All fools day: Pranks in the age of outrage
Being fooled can encourage self-reflection and act as a safeguard against arrogance. But humour, a vital part of any good prank, is becoming rare in public discourseeditorials Updated: Mar 31, 2018 17:19 IST
It isn’t just schadenfreude that makes a good prank worth the effort. It can be a lot of fun to realise that one’s ‘been had’ if the joke is a good one. When in 1957, the BBC ran a documentary about a bumper spaghetti harvest, complete with a serious voice-over and visuals of women picking spaghetti dangling from trees; it fooled many viewers and became one of the best April Fool hoaxes ever (because – if you haven’t got the joke yet – spaghetti, like money, does not grow on trees). Pranks and jokes that do not cross over into the dangerous realm of hazing and ragging can be good for the soul. Studies have even shown that being fooled can encourage self-reflection and act as a safeguard against arrogance. However, in recent times, given how fragile egos seem to be becoming, the pleasure of a good joke has all but vanished.
Humour, a vital part of any good prank, has become a rare thing in public discourse, with outrage becoming the order of the day. Social media is full of indignation against insults – both real and imagined – to heroes – both real and imagined. And the ability to take a joke (so important for the universal enjoyment of it) is fast disappearing. Another factor that is making it harder to pull off a good joke is the need to be always politically correct. In a discourse where cows, politicians, and everything else in between have become holy, where is the space for irreverence and humour? Even as urban India has seen a sudden spurt in stand-up comedy, our ability to laugh at ourselves appears to be diminishing. We’re happy to laugh at others, especially if we don’t like them; but when it comes to our own quirks, we are quick to take offence if they are pointed out. A psychologist might suggest that it is a reflection of our own insecurities, playing out as outrage.
But perhaps it’s time to bring down these defensive walls of indignation and outrage and remember that we are aren’t really perfect – no matter what our mothers may have led us to believe. The last day of March is as good a time as any to reflect on our abilities to take a joke on the chin. For as the sun circles around to another April, if one happens to find oneself the butt of a joke tomorrow, one might, at least, be prepared.