The History of Pranks

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Tracing the Roots of Wishful Thinking

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Hype, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin, The History of Pranks

As the year-end recaps gather on the horizon, many will attempt to make sense of Donald Trump’s ascent to the Presidency. Kurt Andersen’s book Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire provides a fascinating road-map.

The Atlantic posted a long excerpt. This is from Delancey Place about the roots of our inbred susceptibility to advertising.


“Are Americans More Willing to Believe in Advertising?”
Delancey Place
December 4, 2017

From the earliest days, and continuing for decades and even centuries, promoters of the New World enticed colonizers with the promise of riches, causing the historian Daniel Boorstin to suggest that ‘American civilization [has] been shaped by the fact that there was a kind of natural selection here of those people who were willing to believe in advertising’:

“Although [Sir Walter] Raleigh never visited North America himself, he believed that in addition to its gold deposits, his realm might somehow be the biblical Garden of Eden. … A large fraction of the first settlers dispatched by Raleigh became sick and died. He dispatched a second expedi­tion of gold-hunters. It also failed, and all those colonists died. But Sir Walter continued believing the dream of gold.

“In 1606 the new English king, James, despite Raleigh’s colonization di­sasters, gave a franchise to two new private enterprises, the Virginia Com­pany of London and the Virginia Company of Plymouth, to start colonies. The southern one, under the auspices of London, they named Jamestown after the monarch. Their royal charter was clear about the main mission: ‘to dig, mine, and search for all Manner of Mines of Gold … And to HAVE and enjoy the Gold.’ As Tocqueville wrote in his history two centuries later, ‘It was … gold-seekers who were sent to Virginia. No noble thought or conception above gain presided over the foundation of the new settlements.’ Two­-thirds of those first hundred gold-seekers promptly died. But the captain of the expedition returned to England claiming to have found ‘gold showing mountains.’ … In fact, Jamestown ore they dug and refined and shipped to England turned out to be iron pyrite, fool’s gold….” Read more.

Dance Liberation Front Declares Victory against NYC’s Anti-Fun Cabaret Law

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, The History of Pranks

Kudos to Rev Jen, Robert Prichard, Faceboy and everyone who contributed to this great act of civil disobedience in New York City!


Long Before Cabaret Law Repeal, ‘Dance Commandos’ Boogied for Justice
by Rev Jen
Chelsea Now
November 20, 2017

At the “Robot Dance Protest” at Federal Hall back in the early days of the Dance Liberation Front, from left, patriots John Foster, Rev. Jen, and Faceboy. Photo courtesy Rev. Jen.

It’s time for a victory dance! After 91 years, New York’s archaic Cabaret Law has been repealed in a 41-to-1 vote. So put on your dancin’ shoes, wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care, head to your favorite watering hole, and shake your booty clean off. (We have to wait until 30 days until after de Blasio signs off on the legislation, but it’s never too early to practice your moves at home.)

This victory holds a special space in my heart, as I have been working on the law’s repeal since 1998 when I formed the Dance Liberation Front (DLF), along with fellow Art Stars Robert Prichard and Faceboy.

It all started one morning when I bumped into Robert Prichard, the proprietor of the now-defunct Surf Reality (172 Allen St., btw. Stanton & Rivington Sts.). He told me that the previous evening, Baby Jupiter, a nearby club where I performed every Monday, was busted because their customers had been dancing.

I wasn’t sure I’d heard him correctly.

“Dancing?” I asked.

Rob explained that in order to crack down on nightlife, Giuliani had dusted off a regulation from the 1920s called the “Cabaret Law,” which states that more than four people dancing in an unlicensed venue serving alcohol is illegal. Out of the thousands of bars in New York City, only a handful of the most well-financed clubs were able to obtain the dancing license.

It took a minute to process the Kafkaesque concept: Dancing was illegal in “Fun City.”

Rob suggested we create a group — the DLF — to bring to light the heinous crime Guiliani’s nightlife task force was perpetrating on the public. Read the rest of this story here.

Watch the Movie the Mainstream Media Does Not Want You To See!

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Filed under: Art of the Prank - the movie, Art Pranks, Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, The History of Pranks, The Prank as Art

ART OF THE PRANK (the movie)
is now available for
Community Screenings
and on
VOD on iTunes, Amazon and more!

READ THE PRESS RELEASE HERE:
The Movie the Mainstream Media Does Not Want Anyone to See
Relight Films releases “Art of the Prank,”
an expose of the weaknesses of the news media.

Suburban Camouflage

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Illusion and Magic, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation, The History of Pranks, The World of the Prank

All’s fair in war, (and the love of deceit) including manufacturing urban landscapes. The podcast 99 Percent Invisible has built its audience on the power of paying attention to details that most people don’t think about… or even know. From its blog comes this tale of an aircraft manufacturing facility concealed within a fake neighborhood in Seattle.


“Prop Town: The Fake Rooftop Suburb That Hid a Whole WWII Airplane Factory”
by Kurt Kohlstedt
99 Percent Invisible
November 3, 2017

Boeing’s aircraft manufacturing facilities were critical to the World War II efforts of Allied forces. But the unexpected attack on Pearl Harbor stoked fears of potential aerial assaults by Japanese forces. Some factories put up camouflage netting to disguise structures, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took things a big step further on top of the Boeing Plant 2 in Seattle, crafting an entire faux neighborhood.

By the mid-1930s, Boeing’s old Plant 1 was becoming increasingly outdated. Interested in keeping the company local, an area truck driver offered to sell Boeing a large plot of land (for a nominal one-dollar fee) on which to build a new factory. Plant 2 was designed and erected to apply modern assembly-line technologies and speed up production.

This new complex grew and expanded, ultimately spanning 1.7 million square feet. It would come to facilitate the assembly of B-17 Flying Fortresses, B-29 Superfortresses, B-47 Stratojets, B-52 Stratofortresses and other aircraft through and beyond the war. Read more.

Richard Hambleton – RIP

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, The History of Pranks

Richard Hambleton, an artist credited with inspiring Banksy, passed away this week from unknown causes just days before his MoMA show and a month before the release of Shadowman, a new film about his life and work. Here’s an article about him from earlier this year.


The epic rise and disgusting flameout of the artist who ruled 80s New York
by Raquel Laneri
New York Post
April 15, 2017

In the early 1980s, a series of shadowy street paintings — life-size monsters and cowboys — loomed large over the East Village. Anticipating the works of Banksy by more than a decade, the unsigned figures were created under cover of darkness on buildings and bridges. They weren’t mere graffiti, but painterly works reminiscent of Jackson Pollock. Downtown residents buzzed about who could be behind them.

The art world knew who it was: a soft-spoken Canadian — often clad in a cravat and sunglasses — named Richard Hambleton.

At downtown galleries, his mysterious figures fetched thousands of dollars more than work by his friends Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. He attended parties with beautiful women on his arm, and Andy Warhol begged him, in vain, to sit for a portrait.

Hambleton canvased Manhattan with some 450 shadow men — and managed to get a few on the Berlin Wall, too. But by the 1990s, he was largely forgotten, living in a drug den on the Lower East Side. He was so poor that he would shoot himself up with heroin, then use the blood in his needle as paint. Read more here.

Carl Sagan’s Crash Course in Critical Thinking

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin, The History of Pranks

This could hardly be more timely, so we’re revisiting Maria Popova’s Brainpickings review of “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection,” a chapter from Carl Sagan’s book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, in which the legendary scientist distills his years of professional skepticism into a primer for recognizing and calling BS in everyday life. H/t Dino.


“The Baloney Detection Kit: Carl Sagan’s Rules for Bullshit-Busting and Critical Thinking”
By Maria Popova
BrainPickings
January 3, 2014

Sagan reflects on the many types of deception to which we’re susceptible — from psychics to religious zealotry to paid product endorsements by scientists, which he held in especially low regard, noting that they “betray contempt for the intelligence of their customers” and “introduce an insidious corruption of popular attitudes about scientific objectivity.” (Cue in PBS’s Joe Hanson on how to read science news.) But rather than preaching from the ivory tower of self-righteousness, Sagan approaches the subject from the most vulnerable of places — having just lost both of his parents, he reflects on the all too human allure of promises of supernatural reunions in the afterlife, reminding us that falling for such fictions doesn’t make us stupid or bad people, but simply means that we need to equip ourselves with the right tools against them.

Through their training, scientists are equipped with what Sagan calls a “baloney detection kit” — a set of cognitive tools and techniques that fortify the mind against penetration by falsehoods:

The kit is brought out as a matter of course whenever new ideas are offered for consideration. If the new idea survives examination by the tools in our kit, we grant it warm, although tentative, acceptance. If you’re so inclined, if you don’t want to buy baloney even when it’s reassuring to do so, there are precautions that can be taken; there’s a tried-and-true, consumer-tested method.

But the kit, Sagan argues, isn’t merely a tool of science — rather, it contains invaluable tools of healthy skepticism that apply just as elegantly, and just as necessarily, to everyday life. By adopting the kit, we can all shield ourselves against clueless guile and deliberate manipulation. Sagan shares nine of these tools. Read more.


The Spooky History of a Time-Travel Hoax

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Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fact or Fiction?, Media Pranks, Pranksters, The History of Pranks, You Decide

For some retro Halloween fun, this fascinating oral history dives into a carefully constructed paranormal e-drama from the early ’00s.


“The Oral History of John Titor, the Man Who Traveled Back In Time to Save the Internet”
by K. Thor Jensen
Thrillist
October 19, 2017

Anyone can be anybody from the other side of a screen: a Nigerian prince pleading for money; a lonely housewife “catfishing” a romantic interest; or a 14-year-old girl posing as just about anyone. From the “bonsai kitten” scandal of 2000 to the Lonelygirl15 “vlogs,” the internet has proved itself to be fertile ground for hoax-makers, scam artists, and digital charlatans.

One legendary hoax captivated fans of the supernatural and the paranormal like few others. November 2, 2000 saw the first online post by the individual who would come to be known as “John Titor.” Titor claimed to be a man from the future, sent to the past to retrieve… a portable computer. Though shrouded by forum avatars, his specific instructions on what he was here to accomplish, and what society would look like in his version of the future, kicked off a frenzy of investigation, speculation, and deception that has lasted for nearly two decades.

Some people believed “John Titor” completely. Others became obsessed with errors and inconsistencies, digital detectives trying to uncover the truth behind the story. Before it was over, Titor would make his way to an animation studio in Japan, a wrestling ring in Pennsylvania, and a prison cell in Oregon.

This is his story, as told by the people who fell deep into it.

Read the whole story here.


New Joey Skaggs Article and a Sneak Preview of ART OF THE PRANK Movie on HuffPost

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Filed under: Art of the Prank - the movie, Art Pranks, Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, The History of Pranks, The Prank as Art, Urban Legends

Roach Vitamins Hailed as Miracle Drug. Bon Appétit!
by Joey Skaggs
HuffPost
October 10, 2017

Joey Skaggs as Dr. Josef Gregor in his Metamorphosis Roach Cure hoax, 1981

Here’s a snippet:

As an artist, I discovered in the 1960s that I could use the mass media as a vehicle to make social and political commentary on a broad scale. So, for the last 50+ years, I’ve used the media as my medium as a painter uses a canvas. From my earliest performance pieces (a.k.a. media hoaxes), the Hippie Bus Tour to Queens, followed by the Cathouse for Dogs and the Celebrity Sperm Bank, I found that by creating plausible, but totally fictitious stories, played out in real life, I could hook the media into reporting them as fact.

The key to success has always been a salacious, sensational or ironic hook with a great visual that is just irresistible to reporters on tight deadlines…

Read the whole story here.

ART OF THE PRANK Movie Exclusive Clips!

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Filed under: Art of the Prank - the movie, Prank News, The History of Pranks, The Prank as Art

Art of the Prank teaser preview

Here are two exclusive clips from ART OF THE PRANK, Andrea Marini’s award-winning documentary about artist, activist Joey Skaggs.


Art of the Prank Exclusive Clip Offers Social Commentary on Independent Thinking, by Karen Bernardello, Shock Ya!, September 18, 2017


Watch an exclusive clip from documentary Art of the Prank, by Gary Collison, flickeringmyth.com, September 27, 2017

The Library Pranksters Who Paid a Heavy Fine

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Legal Issues, Literary Hoaxes, Political Challenges, Pranksters, Sociology and Psychology of Pranks, The History of Pranks

These men pranked their local library. Homophobic outrage ensued. A bitter look back at a time of high stakes for creative pranksters.


“The Strange, Sad Story of Joe Orton, His Lover, and 72 Stolen Library Books”
by Natasha Frost
Atlas Obscura
August 9, 2017

A search warrant might seem excessive for library book hoarding—but Halliwell and Orton were no ordinary library pilferers. For over two years, Orton and Halliwell had been smuggling books out of their local libraries, the magnificent Art Nouveau Islington Central Library on London’s Holloway Road and nearby red-brick Essex Road Library—and then returning them.

Orton hid books in a satchel; Halliwell, six-and-a-half years older, used a gas mask case. They would take them home, redo their covers and dust-jackets, and then slip them back onto the shelves.

Sometimes, these alterations were obscene: a reader scanning a relatively tame Dorothy Sayers whodunit would find themselves confronted with a mystery even before they opened the book. The blurb now described some missing knickers and a seven-inch phallus, and concluded: “READ THIS BEHIND CLOSED DOORS! And have a good s*** while you are reading!” Meanwhile, the collected plays of Emlyn Williams, a Welsh dramatist, suddenly included “Knickers Must Fall,” “Olivia Prude,” “Up The Front,” and “Up The Back.” Read more.


ART OF THE PRANK Movie to Air on Sky Arts in the UK

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Filed under: Prank News, Pranksters, The Future of Pranks, The History of Pranks, The Prank as Art

ART OF THE PRANK on Sky Arts in the UK

September 18, 2017 at 12:20 am
September 18, 2017 at 6:00 pm
September 18, 2017 at 11:00 pm

Flushing a Movement

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, The History of Pranks

Paul Krassner reviews Pat Thomas’ book, Did It! From Yippie To Yuppie: Jerry Rubin, An American Revolutionary,.


Hippies, radicals, pranksters: Jerry Rubin has a bio and Paul Krassner has our review
by Paul Krassner
Jacket Copy, Los Angeles Times
August 31, 2017

Jerry Rubin (right) and Paul Krassner share a joint in the late ’60s. (Fantagraphics Books, Inc.)

Pat Thomas, the author of “Did It! From Yippie To Yuppie: Jerry Rubin, An American Revolutionary,” had noticed that there were six books about co-activist Abbie Hoffman, but none about Jerry Rubin, so Thomas welcomed the challenge. Seventy-five co-conspirators were interviewed for revealing anecdotes galore (including me), and this tome is a unique oral and visual history heavy enough to sink into your coffee table.

Rubin had written a few books himself, though. The first was 1970’s “DO iT!” Under the influence of Ritalin, he recorded all the material swirling in his mind, and his girlfriend Nancy Kurshan transcribed 700 pages that had to be severely trimmed down. That book was heiress Patty Hearst’s favorite, radicalizing her, especially the part about rebelling against elite parents.

In January 1964, Rubin was 26 with a thick handlebar mustache, bored as a journalist for the Cincinnati Post. He moved to UC Berkeley for grad school, but dropped out during his first semester. He then asked so many questions about local politics, filling his notebook so much, that several activists thought he was a cop. But by May 1965, at the Berkeley campus he had organized a Vietnam teach-in, the largest in the U.S.

He called me in New York, inviting me to speak there. I urged him to also contact folksinger Phil Ochs, who could perform appropriate songs between speeches. Rubin had never heard of Ochs, but he accepted my suggestion. They would eventually become deep friends.

When Rubin was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee, he wore a rented American Revolutionary costume, and he gave out copies of the Declaration of Independence. As the marshals carried him out, he yelled, “I want to testify!” He had manipulated the media to spread his patriotic message on radio, TV and the front pages of newspapers across the country. Read the rest of this review here.

ART OF THE PRANK to screen Sept 11 in NYC

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Filed under: Art of the Prank - the movie, Art Pranks, Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, The History of Pranks, The Prank as Art

This screening is free and everyone is invited!

SVA After School Special screening
 
 

Andrea Marini’s award winning documentary film, ART OF THE PRANK, about the life and work of Joey Skaggs, has been selected to open the SVA Alumni Film and Animation Festival at the beautiful SVA Theatre on West 23rd Street in New York.

When:
September 11, 2017

Where:
SVA Theatre
333 West 23rd Street
New York, NY

Joey Skaggs will be there and will do a Q&A after the screening.


This will be a great chance to see the film on the big screen in New York
before it is released on the digital platforms like iTunes, Amazon, Googleplay in October
(stay tuned for details).


TICKET DETAILS:
THIS SCREENING IS FREE!
General Admission RSVPs via Eventbrite are appreciated
but not necessary, and do not guarantee admittance.
Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis.
Doors will open approximately 30 minutes prior to each screening.

Portofess: The Church Must Go Where the Sinners Are!

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, The Big One, The History of Pranks, The Prank as Art

The Story of the ‘Portofess,’ the Prank Confessional Booth at the 1992 Democratic Convention
by Sarah Laskow
Atlas Obscura
July 14, 2017

Artist Joey Skaggs fooled everyone and pedaled off.

Father Anthony Joseph (aka Joey Skaggs) pedals his Portofess to the 1992 Democratic National Convention, courtesy Joey Skaggs Archive

At 1992’s Democratic National Convention, a Dominican priest showed up on a tricycle. Attached to the back was a confessional booth, with a sign that read “Portofess.” The priest said he biked to New York, where the convention was held, all the way from California. The church, according to the priest, needed to take a “more aggressive stance and go where the sinners are.” He was ready to take confession from any politician who wanted or needed it.

The Portofess made papers all over the country. But soon enough Reuters revealed that the Archdiocese in California had never heard of this priest, who called himself Father Anthony Joseph or, sometimes, Father William. All other efforts to find him after the convention failed, as well, because he wasn’t a priest at all, but a character conceived by artist and activist Joey Skaggs, who has perfected the art of pranking the media.

Skaggs’s works include “Fish Condos” for upwardly mobile guppies, “Santa’s Missile Tow,” which featured Santa and his elves bringing a missile to the United Nations, and many other sculptures and performances. He talked to Atlas Obscura about what it took to create the Portofess and what reactions he got from the police, protestors, and the public. Read the full interview here.


“‘Right-wing news’ is oxymoronic”

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation, The History of Pranks

With interesting clarity, Terry Heaton shows how he and other producers of Evangelical television used propaganda to seed the false narrative of the liberal “elite” news media and in the process created right-wing news and, ultimately, the Republican religious right. Now he wants to take it all back.


How The Religious Right Pioneered Propaganda As News
by Terry Heaton
HuffPost
June 16, 2017

Before Fox News, there was Pat Robertson’s ‘700 Club,’ where I was an executive producer.

Television evangelist and conservative political activist Pat Robertson poses in the control room for his 700 Club TV show. (Photo by © Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

So-called “fake news” took center stage on several occasions during former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week. More than once, Comey pointed to specific articles by the New York Times as not true or completely false. However, he did validate others, including one in which he himself had been the Times’ source. The fake news meme has become one of the most troubling arguments in the history of contemporary journalism, ever since Donald Trump used the term to describe CNN at his first press conference as president.

Americans find themselves drowning in this unseemly and childish battle for the soul of news and information purveyance, and the undiscussed problem is that the entire mess is built on the false narrative of “the liberal (elite) press.” I know, because I was among the people who advanced the concept and shaped the discussion in the early ‘80s, as senior and executive producer of Pat Robertson’s flagship television program The 700 Club.

Before Fox News, there was The 700 Club with CBN News and “TV Journalism With A Different Spirit.” We knew what we were doing in the exploitation of the word “liberal,” and truth-telling demands its deconstruction today. The all-or-nothing split between conflicting political narratives has reached its pinnacle with the election of Donald Trump, and it needs to be hacked into a million pieces.

William F. Buckley was among the first to give the word “liberal” a pejorative interpretation, but it was the wordsmith William Safire writing for Spiro Agnew who in 1969 elevated it to a political talking point in his famous speech that opened the war against the press during Richard Nixon’s secret battles in Vietnam. The word became the central weapon in a strategy that involved attacking the messenger instead of changing the message.

That political strategy has been so effective to date that it has given birth to the idea that mainstream news is actually “fake news” and not to be believed in the administration of President Donald Trump. The number of people who now believe this falsehood is staggering, and it poses a real threat to our democracy. (more…)