The History of Pranks

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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.

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.)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.