By Richard Bleil
To be honest, I’ve never been a huge fan of April Fool’s Day. It’s my understanding that the first of the year was, at one time, April 1 to correspond to the end of the winter. This makes far more sense to me than having having January 1 be the start of the new year, The problem with pranks, though, is the all-too-often cruel nature of them. Today, people are starting to call for more humane tricks, by asking to avoid posting fake comments about pregnancy, cancer and suicide. I have to admit, though, there are some tricks that I do enjoy.
The BBC is famous for their dry sense of humor and April Fool pranks. One of my favorite is the story they published many years ago (even before i was born) regarding the pasta harvest. They draped long noodles over trees, and filmed “the locals” as they cut the noddles down with scythes, laying it out in the sun to dry before packaging for shipment. The crux of the story is that, with the harsh Italian summer, the harvest was negatively affected, and it would be hard to find pasta this year. The funniest thing about this story is that, on April 2, there was a report from grocery stores of a “run on pasta”, claiming that people believed the story.
Probably one of the best known pranks was never intended to be as such when H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds”, a radio drama broadcast, was transmitted in 1938. This was during an era when news and entertainment programs were both heavily intermingled on radio as a precursor to television. This programs frightened people so thoroughly that there were reports of suicide. The volume of calls to the radio station were so high that they even began including announcements between commercial breaks saying it was only a fictional drama, and not to be taken seriously.
MIT is an engineering school, and, I’m told, famous for its annual senior class prank. These pranks are not discouraged, and, in fact, actively encouraged as a means to get students to utilize their new skills in a practical albeit tongue-in-cheek application. Driving downtown one day, three helicopters passed overhead. The helicopters were not military, but rather, belonging to news organization, and I learned that evening that they were heading to the MIT campus. It turns out, overnight, the students had “stolen” an MIT police cruiser, disassembled it, and reassembled it on top of the MIT gold dome, with the flashers going. On the dashboard were a complete set of instructions on how to get it down again, but MIT police were still livid at the affair. Of course, their anger was not because a cruiser had been stolen and put atop the building dome, but because, along with the instructions, the students had left a half-eaten box of donuts.
I’ve rarely participated in such pranks myself, but on rare occasion I would do so. While teaching in a small medical arts college, one of our wealthier instructors (who also had a practice) was a fan of the Vikings. He had an old faded raggedy flag flying from the back window of his very expensive car every football season. Strolling through a store, I happened upon the same flag with the colors of the Bengals. So, or course, I had to buy it.
One day, I see his car in the faculty parking flying the same old flag. I replaced his flag with the Bengal flag. As if that wasn’t enough, our Dean was out of the office on a trip that day, and left his office door open. So, I “hid” the Vikings flag in the Dean’s office. (Deans had much better senses of humor in those days!) The funniest thing about this entire endeavor, though, was this highly intelligent individual could not figure out how I had managed to get inside his locked vehicle to change the flags out, never realizing the clip holding the flag in was very easy. I wonder why I didn’t keep that job.
I have friends who have lost babies, friends who have attempted suicide including some who succeeded, and have been through divorce and a heart attack myself. Some things just are not funny. The best pranks are not mean spirited. This is why I’ve never enjoyed shows about prank phone calls and shows where pranks are used to laugh at people. “Gullible” means “trusting”, and there is nothing humorous about harming people’s trust and insulting them for what is, after all, an admirable trait. Frankly, every time I have somebody try to “friend” me on social media because I’m single it feels the same way; somebody is trying to feed on my loneliness. If you are going to prank, when you prank, don’t use it to belittle people. We can do better than that.