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Please Advise! Have We Outgrown April Fools’?

In these times of Satanic sneakers and Alberta fighting Bigfoot, the question deserves careful scrutiny, says Doc Steve.

Steve Burgess 1 Apr 2021 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess writes about politics and culture for The Tyee. Find his previous articles here.

[Editor’s note: Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a PhD in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to politicians, the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.]

Dear Dr. Steve,

April Fools’ Day is here, a day traditionally reserved for pranks, practical jokes, and amusing hoaxes. Have we outgrown this stuff now?

Signed,

Nobody’s Fool

Dear Nobody,

Have we outgrown April Fools’? Dr. Steve certainly hopes not. He has some fine seasonal japes in store. How about these:

A remake of Footloose will be filmed in B.C. with Premier John Horgan as the mayor and, in the Kevin Bacon role, a bunch of irresponsible young people. Alberta’s War Room has hired the Easter Bunny to debate Bigfoot on the positive aspects of digging lots of holes. Fox News is taking a break from wall-to-wall coverage of cancel culture to provide wall-to-wall coverage of an evil rapper’s Satanic running shoes.

Wait, that last one is real. The Lil Nas X sneakers story has pushed all else to the side, in case you’ve been wondering why Mr. Potato Head updates have been slow coming in recently.

And there you have the issue with April Fools’ Day in the first quarter of the 21st century — it conflicts with too many existing business models.

April Fools’ has always been tricky. Getting the tone right has tripped up many a company over the years. McDonald’s McPickle and Burger King’s left-handed Whopper were fine. The Kansas City radio station that started a local panic by announcing the civic water supply was full of “dihydrogen monoxide” (another name for water) was not so risible.

The best April Fools’ jokes are harmless and also believable in ways that reveal just a grain of ridiculous truth. For example, the 1998 story that the state of Alabama was redefining the value of pi from 3.14 (etc.) to just three, in accordance with Biblical principles. A hoax, yes, but nonetheless something that might fit snugly beside a school textbook about the U.S. Civil War and an Alberta government-approved science lesson about climate change.

Nowadays though, feeding someone a phony news story seems like buying a new hat for the Pope or a gift card for Jeff Bezos. The category is pretty much over-saturated.

April Fools’ Day can go in some unexpected directions. Come up with a particularly good hoax — say, that proposed vaccination passports are yet another anti-Christ plot, presumably to match the Satanic running shoes — and you may find that instead of reaping laughter, you are piling up campaign contributions. Yesterday’s ludicrous April Fools’ prank is today’s successful grift.

Or let’s say you concoct a phony news report that COVID was created by Zoom, which is secretly owned by George Soros. Not only will you fail to inspire laughter, you could be accused of ripping off Twitter account @Woke_Lizard_Fighter42.

Hasbro once played a prank that Mr. Potato Head had been replaced by a hipper, avocado-based substitute named Mr. Avo Head. That was just a couple of years ago, and yet somehow Fox News failed to have a collective meltdown. Times have certainly changed — this year various Fox shows treated (false) reports of the toy’s genderless rebranding as a crisis to make the Irish Potato Famine a historical footnote by comparison.

In defending a defamation claim launched against its most popular show host Tucker Carlson, Fox News recently argued in court — successfully — that no reasonable person would take Carlson seriously. More recently, lawyers for former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell made the same argument about their client. The most successful host on American cable news and a prominent member of the president’s legal team who led the fight to overturn an American election, both defended in court as self-evident clowns — in this environment, how can April Fools’ jokes compete?

Once upon a time, people perpetrating hoaxes had to prepare for backlash. Now they prepare by forming campaign committees.

So if you are contemplating an April Fools’ prank, you’d better be ready for the successful career that is sure to follow. Besides, unless you can come up with something wackier than a law against giving a bottle of water to a Georgia voter, you are just going to finish second to reality anyway.  [Tyee]

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