We kick off April with of course, April Fools Day. A day during which pranking people is expected. The origins of the day is uncertain.
It has been linked to the ancient Roman festival of Hilaria which was celebrated at the end of March and involved people dressing up in disguises.
Regardless of the origins, it spread throughout Britain during the 18th century and made it’s way into other countries.
There has been some elaborate pranks played on April Fools Day. There has also been some played not related to the day but in the spirit thereof.
The Great Spaghetti Harvest
In 1957 the BBC broadcast a segment reporting on an exceptionally heavy spaghetti crop in Ticino, a Swiss town near the Italian border. The report showed trees laden with cooked spaghetti being harvested by people picking it off the trees and then sitting down to enjoy their real, home-grown spaghetti.
People, realizing they had been pranked, contacted the BBC to complain about the fictional segment. Others contacted the BBC to ask how they could grow their own spaghetti at home.
That gullibility reminded me of a story my dad told me and might explain the one character’s comments.
Dad was a veteran of the Italian campaign of WW2. He was also a person who didn’t show his age. When he was in his 80s people would often think he was maybe in his 60s. His young appearance led to some not believing that he was a war veteran.
Dad would often talk about some of the culture he had encountered during his time in Italy. He was sharing a story one day with a group at a veterans club. One of the guys at the table had shown indications before that he didn’t believe dad was a veteran but he’d not actually said anything directly.
Dad was talking about how dirt poor the people were in this one area his unit was operating in but how generous the people were as well. While on patrol one day they had ‘liberated’ a stash of tomatoes and other food from some Germans they had taken prisoner.
The guys decided to share the food among the locals as it likely had been stolen from them in the first place. The locals responded by insisting on making a meal of spaghetti to share with the troops. Dad was telling the group how the locals made the pasta by hand and how skilled they were doing so.
The disbeliever had been sitting silently until that point. At the mention of the pasta, he sat up, wagged a finger at dad and roared, “You’re a damn liar! Any fool knows that spaghetti is not pasta!”
It could be the fellow had seen that BBC report.
“You can say any foolish thing to do to a dog, and the dog will give you a look that says, ‘My God, you’re right! I never would’ve thought of that!'” –Dave Berry
Prankster in a Bottle
While not an April Fools Day prank, I loved this one.
In January 1749 several British noblemen having had a discussion about the gullibility of the public decided to test the theory. The Duke of Portland bet the Earl of Chesterfield that he could advertise an impossible feat and “find fools enough in London to fill a playhouse and pay handsomely for the privilege of being there.”
The Earl accepted the bet and the game was on.
An ad appeared in London papers reporting that on January 16th that a person would squeeze himself into a regular wine bottle placed on the stage. This person would sing while in the bottle and anyone in the audience could handle the bottle to satisfy themselves it was a regular bottle. The ad also suggested that anyone could attend masked and the performer would tell them who they were.
The ad claimed the performance had been seen by most of the crowned Heads of Asia, Africa and Europe but there had never been a public performance.
The ad had the desired effect. On the night of the performance the venue was packed with a standing room only crowd. No performer appeared and no alternative entertainment was offered. The crowd became agitated.
An announcement was made that if the performer didn’t appear within the next fifteen minutes, everyone would receive a refund. That was not enough to calm the masses and a riot ensued. During the riot, the receipts were stolen thus no one received.
Efforts were made in the days following the riot to determine who the pranksters were. It was years later before the truth came out.
“Every man is a damn fool for at least five minutes every day; wisdom consists in not exceeding the limit.” ? Elbert Hubbard
Naked Came the Stranger
Even the literary world is not without elaborate hoaxes.
In 1969 Newsday columnnist, Mike McGrady decided to test out his idea that American culture had reached the point that any book could succeed if enough sex was thrown into it.
He recruited twenty-four fellow writers to take part. Each writer was to contribute one chapter for the book. They were to be terribly written and contain a lot of sex. Some of the chapters had to be edited because they were too well written.
The ‘plot’ of the book revolved around a couple hosting a very popular breakfast radio show where they appeared to be the perfect couple, Gillian and William Blake. When Gillian learned William was cheating she set off to cheat on him. The book consists of vignettes of her adventures with a variety of men from their neighbourhood. Her partners ranged from a progressive rabbi to a mobster.
The book, Naked Came the Stranger, was authored by the fictitious author, Penelope Ashe and was published by an independent publisher known for controversial books, especially with sexual content. In short order it reached sales of 20,000 copies and landed on the New York Times Bestseller list.
The male authors gave their confession about the hoax on the David Frost Show. Frost introduced “Penelope Ashe” and the men walked out single file onto the stage. Revealing the hoax didn’t diminish the sales. By the end of the year the book had spent thirteen weeks on the NYT Bestseller list.
It continues to sell on Amazon. The Kindle edition is ranked 927 in Satire.
“People do not wish to appear foolish; to avoid the appearance of foolishness, they are willing to remain actually fools.” ? Alice Walker
Gullibility is Not A Function of Intelligence
I’m never failed to be amazed at what some people are willing to accept as fact. What amazes me even more is when otherwise intelligent individuals accept as fact some of the most outrageous ideas.
It’s no wonder we have so many conspiracy theories floating around with so many embracing the ideas as absolute fact.