The Banality of Hoaxing

On April 1, 2008 you couldn't click on a link without first hitting the mute button.

It was all you could do to protect yourself from the potential minefield of "Rick Rolls" that was the Internet's response to April Fool's. It had been a running gag in the months ahead but the sheer pervasiveness of the meme that day pushed it into the mainstream.

Later that year we'd see a live demonstration at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, leaving many news anchors conused and bewildered as they attempted to figure out what was going on. Thankfully, it was the death knell of the Rick Roll and probably the first paying gig that Mr. Astley had in years.

This year the tricks have been equally uninspired. For the particularly lazy we simply announce in our Facebook status that our ideologies and worldviews have changed to the polar opposite, and that we're now gleefully awaiting the rapture.

But my casual search of the Internet reveals nothing more inspired than a few pages turned upside down  thanks more to clever coding than good humor. Elsewhere you can find sites designed to look like spam amidst the din of the usual kind of nonsense usually found on the Onion.

Why is everything so uninspired?

It's hard to tell but for the most part it seems like a day to just tune in and turn off for a bit where expectations fall so low. It's also a matter of rote rather than inspiration, that people expect silliness on April 1 and Web sites feel compelled to deliver it.

Of course people are only fooled for the first few hours, when they haven't had enough coffee or looked at a calendar to remember the date. Once that moment of realization hits, the whole day is shattered and you can eschew just about everything that falls in front of you because with little exception its the fevered fabrication of a feeble mind. The pranks, if you can call them that, stop being funny or clever after the first few minutes and you just want to get on with the rest of the day.

Part of it is the fragmentation of the market place. To get to many people with an elaborate hoax or prank you'd have to take it through so many different media and let so many people in on the joke that it takes far more effort than before when a BBC producer could make up something about Swiss noodle farms or when Orson Wells could do a dramatic reading of War of the Worlds and send people running for the hills. That fragmentation also makes it difficult for would-be hoaxers since media outlets are more than willing to point out that the emperor has no clothes if their competitors are all buying into it.

There is also the problem of media credibility, while they run with bogus stories throughout the rest of the year (which are probably not hoaxes) they aren't free to play around on April 1 because of the urge to be absolutely serious and the fear that someone will interpret it the wrong way. After all if you are trying to convince people that you're a neutral borker of reality every other day of the year, it would be far too much to ask that they suspend that for a moment.