I used to love April Fools' Day, when, it seemed to me, just a handful of wise guys had the time or nerve or permission to pull pranks.
But a story on Mashable today stuck a fork into the juvenile accomplishment of making people believe something that just isn’t true, because pranks are now a dime a dozen and not just on one good designated day but all the time.
“These days, searching for the word ‘prank’ on YouTube will bring up a whopping 21.7 million videos,” Mashable’s Saba Hamedy writes. “Vine, too, is overpopulated with six-second videos of digital influencers messing around.”
That includes YouTube itself, whose April Fools' prank is so unimaginative those people should be ashamed of themselves. And then there’s this “prank” from Lyft in which Golden State Warrior star Andre Iguodala tries to fool back-up center Festus Ezeli that he’s been cut from the team just as the playoffs approach. It’s not funny, and even if it had been done well it wouldn’t be funny because it’s just too mean. Funnier is Esurance’s Election Insurance ad, offering homeowners protection for four years while the family abandons the United States for Canada after the wrong person is elected president.
But truly, April Fools’ Day is an example of how the easy access to YouTube and the Internet tragically lowers the bar allowing person or company to produce a prank video even if it’s not funny.
The bigger problem is the Internet is bursting with phony stories and videos all the time. Being fooled is part of the 365-day experience (and it's the secret sauce of a lot of native advertising, bottom line).
All of those silly click-bait stories that promise “you won’t believe” what some actress did/wore/said that invariably is not really all that unbelievable. “The World Was Not Ready For The Gown She Wore At The 2015 Emmy Awards” that once clicked on reveals 29 photos of women in awards-show dresses, most of them demure, none of which would have made anyone need time to get ready, except perhaps, for some really religious people in Afghanistan.
A couple years ago, Facebook experimented with flagging pieces from the Onion as “satire” which naturally ruins the joke, but proves the point. There are so many amazing stories and videos bouncing around the Internet even the legitimate fake ones seem like, well, they seem like something you’d see on the Internet.
Caitlin Dewey of The Washington Post, used to regularly debunk phony Internet stories and videos, but she stopped at the end of last year explaining “where a willingness to believe hoaxes once seemed to come from a place of honest ignorance or misunderstanding, that’s frequently no longer the case. Headlines like “Casey Anthony found dismembered in truck” go viral via old-fashioned schadenfreude — even hate.”
Getting fooled just isn’t so funny anymore, like it was when it was harder to pull off and when there was the belief that a lot of stuff in the media at least had an element of truth.
So I’d tip my hat, if I had a hat, to Yahoo, which did pull of a pretty good prank, though in violation of April Fools’ rules, because it was posted the day before. Delaney Strunk reported that Trader Joe’s will close of all of its stores by 2017, and even said that Whole Foods was rebuffed when it offered to continue to carry Speculoos, a super fine cookie butter brand that is a Trader Joe’s favorite.
Christine Teigen, who is a model and except for that seems to be a kind of regular person, read the Yahoo story and tweeted, “I want to to be sorry about trader joe’s but that place was always weird and creepy too me. Except their cookie butter.”
Sixteen minutes later, she realized it was a joke and tweeted, “there is no ‘early’ april fools joke. U can start effing with ppl/planting seeds but NO EARLY PUNCHLINES. This freakin’ world I’ll tell ya.”
She’s right. There used to be rules, and when they were broken it was funny.
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