I hate April Fool’s Day. It is easily my least favorite day of the year. Worse than Tax Day, worse than Black Friday, worse than Hitler’s birthday, the worst. What makes it even worse is when I say how much I hate it and then have people tell me, “What? You? You of all people should love April Fool’s Day!”
Wait, you mean because I like telling jokes, that I should enjoy a holiday that celebrates bad pranks? Here’s the thing about a joke, it’s meant to make people laugh. People who enjoy telling jokes, we like making people laugh. And we especially don’t need a holiday to tell us when we’re allowed to joke around. A really good prank would, yes, ideally, involve the pranked laughing at the end, the delayed gratification of a big punchline, where if you’re a good sport, everyone wins. But how often does that happen? 99 percent of the time, a prank ends with the pranker smiling and everyone else pissed off. Someone on my Twitter timeline put it most succinctly:
April Fools jokes do the exact opposite of what comedy should do. The only person laughing is the one who made the joke.
— Simon Blackwell (@simonblackwell) March 31, 2014
To give you a good example of a typical April Fool’s Day prank, a morning radio show in the DC area (or at least, one syndicated in the DC area) this morning told people they were giving away free guitars. They waited for the people to show up to the station, then they had someone out in the parking lot who specified that they were actually handing out free AIR guitars, and pantomimed handing imaginary guitars to people who showed up. HAHA, GET IT?!? I’m sure the hilarity of being handed an imaginary guitar totally outweighed wasting half a morning to drive to a place only to be ridiculed. I’m being sarcastic, of course, the only funny part of that prank would be if it ended in a severe beating. Welcome to Chico and the Bandage in the morning, live from the hospital! (*truck horn, toilet flush, traffic report*)
Here’s another morning show‘s example of some hilarious “last-minute pranks” you can play on your co-workers.
1. Tape a piece of paper to the bottom of your co-worker’s mouse. It blocks the laser on the bottom and the mouse won’t work.
2. Go into the fridge and turn all the soda tabs 180 degrees. People won’t notice at first, and they won’t be able to open them. [Wait, are your co-workers blind? -Ed]
3. Buy bags of Skittles, M&M’s, and Reese’s Pieces. Then mix all three into one candy dish. People will HATE you.
4. Pop the keys off someone’s keyboard and put them back in the wrong spots.
5. Print out a sign and put it over the office copier that says, “The copy repairman came and installed voice activation. Instead of hitting ‘copy,’ you have to say the number of copies you want in a loud and clear voice.”
Number 6, slash your boss’s tires, and then when he’s waiting for the tow truck, burn his house to the ground!
Even worse are the countless websites who normally do news pretending they’re The Onion for a day. Except with the Onion, you know it’s a joke right away from the masthead. You don’t get halfway down the page and suddenly think, “Wait, I’ve been had!”
There’s a big difference between a funny story and a fake story that’s written to make it sound plausible. Yet so many sites think the height of April Fool’s humor is tricking someone into reading a provocative headline only to piss them off halfway into the story when they realize it’s not real. How is that even different from normal Upworthy or Buzzfeed standard practice, by the way? By switching the mild disappointment of a link-bait headline with genuine anger over a fake one?
The problem with April Fool’s Day is that it goes further than bad jokes (though bad jokes are the most obnoxious part). I was reading Walter Kirn’s new book about a con artist the other day (great read, incidentally), and there was a great passage about how much of society is built on trust:
We’re brought up to trust and could hardly function otherwise. The cop who pulls us over to write a ticket must be a cop because he wears the uniform; the bank teller to whom we hand our paycheck is depositing it, not stealing it, because he works behind a marble counter; the nurse who places our newborn in our arms is really a nurse because she’s holding our baby, and our baby is our baby because she’s holding it. When trust is abused, the need for it persists.
I think about this every time I’m walking down the street and someone with a clipboard tries to use my natural inclination to exchange pleasantries with a pretty stranger only to quickly find that they’re simply abusing that basic trust in order to trap me in conversation so that they can then ask me to sign some petition they’re getting paid 25 cents a signature for, or however much. Do we really need to be gradually inoculating ourselves against the possibility of a meet-cute? We already hate each other enough.
I feel like pranks might have been funnier in the days before everything was a bait or a troll or a satire or a fake viral video where a girl’s going to light her pubes on fire and we share it seven million times before the extended version comes out and Jimmy Kimmel pops out of the wall at the end and flips us the bird. No thanks, I don’t want to develop a callus against experiencing genuine spontaneity. It’s like we’re constantly in this middle ground of having to wonder if we can actually trust anything, or if someone’s just f*cking with us in order to have a “teaching moment,” like the #CancelColbert girl, who actually likes Colbert, but just wanted to “start a conversation!” And what a great conversation it’s going to be when it starts with disingenuousness and hyperbole!
I think that’s the same reason I’m Still Here and any number of Shia Labeouf’s “performance art” tantrums have fallen flat, despite whatever point they were trying to make about media coverage. They still started based on a lie. You can’t fight bullshit with more bullshit, you just get an even bigger pile of shit.
I guess my beef is less with April Fool’s Day than with the fact that it never seems to end. I don’t know what April Fool’s Day is meant to celebrate (at least not without looking it up). But maybe we could find a way to celebrate it other than doing a more obnoxious version of the things we’re already doing the other 364 days of the year?