite of what’s real. Anyone who travels to the US on a frequent basis knows, the first impression off the plane is of an Orwellian paranoid police state with no sense of humour. Whatsoever.

Google had a number of tricks up its sleeve last year including, turning its online Maps function into a game of Pacman and if you typed, you’d end up on its mirror site. The search results are also be mirrored.

However, this year’s attempt didn’t go down quite so well. The the Silicon Valley-based software giant added a button to Gmail that appended an image of a Minion dropping a mic to an email and then muted further replies to the thread. Because the “mic drop” option displaced the more inoffensive “Send and Archive” button, it was easy to press it accidentally. Almost immediately, Google’s help pages filled up with threads of complaints from users, including some claiming that the faux-feature had cost them job opportunities.

In the face of this outrage, Google quickly deactivated the button and appended an apologetic mea culpa to its original blog post. In reality, however, the problem wasn’t the prank itself, but the way it was executed. Many in the first wave of complaints came from users who were just looking for a way to turn the prank off. Whether or not you think minions are charming this isn’t a joke with much staying power. The pleasure of April Fools’ Day comes in the opportunity to announce that a joke was just a joke. But because it has potentially lasting effects, and because users had little control over it, mic drop had the ability to do persistent damage, even after the humor fades.

In contrast, and much to the delight of millennial copy monkeys regurgitating online stories everywhere, PornHub temporarily converted its entire site into “CornHub: a source for all of your hot, buttery corn video needs”.


Stay classy my friends.

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