The History of Pranks

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r/Place: Recollections of a Pop-up Online Subculture

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Media Pranks, Sociology and Psychology of Pranks, The History of Pranks, The Prank as Art, The World of the Prank

r/Place, an incredible 2017 reddit experiment with a simple premise and strict parameters, stands out for the spirit of challenge and community it ignited. It brought the best of collaborative street art into the heart of the digital realm, it earned its place in the annals of internet culture, and it’s worth revisiting and remembering. Here’s how it went down, through the eyes of one very engaged participant.

(If you’re unfamiliar with reddit, here’s a pretty good primer.)


“The story of r/Place. As told by a foot soldier for r/Mexico.”
By Arturo Gutierrez
ART + Marketing
April 3, 2017

I’m sure other historians can tell you who was the first. Others much more knowledgeable than me who can pinpoint where exactly in the vast Canvas did the cursors of hundreds aimed themselves into a singular area, and willed order out of the chaos. But I’m not the one to tell.

Instead, what I saw as a bystander that April 1st was the emergence of life, color, and memes of all sizes and kinds growing almost by magic. And as the hours passed, as I laid a pixel here, waited, and laid another pixel there, the whole Canvas evolved and grew between each of my visits. It was an amazing sight to behold. An inspiring feat of human ingenuity, humor, and improvised politics in slow motion.

Yes, that’s right. For even in these early hours, even before the dedicated subreddits, the forums, Discord channels and massive bot armies of the later days, a silent, wordless body of politics was being established right before our eyes. Read more.

Canadaland Podcast Interview with Joey Skaggs

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

From Jesse Brown, host of Canadaland Podcast:

The greatest media prankster alive talks to Jesse for our April Fools episode.

New Doc About the Church of the SubGenius Screens at SXSW

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One reviewer’s opinion…


SXSW Film Review: ‘J.R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius’
This diverting enough documentary focuses on the parodic religious “cult” that reached peak hipster awareness in the 1980s.
by Dennis Harvey
Variety
March 21, 2019

Like 8mm films of 1960s “happenings” or videos of 1970s performance art, “J.R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius” chronicles a cultural footnote that perhaps should be filed under the heading You Had to Be There. The satirical-absurdist “religion” founded by some Texans actually caught fire among hipsters in the 1980s, influencing some of that era’s more interesting work in various media while providing a pre-Burning Man, pre-internet “secret club” to cerebral misfits of all stripes.

Sandy K. Boone’s documentary is likely to be lost on the not-previously converted, as what seemed the height of snark in the Reagan Era hasn’t dated all that well — nor is its appeal apparent as excerpted and recalled here. But those who remember the gospel of “slack” will make this diverting-enough documentary an in-demand work at genre festivals, as a streaming item and in other forums.

In reaction to the disruptive 1960s being “flipped on its head” in the “too-square-again” present day, two Lone Star State fans of nerd-brainiac rock god Captain Beefheart started creating anonymous quasi-cult screeds for their own entertainment in 1979. Dubbing themselves Reverend Ian Stang and Dr. Philo Drummond, they rebelled against their staid Heartland backgrounds, embraced the tenor of extremist religious literature, and ridiculed the American Dream with a mock religion whose deity was J.R. “Bob” Dobbs — a clip art image of 1950s sitcom dad-like hyper-normality whose lore was deliberately contradictory and absurdist.

Read the rest of this article here.

LinkNYC Mister Softee Prankster Comes Clean

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

Payphone performance artist/activist drops a dime on himself…


My Summer of Softee Prank
by Mark Thomas.

In this year of 2019, I use payphones regularly. As such, I feel fortunate to live in New York City, where thousands of old-fashioned landline payphones still line the streets.

A few years ago, when news came that the City decided to replace every single outdoor payphone with LinkNYC Internet kiosks, preëmptively pronouncing this unproven replacement the “payphone of the future”, I felt a bit of an affront. How could a decision reaching so deeply into the social fabric of New York be made? Was public input ever solicited regarding this decision that all payphones must be replaced by an unproven, unneeded alternative?

I gave LinkNYC a chance but soon came to loath not only the program but, in almost all respects, the so-called “Smart City” itself. Born of unearned municipal privilege, the arrogant ineptitude of the LinkNYC rollout at times made me cringe.

To express my sentiments about LinkNYC, I subverted their intended purpose. I regarded these kiosks as unwanted, unneeded irritants and turned the machines themselves into irritants, using them as a broadcast platform, blasting ridiculously loud noises and music out of the kiosks’ loudspeakers.

This became a social media engineering project for me for most of 2018. (more…)

Speaking Truth to Power in DC

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

Street theater is flourishing in the era of Trump.


DC’s many prankster activists turn anger into street theater
by Ashraf Khalil
AP
February 18, 2019

Mike Green and Adam Eidinger with Radical Matriarchy

WASHINGTON (AP) — In the nation’s capital, it can be hard for protesters to stand out. A group of 50 people — or even 500 — holding signs and shouting hardly merits a second glance in this city of protests.

That’s why Washington activists have to get creative. There’s an ethos of performative prankster-style protest wired into the District of Columbia’s history, dating back decades.

This confrontational street-theater school is flourishing with the Trump administration as its nemesis. Each month brings new acts of political theater — some confrontational, some deliberately absurdist.

“It can take a serious issue into more of a playful place,” said Robin Bell, who regularly projects disparaging messages onto the outside of the Trump International Hotel. “Oftentimes we visualize the absurdity of the situation.”

In January, a group of activists associated with political pranksters The Yes Men passed out dozens of fake Washington Posts, with detailed articles depicting President Donald Trump resigning and fleeing the White House. For about a month last fall, a Robert Mueller investigation-themed ice cream truck roamed Washington, passing out free scoops with names like IndictMint Chip and Rocky Rod Rosenstein.

While some protests are designed to get attention, others hide in plain sight like Easter eggs for the observant. Within sight of the White House, a realistic-looking street sign declares the street Khashoggi Way, after Jamal Khashoggi, the dissident Saudi journalist killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. About 10 of these signs have been scattered around Washington.

Read the rest of this article here.

Barney Rosset Documentary Seeks Support

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Filed under: Creative Activism, First Amendment Issues, Legal Issues, Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy, Political Challenges, Prank News, Pranksters, The History of Pranks, The Prank as Art, The World of the Prank

Recently, a team of seasoned and passionate documentary filmmakers launched a Kickstarter project to fund Barney’s Wall, a tribute to the iconoclastic Evergreen Review publisher, First Amendment crusader, and countercultural titan Barney Rosset.

Now, they need a bit more help to cover permissions, attorney fees, and other expenses associating with bringing such a project to fruit. (We can certainly sympathize.)

If you’d like to donate, you can do so here before January 4th, 2019.

And if you aren’t familiar with Rosset, check out his obituary. He’s an essential figure in the development of 20th Century creative rebellion, and it’s a rousing read in its own right.

“Colleagues said he had ‘a whim of steel’. ‘He does everything by impulse and then figures out afterward whether he’s made a smart move or was just kidding.'”

Cockroaches on the Menu!

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Creative Activism, Fact or Fiction?, Prank News, Pranksters, The History of Pranks, You Decide

Roaches are yummy and good for you too! Joey Skaggs’ Metamorphosis: Miracle Roach Hormone Cure hoax remembered…


The Right Chemistry: Cockroach milk a ‘superfood’?
by Joe Schwarcz
Montreal Gazette via The London Free Press
October 12, 2018

It’s not a prank, but any suggestion that the crystals represent a viable alternative to dairy milk for people is a very, very big stretch.

Back in 1981, entomologist Josef Gregor called a press conference to announce a remarkable discovery. He had bred a novel species of cockroach from which he managed to extract a hormone that, when incorporated into a pill, exhibited amazing properties. It cured conditions ranging from acne and allergies to asthma and arthritis! “Roach hormone hailed as miracle drug” crowed headlines. Some 175 newspapers went on to feature testimonials attesting to the wonders of the hormone pills.

Subsequently, Gregor was invited to appear on various television programs where he described that cockroaches were impervious to radiation and that in addition to its curative properties for a plethora of ailments, his pills would offer protection against radiation exposure. It all sounded great, but there was one tiny little problem. There was no Josef Gregor, and there was no cockroach hormone! Gregor was actually Joey Skaggs, a teacher at New York’s School of Visual Arts, who relished pulling off hoaxes to show how the media could be duped into reporting nonsensical stories because of a failure to fact-check. And that was decades before the current wave of publicity about “fake news!”

Watch the video

Recalling the “cockroach hormone” episode, I figured a prankster must have been at work when the headline, “Scientists Think Cockroach Milk Could Be the Next Superfood,” recently scooted across the internet. Obviously, fact-checking was in order. While the headline was typical click-bait, it was actually spawned by legitimate research.

In 2016, a paper in the Journal of the International Union of Crystallography reported some intriguing research about the unique “Pacific Beetle” cockroach (Diploptera punctate). Why unique? Because it is viviparous, meaning the females give birth to live offspring. The term derives from the Latin “vivus” for “alive,” and “parere,” meaning “to bring forth” or “to bear.”

Read the rest of this article here.

The Prank as an Art Form

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A good prank attempts to shed light on issues to change perceptions or awareness by jolting sensibilities. MutualArt pays homage to Joey Skaggs’ April Fools’ Day Parade. In 2017, it became real with Trump’s Golden Throne.


A Look Behind Some of the Biggest Pranks in Art History
by Adam Heardman
MutualArt
October 8, 2018

Pretty-much-anonymous street artist Banksy was back in the headlines this weekend thanks to his self-shredding picture. We take a look at other classic art-world pranks that have confounded and delighted through history.

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As a street artist and activist, Banksy’s career has consisted almost exclusively of anti-establishment pranks and stunts. On Friday evening, at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art auction, the hammer fell on a print of his Balloon Girl image at a price of $1.1 million. Seconds later, an alarm sounded through the room and the print began feeding through the bottom of its own frame, inside which was a hidden shredder, leaving half of the work in ribbons.

Promptly, the piece’s value doubled. Commodification appears to move as quickly as protest in the contemporary market-place.

Speculation already abounds as to how far Banksy collaborated with Sotheby’s in setting up the stunt. It certainly seems far-fetched that the auction house’s handlers wouldn’t have noticed the machinery in the frame.

But the impact of the prank has been huge, bringing Banksy his biggest burst of media-attention since Dismaland closed. His market-value has increased. Haters have been won over. The search for his true identity is back on. All in all, it’s been a successful prank.

As a space in which publicity, politics, and aesthetics can meet, ‘the prank’ is an established mode within the art world. Here are some of the more prominent and successful examples from art history.

1. Hogarth and Wilson’s Rembrandt RoastRead this here.

2. Joey Skaggs’ Fake ‘Fake Parade’

Prank artist Joey Skaggs

Joey Skaggs is the maybe the most prolific prankster out there. Over the years, the performance artist and writer has staged the thieving of celebrity sperm, “attempted” to “windsurf across the Pacific”, and exposed Western racism by fooling people into thinking that a Chinese businessman was buying dogs to make into soup.

Every April Fools’ Day since 1986, Skaggs has held a Parade with floats, banners, streamers extensive press coverage and pertinent contemporary themes. Except that the Parade doesn’t ever actually take place, existing purely within the press-hype. Fake News.

Until last year, that is. In a neat reversal of his own prank, Skaggs actually did hold a real-life parade on April 1st, 2017 after 31 years of pretending. The march functioned as a protest against Donald Trump’s presidency and was also the largest gathering of Trump-look-alikes in history. The imposters marched to Trump Tower and sat tweeting on golden thrones. Maybe Joey Skaggs’ greatest prank was to make Fake News real.

3. Stromberg’s StickersRead the rest of this article here.

Before Banksy

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The Hippie Bus Tour To Queens revisited…


Before Banksy: Art pranksters and provocateurs who Banksy’d us first
by Mookie Katigbak-Lacuesta
ANC news.abs-cbn.com
October 10, 2018

As that cynical adage goes, It’s all been done before. But at least in the art world, each prank takes on a wildly different form

Banky’s latest stunt at a Sotheby’s auction (a self-destructing artwork automated to shred itself after being sold) recalled other art pranksters who played the system with the same wink wink nudge nudge kind of subversion. There’s a joke that’s being played and it’s not on the artist—which means it’s on whoever believes that the numbers on a price tag equate to the value of a work of art. Other pranksters have also poked fun at institutions that house high art (what is high art anyway?), or at spectators of art who don’t know what art is. Here are a few stunning and smug indictments of all of us art heathens.

Harvey Stromberg’s Stickers

In 1971, Harvey Stromberg wad described by the New York Times as a “photographer, or a media manipulator, or a self-made chance factor, or a guerilla artist or a fraud. All of the above. None of the above.” This description set the tone for how he was regarded in the art world.

One prank he famously pulled was a photographic “exhibit” at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) where he made exact-to-scale photographs of utility objects—light switches, alarm buzzers, bricks, and keyholes, among other things. Using double-sided tape, Stromberg stuck these photographs in spaces it was customary to find them. It was described as the “longest-running one-man photo exhibit,” as it took museum personnel all of two years to discover and remove the stickers. The “show” ran hitchless for two years so Stromberg threw in another prank. He decided it was time to officially “open” the exhibit at the MOMA—complete with formal invitations to both guests and media. If MOMA administrators treated the opening nonchalantly, it would encourage other such pranks; if they treated it as a criminal offense, it would cheapen their position as champions of conceptual art.

Joey Skaggs and “The Hippie Bus Tour to Queens”

Joey Skaggs and his East Village “hippie” friends would be gawked at as city curiosities by bridge and tunnel people—so he decided to change the narrative and turn the show around. In 1968, he rented a Greyhound bus and took 60 hippies to Queens where they could take snapshots of, and gawk at, normal people going about their typical, suburban preoccupations. “Look, it’s someone mowing the lawn!,” one can imagine one of the passengers saying, or “Look it’s a man washing his car!” or even “Why’s the plumber taking so long at Mrs. Robinson’s house?”

Read the rest of this article here.

Meet the Man Who Invented the Roach Hormone Miracle Cure!

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

ART OF THE PRANK movie Blu-rays with 38 minutes of never before seen Extras and DVDs are now available!

**Use coupon code “ABRACADABRA” to magically get $5.00 off of each disc purchased.**

Watch a video promo:

Alan Abel, RIP

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Filed under: Media Pranks, Political Pranks, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Prank News, Pranksters, The History of Pranks

Better check the coffin!


Alan Abel, Hoaxer Extraordinaire, Is (on Good Authority) Dead at 94
by Margalit Fox
The New York Times
Sept. 17, 2018

Credit Larry Stoddard/Associated Press

Alan Abel, a professional hoaxer who for more than half a century gleefully hoodwinked the American public — not least of all by making himself the subject of an earnest news obituary in The New York Times in 1980 — apparently actually did die, on Friday, at his home in Southbury, Conn. He was 94.

His daughter, Jenny Abel, said the cause was complications of cancer and heart failure.

Mr. Abel’s putative 1980 death, orchestrated with his characteristic military precision and involving a dozen accomplices, had been confirmed to The Times by several rigorously rehearsed confederates. One masqueraded as the grieving widow. Another posed as an undertaker, answering fact-checking calls from the newspaper on a dedicated phone line that Mr. Abel had installed, complete with its own directory-information business listing.

After the obituary was published, Mr. Abel, symbolically rising from the grave, held a gleeful news conference, and a much-abashed Times ran a retraction.

This time around, Mr. Abel’s death was additionally confirmed by the Regional Hospice and Palliative Care in Connecticut, which said it had tended to him in his last days, and Carpino Funeral Home in Southbury, which said it was overseeing the arrangements.

Read the rest of this article here.

Early Hoax?

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Fact or Fiction?, The History of Pranks, The Prank as Art

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane. It’s…


The Painting “Madonna of the UFO”
FlorenceInferno.com
June 9, 2014

The “Madonna of the UFO” or “Madonna of the flying saucer” is a painting located in Palazzo Vecchio in Florence in the Hall of Hercules. Also called “Madonna and Child with the Infant St John”, the painting has been the topic of much debate between art experts and ufologists. While the painting depicts the Nativity with the infant St. John in the foreground, in the background one can see a man curiously watching an unidentified flying object (UFO).

THE AUTHOR OF THE MADONNA OF THE UFO
The painting is of unknown origin, but it probably dates from as early as the sixteenth century. The caption under the picture attributes authorship to either Sebastiano Mainardi or Jacopo del Sellaio; conversely, some scholars attribute it to Filippo Lippi, also known as “Maestro del Tondo Miller,” after the title of one of his last works.

Moreover, we only know that the work comes from the forgotten convent of Sant’Orsola in the district of San Lorenzo in Florence.

THE DESCRIPTION OF THE PAINTING
The painting is round, is one meter in diameter, and is adorned with a precious golden frame; it is located in the Hall of Hercules on the second floor of the Palazzo Vecchio, which takes its name from the coffered ceiling depicting the Twelve Labours of Hercules.

The circular painting bears the usual iconographic motif of the Renaissance: in the foreground the Virgin is seen kneeling with folded hands and leaning toward the baby, who is lying on a hem of her garment.

While the baby Jesus is reaching his hand toward his mother, St. John is attempting to support him. Behind the head of the Madonna, an ellipsoidal object can be seen in the sky, one that is very similar to modern depictions of UFOs. There is also a man painted in the background, a shepherd, with his hand on his forehead and his head turned toward the sky. Next to him is a dog that is also looking in the direction of the flying object.

Read the rest of this article here

Read more about this at Historic Mysteries.

Dick Tuck, RIP

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An ode to a political prankster
by Tom Lawrence
Black Hills Pioneer
June 12, 2018

Even his name, Dick Tuck, which rhymes with Puck, was perfect.

Because Dick Tuck was a Puckish presence in national politics for decades, using wit and wile as weapons in political battles. The Democratic trickster died May 28 at 93 … unless this was another of his pranks. I really wouldn’t put it past him.

Tuck’s primary target was another Tricky Dick, aka Richard Nixon. From Nixon’s bid for a Senate seat in 1950 until his presidential re-election campaign in 1972, Tuck was a thorn in Nixon’s flesh, poking and prodding him with stunts, pranks and mischief.

Why? Tuck had a deep dislike for Nixon, and not just because they were polar opposites politically. He felt Nixon was unethical and unprincipled — a good read, it turned out — and Tuck was determined to do whatever he could to hamper his rise.

It rarely worked, however. Nixon won the Senate race in 1950, defeating Democratic incumbent Helen Gahagan Douglas, whom he labeled “the Pink Lady,” unfairly and inaccurately accusing her of being soft on communism.

Tuck launched his political career during that race when a college professor who knew he was interested in politics asked him to aid the Nixon campaign. He forgot to ask which party his student favored.

Amazingly enough, Tuck was allowed to organize a Nixon rally. He booked the largest hall he could find and did not publicize the event. He then introduced Nixon with a long, rambling speech that ended by telling the scant few people in the audience that the candidate would discuss the International Monetary Fund.

After the shambles of an event was over, Nixon went to the young organizer and said, “Dick Tuck, you’ve done your last advance.”

If only he had known what was in store for him. (more…)

Larry Harvey, Co-founder of Burning Man, RIP

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Prank News, The History of Pranks, The Prank as Art

Burning Man’s co-founder dead at 70: How his event changed the world
by Chris Taylor
Mashable
April 28, 2018

Larry Harvey, the co-founder of the Burning Man festival who grew it from an event on a San Francisco beach to a desert arts festival of global significance, died Saturday. He was 70.

Harvey had been hospitalized after a stroke on April 4, and had remained in critical condition. “Though we all hoped he would recover, he passed peacefully this morning at 8:24am in San Francisco, with members of his family at his side,” wrote Burning Man CEO Marian Goodell in the organization’s official announcement.

Harvey’s story has already passed into countercultural legend. A former landscape gardener and carpenter, he and his friend Jerry James decided to burn a large wooden figure of a man on San Francisco’s Baker Beach in 1986.

The Burning Man event, repeated annually, began to draw exponentially increasing numbers of attendees — so many that Harvey and friends needed a new location where it could grow relatively unchecked by authorities. In 1990 they found one in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada, and the week-long extravaganza of Burning Man began.

Much of the event’s energy in those early years was provided by the Cacophony Society, a culture-jamming collective of California artists. But it was Harvey who became the face and the driving force behind Burning Man’s expansion. After a particularly anarchic version of the festival in 1996, in which one participant ran his car over a number of people in tents, Harvey oversaw Burning Man’s transformation into Black Rock City — a temporary urban environment with roads, gas lamps and an army of volunteers. Read the rest of this article here.

Culture Jamming Godfather Gets a Fitting Tribute

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, First Amendment Issues, Legal Issues, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, The History of Pranks, The Prank as Art

In 1981, Don Joyce launched Over the Edge, a weekly program on KPFA in Berkeley comprised of cut-up tapes and surrealist social commentary. By the time he passed in 2015, he had been a core member of the legendary avant-garde rock band Negativland, engaged in numerous high-profile intellectual property controversies (including tangles with Pepsi and U2), helped popularize the plunderphonics movement (which intersected with hip-hop and helped define internet culture), and coined the phrase “culture jamming.”

A new documentary takes a thoughtful and haunting look at this bold, brilliant, and stubborn creative force.


An Affectionate and Honest Filmic Portrait of Negativland’s Don Joyce
By Paul Riismandel
Radio Survivor
April 8, 2018

Musician, DJ and radio artist Don Joyce passed away nearly three years ago, on July 22, 2015. He left behind a voluminous archive of his KPFA radio program “Over the Edge,” which took off in new, chaotic and creative directions when he welcomed the participation of the experimental band Negativland in 1981, then joining the group.

The documentary “How Radio Isn’t Done” (DVD) sheds light on Joyce and his life, work and his process for recontextualizing the never-ending flow of media messages that flood everyday life. Director Ryan Worsley paints an affectionate, but honest portrait of a man who poured tremendous quantities of inspiration, energy and effort into his community radio program, leaving the impression that it was something he just had to do. Read more.