Destiny Interviews RU Sirius

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Filed under: All About Pranks, How to Pull Off a Prank, Instructionals, The History of Pranks

Writer, Destiny interviews RU Sirius about the online Pranks course he’ll soon be teaching:

On February 11 (Note new date), countercultural writer and historian RU Sirius is teaching an online course on Pranks, Pranksters, Tricksters, & Tricks for the Maybe Logic Institute, an online academy started by friends and supporters of the late Discordian legend Robert Anton Wilson. Sirius promises to teach trickster mythology and prankster history and to lead the class in planning and making pranks. Prankster legend/ Editor Joey Skaggs, and Mark Hosler of Negativland, will both be dropping in on the course. I asked him a few questions about the upcoming class.


Destiny: Your course covers Pranksters and Tricksters. Is there a difference between them?

RU Sirius: There’s a lot of crossover, but yeah, they’re different. For starters, obviously the trickster is a mythological concept — or a series of mythological figures — and a prankster is a real flesh and blood mortal. Trickster activities generally take place among the gods. Tricksters prank powerful, otherworldly beings while pranksters prank schmucks who think they’re in control.

Also the figure of the trickster, as it’s been characterized by Lewis Hyde (author of the seminal book, Trickster Makes The World), might be described as amoral or even immoral. Tricksters tend to appear in cultures and mythological systems where the boundaries and values and taboos are very well defined. And in these legends, you have your morally straight characters and you have your basic grim and serious “bad guys.” And then you have these tricksters who are playful and unpredictable criminals… thiefs mostly — and they’re generally imaginative and sneaky and able to play with ambiguity in otherwise rather diagrammatic narratives. And while they might commit theft or even murder, they also might unexpectedly leave behind gifts, or do things that confound or illuminate their victims, but there’s always some strategy, some sort of selfish motivation. Also, while the Trickster is clever, he (almost all are male) is also a fuck-up. Tricksters tend to get snared in their own tricks.

Tricksters are a source of humor and delight for the storyteller (many of these stories are passed down within an oral tradition.) In that way, trickster mythologies provide a way for cultures to acknowledge and enjoy a bit of transgression and chaos and uncertainty.

But the mythological trickster isn’t out to “subvert the dominant paradigm” — or anything of that sort — by blowing minds, although it sort of does that as a side effect. And it isn’t out to reveal the hypocrisy of the morally correct or the powerful, although that may be implicit in some of the stories. The trickster is really characterized as being selfishly motivated.

D: By contrast, pranksters are trying to make a statement.

RU: Sometimes. Or they’re just trying to blow minds for the sake of blowing minds. If selfish gain is the main motivation, it’s probably just fraud. Although there is, of course, a middle ground — the well-marketed prankster like Stephen Colbert or Andy Kaufman, or Malcolm McLaren with the Sex Pistols during their moment.

I think some pranksters are coming from a place of amorality or ethical ambiguity and are not so much trying to make a statement as they are responding to some sort of inner compulsion to remove the giant stick from up civilization’s ass (or mind). And they’ll do it a few sticks at a time, by rudely — and humorously — reminding the control freaks that they’re not in control. Other pranksters, like the Yes Men, are specifically pranking on people with power and authority in ways that reveal something about the nature of those systems.

D: Which do you prefer?

RU: They both have their place, but I’ve got to say that I’m re-reading the ReSearch Pranks book (the second one) in preparation for teaching this course and I’m totally cracked up by the stories in there about the Suicide Club and the Cacophony Society. And those pranks were basically about fucking with people’s heads — creating situations where the sameness of day-to-day life in a modern urban or suburban environment was interrupted by people doing things that are just plain inexplicable and confounding and — in a visceral way — maybe just a little bit threatening. Those pranks that are just a little bit twisted are the most interesting because they really make you think harder, and then think again.

D: What do you hope people will get from the course?

RU: It will be fun and interesting to examine tricksters and pranksters intellectually and examine what that is all about, but I’m far more excited that I’m challenging the class members and myself to come up with a prank, or groups of pranks, that we will carry out when the class is over. And I’m coming to that without any preconceptions. Maybe we’ll come up with something that will give 21st Century Western Civilization the psychic enema it so desperately needs.

Destiny is a free-lance writer who writes for Wired News, Salon, Slashdot, Feed, Suck, Upside, Boardwatch, MSNBC, Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition, and GettingIt

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