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March 31st, 2011
07:30 PM ET

April Fools’ Day Pranks – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Let me start by clearing a few things up:

  • Scientists have NOT proven the existence of the Loch Ness Monster
  • Abba are NOT reuniting to perform ‘Dancing Queen’ at Kate and William’s reception
  • Snoop Dogg has NOT been neutered
  • Charlie Sheen is NOT a nice person 

At this time of year, news outlets revel in their readerships’ gullibility. But the art of media foolery is so rampant that an increasingly skeptical public is starting to doubt the veracity of stories long before April 1.

Take Rebecca Black for example. We almost needed to believe that ‘Friday’ was a hoax, despite its mid-March emergence. So indescribably offensive was this autotuned iniquity, the conspiracy theorists flooded online forums within hours. Sadly, we’ll have to chalk that down to wishful thinking.

But there are plenty of borderline cases floating about before the big day. This story about a “Hitler House” from the UK’s Telegraph newspaper has certainly raised a few (slanted) eyebrows among the News Stream dream team. Our conclusion? It's Wales, so anything's possible.

There are a few crucial factors common to successful April Fools’ fabrications:

  • They’re odd enough to provoke initial interest
  • They’re believable enough to provoke deliberation
  • They’re tasteful enough not to provoke panic or rage 

Let’s revisit some April Fools' Day standards of yesteryear, categorized according to their success on these specifications.

Google

The Good

Google may not be a news organization, but it’s indisputably a trusted source of information. So when it tells the world it’s pioneering a telepathic search engine  or changing its name to Topeka out of mutual respect for a Kansas city, millions are inclined to take those claims at face value.

The last bastion of stiff-upper-lipped sagacity, the BBC is an old hand when it comes to springtime shams. The classic Swiss spaghetti harvest of 1957 might not fool many people in this cynical age, but the corporation’s 1980 assertion that Big Ben might be going digital is, paradoxically, timeless.

[Side note: The Beeb announced this week that Lady Gaga and the Black Eyed Peas are set to perform in my old stomping ground, the English county town of Carlisle. This seemed like the least plausible story ever. Yet apparently, it’s true. Certainly a step up from this month’s entertainment – the, er, “Bon Jovi Experience”. Rock on.]

It’s not called April Fools’ Day for nothing, and The Sun in Britain took great pleasure in making half its readers look like halfwits last year. Promoting “Flair Spool” (anagram alert!), a lickable type of paper with a pleasant taste, the publication successfully persuaded credulous commuters to tongue the offending page. Suffice to say it tasted like newspaper, and the red top left its buyers red faced.

The Bad

Oregon radio station KSJJ missed both the mark and the point in 1999, when its DJs told listeners that a local dam had ruptured, putting communities downstream in jeopardy. Such a false claim would be distasteful in any event, but given that hundreds of people had been displaced by flooding the previous year, the station’s insensitivity was quite staggering. Needless to say KSJJ was the only party deluged in this case – by the complaints of outraged locals.

What’s worse than terrifying people needlessly? How about getting their hopes up, only to dash them emphatically? Step forward Romania’s Opinia newspaper, which evidently thought it’d be hilarious to state that scores of prisoners were to be released from incarceration with immediate effect. The loved ones elatedly arrived at the jail, and were swiftly informed that the paper had pulled their legs. Whether any limbs were ripped from the editor in the fury that followed has not been documented.

The Ugly

Not content with slaughtering a fair percentage of the populace and suppressing most of the rest, Iraq’s Hussein dynasty also had a pretty grim concept of humor. How better to lighten the mood of an impoverished people than to rub their noses in the very things that made them so? The low jinks started in April 1998, when the Babil newspaper, helmed by Saddam’s son Uday, declared that U.S. President Bill Clinton had lifted sanctions against the country.  Had he? Of course not! Iraq was still as great an international pariah as it had ever been. But the paper’s “fun” didn’t stop with that monumental fail. The next year, Uday and co. promised Iraq’s people that their monthly rations would be enhanced with treats like Pepsi and chocolate. Would they? Of course not! The only ones enjoying passable provisions were the ruling family, who also had an unhealthy appetite for ritual degradation. Apparently, the same “jokes” were reprocessed for years to come.

At News Stream, we’ll probably stick to the facts this April Fools' Day. But if anyone else tells you that the Beckhams are naming their new daughter Bronx, or that Susan Boyle is releasing a Megadeth tribute album – it’s maybe best to take the news with a pinch of salt.

Got your own favorite April Fools' Day hoax? Please post below...

soundoff (One Response)
  1. Aliza Shehpati

    We had a fake paternity lawsuit drawn up and served to a co-worker in the office. Another year we had a very realistic-looking IRS notice delivered by registered mail to him. Both times he got a little pale and spent some time with his office door closed before figuring out they were fake.

    The News Nation

    April 14, 2011 at 12:01 am | Reply

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