Thursday, April 1, 2010

Why I hate April Fool's Day

As I usually do on April Fool's Day, I'm going to spend the day far away from other people--probably taking long walks and reading novels. It really is the holiday I despise the most. People are sometimes surprised when I tell them this--I am hardly humorless; if my mouth is open, a wisecrack or stupid song is usually coming out of it. But there's a big difference between a joke and a prank.

I've already fallen for one this year. There's a photographer named Jeff Ascough, quite famous in the business--he is considered one of the top wedding photographers around, makes very good money, and is a product tester for Canon. He started twittering the other day about a new camera he was testing--a highly advanced digital rangefinder.

To fill you in--rangefinders were a type of camera popular in the forties, fifties, and sixties; by and large, they were replaced by SLRs (the current dominant camera type) in the 1970's. But certain photo nerds (myself among them) love these elegant old machines, and desperately hope for an affordable digital version on which to mount our collection of still-useful but obsolete old lenses. The only one currently manufactured is from Leica, the upscale German camera company, and it costs around $7000. So most enthusiasts have to either keep shooting film, pony up for a used (but still expensive) discontinued digital model, or just sit around and hope a Leica competitor will bring out a new one.

Well, Ascough strung the internet along for a couple days, rendering the online camera nerd community delirious with excitement, and then revealed that it was a joke. Or rather, should I say, a prank. In response to the flood of angry email he received late yesterday, Ascough wrote:

I am fully aware that a lot of people have absolutely no sense of humour, and that some have chastised me for actually having a sense of humour, but alas that is really their problem and not mine.

Actually, no--it is his problem. To the hopeful camera nerd, Ascough's prank isn't funny--it's the internet equivalent of the captain of the football team knocking the books out of your arms in the hallway. It's a bit of smug bullying, like most April Fool's pranks--and as usual the victim is accused of having no sense of humor for not enjoying getting his glasses smashed underfoot.

If you think that my own childhood experiences have rendered me slightly sensitive to this dynamic, you're right. But here's the larger justification for my feelings--the April Fool's prank is a mockery of credulity. And credulity is a virtue, not a fault--especially for a writer. The writer has to go around with his heart and mind wide open. He has to believe that the world is filled with amazing possibilities. Conversely, the artist--indeed, the person--who approaches the world with suspicion and mistrust, who is careful never to be fooled, is sacrificing a little bit of his soul every day.

Anyway, denizens of the internet, enjoy your fake news stories and iPad parodies. I'll be lurking off the grid until the coast is clear. And if you call me to tell me I've won a MacArthur, or the Pulitzer, or that Obama was photographed reading Castle on Air Force One, I will never speak to you again.

10 comments:

ed skoog said...

Ah, but how about its uses for civic boosterism of one's hometown? Check out google today if you have a chance.

rmellis said...

See, that's funny.

I like April Fool's Day. You just have to make it surprisey, not mean.

dylan hicks said...

For a while this winter, my eight-year-old son would frequently spread his arms for a hug and say, "Daddy [or Mommy or whoever], I love you," and then in mid-embrace he'd dig a hand buzzer into your back. It was pretty funny the first few times, and he didn't mean it to be cruel or estranging. But I was happy when the joke was put to rest. Then a few days ago he approached with the same, and entirely sincere gesture of affection, and I backed off a bit and said, "You'd better not have that hand buzzer."

jrlennon said...

That's funny, because "you better not have that hand buzzer" is exactly what I say to Rhian every time she gets within five feet or so.

Ha ha!, Topeka! See, that is not a prank--that's self-parody. Or maybe it's an insult to Topeka? I can't decide.

In any event, perhaps I'm too sensitive to these things...

Sung said...

For me, April Fool's Day is "Be Wary Day" or "Believe Nothing Day." Every website I go to or anything people tell me, the first thing I think is, "Are they tricking me?" Actually, it's sounding more like "Paranoia Day."

But you know, it's been a very long time since anybody has even taken the time and effort to pull a fast one on me. Maybe I'm secretly pining away for a prank.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree... If you want to take advantage of my trust in you to make me look like a fool, you will lose my trust. If you get upset that I have no "sense of humor" about the situation, you lose twice.

jrlennon said...

I should add I ended up having an email exchange with this guy, and he seems a decent sort. I think he was rather surprised at people's reaction...

Zachary Cole said...

Sir, I can't get on board with you this time. April 1 is my Christmas. And maybe Obama hasn't read "Castle", but he's been checking out many other neat things at of late:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/03/29/barack-obama-looking-at-a_n_517657.html?just_reloaded=1#s76867

jrlennon said...

Man, I bet he knows the truth about Roswell by now, too...

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I abhor anything that discourages humanity to suppress, doubt, or outright abandon things like trust, empathy, and hope. April Fools Day pranks do exactly that, and I could not have explained it as eloquently as you have.