Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Joke's On Us

Magnet # 206: Sights of Pennsylvania

Material: Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By: Dad

Be on your guard, folks - this is prime pranking time! Yep, it's April Fool's Day once again and I'm curious to see what jokes will be sprung on us this year. No one is sure how this observance came to be, but it does date back all the way to Chaucer's time. It appeared in his Canterbury Tales, which was published in 1392. And ever since, people have been fooling one another on this day. But the best tricks tend to be those orchestrated by big companies, news outlets, and even, on occasion, governments.

Some of the greatest hoaxes ever have been perpetrated on this day. One of the best came back in 1957, when a BBC news show reported on the Italian spaghetti harvest. They showed people picking noodles out of trees, and said thanks to the elimination of the spaghetti weevil, this was an unusually good harvest. Calls soon flooded into the station from viewers wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti tree. They were told to put a stick of spaghetti in a can of tomato sauce and wait. In 1962, Swedish television viewers were told they could change their black and white television channel to color if they covered their screen with a nylon stocking. Fathers dashed through homes in search of nylons, and thousands fell for the hoax. It would be years before Sweden had color television. 1998 was a particularly strong year for April Fool's Day. Burger King announced it would be offering left-handed Whoppers whose condiments were specially arranged to fall out to the right. Customers turned up asking for the hoax and some even insisted they get their standard, right-handed version. Also, an article appeared claiming that the Alabama legislature had changed the value of pi from 3.14159 to 3.0, as it was a more Biblical value. Soon, hundreds were calling into the baffled legislature. Eventually, it came out that a physicist had written it as a parody of how far legislatures will go to prevent the study of evolution in the classroom. Sometimes, these jokes go a little too far, like when it was reported that a dam had burst or the Tower of Pisa had fallen. And there is a flip side to all of the trickery - often, no one believes actual news stories that hit on this day. For example, in 1946, some warnings of a tsunami hitting the Pacific went unheeded in Hawaii, as people there thought it was a prank, and many drowned because of it. Also, Marvin Gaye was shot and killed by his own father on April 1 of 1984. Because this was such an unlikely murder, many wrongly thought it was also an April Fool's Day prank. And last year, when CBS announced the cancellation of the longest-running television series ever, Guiding Light, on this day, there were those who thought it was a stunt. And I was one of them. But at least I wasn't like the firemen in Denmark who, on that same day, almost let a school burn to the ground because they thought the calls being made to report the fire were pranks. Boy, ignore events on April Fool's Day at your - and others - peril.

I have to admit, my all-time favorite April Fool's Day prank occurred back in 1996, when the Taco Bell fast food chain announced it had purchased the iconic Liberty Bell and would be renaming it the "Taco Liberty Bell." They took out full page ads in seven major newspapers, and claimed it would divide its time between Philadelphia and its headquarters. I remember my American History teacher storming into class that morning, enraged, and going on about it for awhile. Personally, I was a little miffed by what I saw as corporate arrogance. But plenty more Americans were as angry as my teacher and thousands flooded Taco Bell's Headquarters and the National Historic Park in Philadelphia with outraged calls. Even two calls were made by Senator's aides. And when former White House press secretary was asked about the sale, he responded that the Lincoln Memorial had also been sold to the Ford Motor Company and would be known as the Lincoln-Mercury Memorial. By noon, the news had broken - it was all a hoax and the corporation was actually donating $50,000 to help with the upkeep of the national treasure. The move paid off well for the company, as its sales increased by over a million dollars for the first two days of the month. Still, there were some who refused to lighten up and laugh at themselves and the joke. They claimed that it was in bad taste to cheapen a national icon to sell fast food. Of course, it had already been used in another fake publicity stunt back in 1885, when it was sent down to New Orleans for the Cotton States Centennial. During its route, a story was cooked up that a mob had carried the bell off to drum up publicity, so their lofty stances were a bit unnecessary in light of historical precedence. Don't be like those wet blankets today - be on your guard, and if someone pulls a good prank on you, laugh along. Then start planning payback - after all, on April Fool's day turnaround is fair play!


  1. BBC posts a pretty funny April fool video each year. I'd not seen the spaghetti one till last week. You can find almost all of these on youtube.

  2. Cool - I'll have to check that out!