Monday, March 2, 2015

With April Fools Day Coming On Fast...

This is a re-post of a blog entry from about seven years ago or so. Today is March 2 and April 1 is coming up fast. I wanted to make sure you had a little time to get ready, in case you'd like to plan something big this year.

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Despite the fact that it occurred long before we were born, most of us are familiar with the great hoax Orson Welles played on American radio listeners when he re-created H.G. Wells' story of a martian attack in 1939. Welles' Mercury Radio Theater performance was so compelling that people literally fled their homes to escape the horrific assault on planet earth. The story was fabricated, but the fear it generated was real.

My brother and I used to get a kick out of fooling our mom when we were kids. I'm not sure why we found it so amusing, but it is certainly a widespread phenomenon. That is, for some reason, people sometimes like to mess with peoples' heads. We even devote a special day to to it once a year.... April Fools Day.

Here are four brief summaries of April Fools pranks that the media played on a believing public in years gone by. I've forgotten where I copied these from, but thought them worth saving when I read them and worth sharing when I found them in my files again tonight. As you can see, it isn't only Americans who are susceptible to outrageous tomfoolery.

The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest
In 1957 the respected BBC news show Panorama announced that thanks to a very mild winter and the virtual elimination of the dreaded spaghetti weevil, Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop. It accompanied this announcement with footage of Swiss peasants pulling strands of spaghetti down from trees. Huge numbers of viewers were taken in, and many called up wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti trees. To this question, the BBC diplomatically replied that they should "place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best."

Instant Color TV
In 1962 there was only one TV channel in Sweden, and it broadcast in black and white. The station's technical expert, Kjell Stensson, appeared on the news to announce that thanks to a newly developed technology, all viewers could now quickly and easily convert their existing sets to display color reception. All they had to do was pull a nylon stocking over their TV screen, and they would begin to see their favorite shows in color. Stensson then proceeded to demonstrate the process. Reportedly, hundreds of thousands of people, out of the population of seven million, were taken in. Actual color TV transmission only commenced in Sweden on April 1, 1970.

The Taco Liberty Bell
In 1996 the Taco Bell Corporation announced that it had bought the Liberty Bell from the federal government and was renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell. Hundreds of outraged citizens called up the National Historic Park in Philadelphia where the bell is housed to express their anger. Their nerves were only calmed when Taco Bell revealed that it was all a joke a few hours later. The best line inspired by the affair came when White House press secretary Mike McCurry was asked about the sale, and he responded that the Lincoln Memorial had also been sold, though to a different corporation, and would now be known as the Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial.

Nixon for President
In 1992 National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation program announced that Richard Nixon, in a surprise move, was running for President again. His new campaign slogan was, "I didn't do anything wrong, and I won't do it again." Accompanying this announcement were audio clips of Nixon delivering his candidacy speech. Listeners responded viscerally to the announcement, flooding the show with calls expressing shock and outrage. Only during the second half of the show did the host John Hockenberry reveal that the announcement was a joke. Nixon's voice was impersonated by comedian Rich Little.

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