All About Pranks

This blog has submissions from many known and not so known pranksters, artists, performers, activists and writers. It provides a continuing and growing exploration into the art of the prank; the role of the prankster as artist, activist and social observer; and the contribution of the prank to society.

Blog Posts

Sinclair Broadcasting Screams “Fake News” But They Are Fake News!

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Filed under: First Amendment Issues, Media Literacy, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin

Gene Policinski, President & COO of the Newseum Institute, opines on the Sinclair Publishing hostage scenario revealed by Deadspin in a video of news anchors all over the country spouting chillingly identical propaganda.


Policinski: Next time, just put your name to the message
Gene Policinski
Indise the First Amendment
April 7, 2018

Sinclair Broadcasting’s recent promotional message on the state of today’s news — delivered to its TV audiences nationwide — is as protected by the First Amendment as it was an oafish attempt to hide corporate messaging under the veneer of local news reporting.

In other words, it was commentary from a conservative company that has a First Amendment right to express its views, but it was also a shoddy tactic that undermined the very thing Sinclair’s leadership claimed to support: good journalism.

Deadspin — an online sports news site — put together a now widely shared video of news anchors from 45 Sinclair-owned American stations, all reading in synchrony from the same script. The video’s echo-chamber effect laid bare what many have described as an “Orwellian” attempt to deliver a persuasive message using trusted voices in local journalism.

Watch the video:
Sinclair’s Soldiers in Trump’s War on Media Video, by Deadspin

The mash-up of TV anchors, delivering the script with varying degrees of sincerity, prompted dire warnings from left-leaning cable news commentators about media consolidation and ulterior political motives.

President Trump tweeted a defense of Sinclair, using the controversy to take yet another swipe at the same mainstream news outlets he frequently attacks: “So funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased.”

Trump has it wrong — critics took aim at the method, not the message.

Let’s parse the actual effort… Read the rest of this article here.

TV News Pranks Lead to Litigation

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Legal Issues, Media Literacy, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Prank News, Pranksters

It’s 2018, and TV news is apparently more relevant and dangerous than ever. Learn more about our old pals Chop and Steele with the Vice News team.


“Meet the Comedy Duo Who Got Sued for Pranking the News”
By Oliver Noble and Brandon Lisy
Vice News
March 22, 2018

When they infiltrated three morning news programs by passing themselves off as a hilariously unathletic strongman duo, Brooklyn comedians Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett were not the first people to prank TV News.

Left-leaning activists The Yes Men famously infiltrated BBC, and right-wing provocateur James O’Keefe unsuccessfully attempted to plant a false story in the Washington Post. But Prueher and Pickett, who run the Found Footage Festival, have no overt political agenda and are happy to simply interrupt news programming with the absurd or profane.

Out of embarrassment or pragmatism, media companies generally avoid legal retaliation after getting pranked. Yet when Prueher and Pickett pranked Gray Television, the company sued, kicking off a battle over free speech, comedy, and how easy it can be get past TV bookers. Read more.

April Fools’ Day 2018: Stunt Roundup

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Filed under: All About Pranks, Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Media Literacy, Parody, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Prank News, Pranksters, Publicity Stunts, Satire, The History of Pranks, The World of the Prank

The smirking array of pranks, stunts, and fake marketing drives has become a predictable April Fool’s Day rite. Our finest brands and capital-C Creative Teams use this opportunity to trot out wacky ideas and to attempt to out-clever each other in a quest for attention.

You can set your sundial by it, but that’s no reason, in itself, to complain. Plenty of brand-based April Fool’s japes are entertaining, and a few pack genuinely subversive elements.

Sunday finds the virtual prank parade already in progress. The clowns have been rolling out all week, in acknowledgement of the holiday schedule, and probably as part of a phenomenon similar to Christmas Creep, in which April Fool’s Day threatens to slowly engulf more and more of the year.

There are few unique challenges against which this year’s festival of cleverness must contend. April Fool’s Day falls on a Sunday, and on the Easter holiday, widely observed in nations where influential marketers and media entities are based. It also falls against a background characterized by extreme distrust and hostility toward advertisers, Silicon Valley tech giants, and a political climate in which the US presidential administration’s most favored PR approach resembles gaslighting. Increasingly, the media treat April Fool’s brand stunts with outward cynicism and exhaustion.

In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica controversy that is grinding away at Facebook, tech brands face a tough room this year. Google, in particular, has always embraced cheeky self-awareness in its pranks, a winking sense of, “everyone seems to think we’re going to control the world someday – and wouldn’t it be kind of neat if we did?” This year’s battery of GOOG yuks, including a “bad joke detector” and an API for different varieties of hummus, acknowledges the inherent absurdity of Google’s algorithmic, data-driven approach to world domination. Google’s work is state-of-the-art in terms of creative skill, but it feels at least few weeks behind the times.

In the Scott Dikkers taxonomy of jokes, irony and parody are hard to make stick in 2018. Gentle absurdity, wordplay, and “madcap” humor may be an easier plan.

Coinciding with Easter Sunday may make it harder to nab eyeballs, but some brands are using it to their advantage. The Chocolate Whopper is one of many gags that draws ridiculous associations with holiday sweets. Following up the success of the emoji car horn, one of the most charming 2017 stunts, Honda returns with another winning exercise in pure silliness. One tech company simply gave a crapload of money to people who need it, which may be the most heartwarming and unorthodox 4/1 tactic on record.

In the non-commercial realm, artists and social critics are addressing the elephant in the room, head on. From anonymous Craigslist pranksters to our own head honcho Joey Skaggs and his annual April Fool’s Day parade, there’s plenty of puckish and ambitious parody directed at Trump and his inherently ridiculous milieu.

Arguably, the best thing that can come from the widespread crisis in confidence that is 2018 is a greater premium on critical thinking and the importance of placing our relentless and exhausting news cycle in its broader context.

As usual, Atlas Obscura does rigorous yet unpretentious work putting curiosities and absurdities against the backdrop of history, in an entertaining and approachable fashion. All week, it has showcased examples of old-school irreverence, from bird dung to a theoretical cactus, as a reminder that high-profile pranks have always been with us, and their spirit is always worth preserving and celebrating. (Thanks to Dr. Bob O’Keefe for the tip on this one.)

7,000 Pairs of Shoes is 7,000 Too Many

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Filed under: Creative Activism, First Amendment Issues, Political Challenges, Prank News

A powerful display of empty shoes on Capitol Lawn remembers the thousands of children killed by gun violence in America in recent years. #NotOneMore


7,000 Pairs Of Shoes On Capitol Lawn Are Powerful Nod To Gun Violence
by Willa Frej
Huffington Post
March 14, 2018

They are meant to represent the number of children killed in shootings since Sandy Hook.

With the epicenter of policymaking looming large in the background, activists on Tuesday placed 7,000 pairs of empty shoes across the Capitol lawn, an impossible-to-ignore symbol of the children lost to gun violence since the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre.

Families who have lost children to shootings were invited to contribute their kids’ shoes, said global advocacy group Avaaz, which organized the event.

“I’ll be traveling to D.C. literally wearing my son Daniel’s shoes, the ones he wore the day he died at Columbine,” said Tom Mauser, whose son was killed in the Columbine mass shooting. “I think this kind of event with shoes offers a very powerful metaphor both for how we miss the victims who once filled those shoes, and also for how we see ourselves wanting to walk in their place, seeking change, so that others don’t have to walk this painful journey.”

People across the country, including celebrities, donated shoes to the display, which Avaaz said covered more than 10,000 square feet of grounds outside the Capitol. Several Democratic lawmakers visited the site, taking the opportunity to call out congressional inaction on gun reform.

According to CNN, Avaaz took the 7,000 figure from a 2017 American Academy of Pediatrics report, which found that almost 1,300 children die from gunshot wounds in the U.S. every year.

Tom Mauser lost his son Daniel at Columbine. He’s at the Capitol today to say #NotOneMore. Read more

Aviv Ovadya and the Coming “Infocalypse”

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fraud and Deception, Legal Issues, Media Literacy, Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation, The Future of Pranks

In a far-ranging, frightening, and fascinating interview, Buzzfeed News catches up with engineer and tech prognosticator Aviv Ovadya, who anticipated the current scourge of “fake news” and says we haven’t seen anything yet.


“He Predicted The 2016 Fake News Crisis. Now He’s Worried About An Information Apocalypse.”
By Charlie Warzel
Buzzfeed
February 11, 2018

In mid-2016, Aviv Ovadya realized there was something fundamentally wrong with the internet — so wrong that he abandoned his work and sounded an alarm. A few weeks before the 2016 election, he presented his concerns to technologists in San Francisco’s Bay Area and warned of an impending crisis of misinformation in a presentation he titled “Infocalypse”

The web and the information ecosystem that had developed around it was wildly unhealthy, Ovadya argued. The incentives that governed its biggest platforms were calibrated to reward information that was often misleading and polarizing, or both. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google prioritized clicks, shares, ads, and money over quality of information, and Ovadya couldn’t shake the feeling that it was all building toward something bad — a kind of critical threshold of addictive and toxic misinformation. The presentation was largely ignored by employees from the Big Tech platforms — including a few from Facebook who would later go on to drive the company’s NewsFeed integrity effort.

“At the time, it felt like we were in a car careening out of control and it wasn’t just that everyone was saying, “we’ll be fine’ — it’s that they didn’t even see the car,” he said.

Ovadya saw early what many — including lawmakers, journalists, and Big Tech CEOs — wouldn’t grasp until months later: Our platformed and algorithmically optimized world is vulnerable — to propaganda, to misinformation, to dark targeted advertising from foreign governments — so much so that it threatens to undermine a cornerstone of human discourse: the credibility of fact.

But it’s what he sees coming next that will really scare the shit out of you. Read more.

RIP Jim Hosking, 1941-2018

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Filed under: Art Pranks, The History of Pranks

Sad to say, friend and co-conspirator Jim Hosking passed away.

Jim Hosking (l) with Joey Skaggs (r), E. 3rd Street, NY, 1965

Terror Pranking, a Brief History

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Filed under: Hoax Etiquette, Prank News, Pranksters, The History of Pranks, What Makes a Good Prank?

There’s a huge difference between socially revealing satirical commentary and scaring the shit out of everyone…


Inside the world of extreme ‘terror pranking’
BBC
February 11, 2018

Fake bombs, staged murders, stunts that resemble acid attacks – as competition for eyeballs on YouTube gets fiercer every day, popular vloggers are resorting to extreme pranks to get clicks.

Arya Mosallah’s video channel had more than 650,000 subscribers. But his YouTube career came skidding to a halt with a video titled “Throwing Water On Peoples Faces PT. 2”. In it, he approaches several people, and after a brief conversation, throws a cup of water in their faces.

Many viewers thought the prank in the video looked like an attempt by the British social media star to mimic an acid attack – amid a recent increase in such crimes in London and across the UK.

YouTube deleted Mosallah’s channel – and then a second channel he set up. He told the BBC he had not meant to reference acid attacks – but that he would continue to produce prank videos.

But Arya Mosallah is certainly not the first YouTuber to get into trouble for prank videos. His story, along with the controversy over hugely popular Youtuber Logan Paul joking about a suicide victim to his young audience, have put a spotlight on extreme content on YouTube.

But although it appears to be on the rise – and is getting more attention from news outlets – extreme pranking is not an entirely new phenomenon. For some time, vloggers have been faking bomb attacks and murders, tricking and frightening friends and members of the public in an attempt to up their view counts. Read the rest of this article here.

Speaking of Artificial Intelligence…

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

Friendly foes seek world peace at the Olympics but are shown the door instead.


‘Trump’ And ‘Kim’ Thrown Out Of Opening Ceremony
Reuters
February 10, 2018

“We wanted to surprise everyone and bring world peace and then we’re being escorted out by security guards, which I think is really unfair.”

PYEONGCHANG-GUN, SOUTH KOREA – FEBRUARY 09: Impersonators of Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un pose during the Opening Ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at PyeongChang Olympic Stadium on February 9, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) – People dressed up as U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un caused a commotion when they appeared in the stands at the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony on Friday before swiftly being shown out by security staff.

“We’re getting along great,” said the Kim lookalike, who declined to give his name.

“We wanted to surprise everyone and bring world peace and then we’re being escorted out by security guards, which I think is really unfair,” he added. “Doesn’t everyone want peace?”

The ceremony was marked by a show of unity between North and South Korea.

Athletes from both countries entered the arena under a flag depicting a unified Korea as American Vice President Mike Pence and Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, watched on from a VIP box.

“Is my sister getting the same treatment?,” the Kim lookalike said as he was escorted out of the stadium.

Deepfake: AI-Assisted Porn

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Media Pranks, Prank News, The Future of Pranks

Hey! What’s my face doing on a porn star’s body?


Everything You Need To Know About The Face-Swap Technology That’s Sweeping The Internet (And Getting Banned Everywhere)
Digg
February 8, 2018

Gal Gadot’s face on someone else’s body. Image: Screenshot from SendVids

In the past couple of months, “deepfake” has gone from a nonsense word to a widely-used synonym for videos in which one person’s face is digitally grafted onto another person’s body. The most popular — and troubling — type of deepfake is artificially produced porn appearing to star famous actresses like Gal Gadot, Daisy Ridley and Scarlett Johansson. Sites like Reddit and Pornhub have made moves to ban pornographic deepfakes in recent days, but it’s never been easier for anyone with an internet connection to make disturbingly real-looking porn by mapping almost anyone’s face over those of porn performers. Here’s what you need to know.

‘Deepfake’ Celebrity Porn First Emerged In December

In an only somewhat hyperbolically titled article called “AI-Assisted Fake Porn Is Here and We’re All Fucked,” Motherboard’s Samantha Cole interviewed the first Redditor to post convincing face-swapped videos, who called himself “deepfakes.” (“Deepfake” which has since become a term used the doctored videos produced by the technology.) “Deepfakes” explained how he created a porn video appearing to star Gal Gadot. Read the rest here.

The 2017 April Fools’ Day Parade “Trumpathon” hits Japanese TV News [Japanese]

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

A couple of weeks ago, The New York City 2017 April Fools’ Day Parade “Trumpathon”, the world’s largest gathering of Donald Trump look-alikes, was included in a TBS NEWS report about Donald Trump’s “Fake News Awards”. Watch to the end. Story is in Japanese and the link will only be available for a limited time.

She Asked God for a Job. God Said “No”

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Political Challenges

Ask and ye shall receive. Michele Bachmann gets her answer.


Michele Bachmann Just Got An Actual Sign From God, And It’s Absolutely Priceless
by Ed Mazza
Huffington Post
February 2, 2018

This is probably not the answer she was looking for.

@citypages

Michele Bachmann, the former Republican congresswoman from Minnesota, indicated last year that she was looking for a sign from God about whether she should run for the U.S. Senate.

God ― or rather a prankster claiming to be the deity ― answered with an actual sign:

Bachmann, one of Trump’s evangelical advisors, told doomsday food salesman Jim Bakker in December that people have been urging her to run in November’s special election for the seat Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) vacated after a sexual harassment scandal. Bachmann said she trusts “in a big God” and that she was supposed to run for president, referring to her failed 2012 bid, which she called “wildly successful.”

“I fulfilled the calling God gave me,” Bachmann said. “So the question is: Am I being called to do this now? I don’t know.”

If she’s looking for a sign, she might want to check out the billboard in St. Paul, Minnesota, which appeared to be the result of a crowdfunding project from the satirical website thegoodlordabove.com.

Forget About Getting a Table Here

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, How to Pull Off a Prank, Instructionals, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, The World of the Prank

Update January 25, 2018: Vice Video: How to Become TripAdvisor’s #1 Fake Restaurant. Thanks Frank.

The London restaurant so exclusive that no one could ever get a reservation. H/t Bob O’Keefe.

Bonus: Oobah Butler’s Vice play book on how he pulled it off.


“The Shed at Dulwich” was London’s top-rated restaurant. Just one problem: It didn’t exist.
By Eli Rosenberg
The Washington Post
December 8, 2017

It was a unique restaurant in London and certainly the hardest to get into. And it beat out thousands of upscale restaurants in the city to earn the top ranking on the popular review site TripAdvisor for a time, drawing a flood of interest.

There was just one small problem: It didn’t exist.

The restaurant was just a listing created this year by a freelance writer, Oobah Butler, who used his home — a shed in the Dulwich area in South London — as the inspiration for a high-concept new restaurant that he posted on TripAdvisor: “The Shed at Dulwich.”

With hardly more than some fake reviews — “Best shed based experience in London!” a particularly cheeky one read — and a website, it had gamed the site’s ratings in London, a highly sought after designation that could bring a surge of business to any restaurant, let alone one in major global capital.

The story has by now traveled around the globe and back, after Butler wrote a piece that exposed the ruse on Vice. It has been hailed as an incredible feat. But in an era increasingly influenced by disinformation online, it also has served as another reminder of the ease with which pranksters and other dishonest actors are able to manipulate online platforms to sometimes unthinkable results. Read more.

Time Traveling with The Simpsons

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Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, The History of Pranks, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction, You Decide

The beloved, long-running animated satirical program’s eerie track record of anticipating the future. h/t Andrea!


Watch the video.

Meet the Right-Wing Street Artists of Hollywood

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Sociology and Psychology of Pranks

From Breitbart on down, well-compensated conservative media trolls ramp up their presence in the entertainment capital of the world.


“How Hollywood’s Conservative ‘Street Artists’ Troll the Industry”
By Paul Bond
The Hollywood Reporter
December 22, 2018

In a booth on the Westside of Los Angeles sit a trio of conservative provocateurs plotting their next “street art” prank on a liberal celebrity destined to be thrust into the limelight for reasons beyond the person’s control. The restaurant has become a watering hole for conservatives who work in Hollywood and don’t usually share their political opinions with their liberal colleagues for fear of retribution.

Friends of Abe, the private group of Hollywood conservatives, used to meet at the same place. The three artists, in fact were often spotted at FOA gatherings, where actors like Tom Selleck, Gary Sinise, Robert Duvall, Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton generously hobnobbed with others in the entertainment industry who lacked their fame and fortune.

One of the street artists usually works independent of the others, but recently they’ve banded together to focus their efforts on Harvey Weinstein and all those who, they claim, allegedly enabled his predatory behavior for decades. Their aim is to call out Hollywood for its “hypocrisy,” they say. Two of them have careers in the industry to protect so they remain anonymous, and their anonymity is fodder for detractors who take to social media to call them out for cowardice and slander.

One justifies his secrecy by noting he’d surely be fired for his very public artwork — which sometimes amounts to attacks on actors, movies and TV shows he is associated with through his full-time job. Another is a freelancer in the industry who used to design interactive media for Steven Spielberg. Read more.

The Angriest Man on the Internet?

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

As long as computers have been part of mainstream life, people have been mad at them. This history of one of the first viral videos tells the tale of how information spreads across the digital landscape. Interestingly… having nothing to do with its enormous popularity… it wasn’t at all what it was purported to be.


“The Strange History of One of the Internet’s First Viral Videos”
By Joe Veix
Wired
January 12, 2018

You’ve seen the video. Everyone on the internet has. A man sits in a cubicle and pounds his keyboard in frustration. A few seconds later, the Angry Man picks up the keyboard and swings it like a baseball bat at his screen—it’s an old PC from the ’90s, with a big CRT monitor—whacking it off the desk. A frightened coworker’s head pops up over the cubicle wall, just in time to watch the Angry Man get up and kick the monitor across the floor. Cut to black.

The clip began to circulate online, mostly via email, in 1997. Dubbed “badday.mpg,” it’s likely one of the first internet videos ever to go viral. Sometimes GIFs of it still float across Twitter and Facebook feeds. (Most memes barely have a shelf life of 20 minutes, let alone 20 years.)

Beyond its impressive resilience, it’s also unexpectedly significant as the prime mover of viral videos. In one clip, you can find everything that’s now standard in the genre, like a Lumière brothers film for the internet age: the surveillance footage aesthetic, the sub-30-second runtime, the angry freakout in a typically staid setting, the unhinged destruction of property.

The clip also serves up prime conspiracy fodder. Freeze and enhance: The computer is unplugged. The supposed Angry Man, on closer inspection, is smiling. Was one of the first viral videos—and perhaps the most popular viral video of all time—also one of the first internet hoaxes? Read more.