Falling between April Fools' Day and Easter Sunday, this column appears on Palm Sunday on the calendar, somewhere between the ridiculous and the sublime — ridiculous if we were to concentrate on our "friends" who try to dupe us with practical jokes and hoaxes on April 1; sublime if we were to concentrate on the Divine intervention of Easter Sunday that can change our lives. I choose to concentrate on the ridiculous hoaxes of April 1, later identified as false, and ask how many of us have been duped by them!
Popular since the 19th century, April Fools' Day or All Fools' Day falls on April 1 and is a time for practical jokes and spreading hoaxes. Some newspapers and magazines report fake stories which are then explained the next day as fake news. Looking on the internet I was able to find the top 100 April Fools' Day hoaxes of all time, revised in 2015. I am enumerating only a few here, but please note the gullibility of us all, especially when we read or hear something.
The all-time number one hoax was perpetrated in 1957 when the BBC reported that because of a very mild winter and the elimination of the spaghetti weevil the Swiss were expecting a bumper spaghetti crop. The announcement also showed spaghetti farmers pulling huge amounts of spaghetti from trees. Many people were snookered, even calling in to ask how they could grow their own spaghetti. In another food related hoax, dated 1998, Burger King took out a full-page ad for its new "left-handed whopper" for the 32 million left-handed Americans, in which the condiments were rotated 180 degrees for its left-handed customers.
Still other hoaxes involved inventions. In 1878 the New York Graphic indicated that Thomas Edison had invented a food machine that would transform soil directly into cereal and water into wine and thereby eradicate hunger. The article was widely printed and believed. The Graphic later printed the headline, "They Bite!" Another invention, touted in 1983 by BMW in the UK, showed that one of its engineers had designed a sunroof that could be kept open even in the rain and in a car wash, thanks to jets of air that blew the water away from the top of the car. BMW has continued its April 1 hoaxes inspiring other car manufacturers to do likewise. A third invention, dated April 1, 1973, was for an electronic memory for those inundated with computer data. In contrast to "write and read" or "read only" memories (ROM), scientists said they had invented "write only" memories, dubbed WOM. Data could be written to a device but never read back, thereby becoming part of Eternally Inaccessible Storage or EIS. Imagine if we had that for some of the tweets we've seen!
There have been other hoaxes. One was about the new AFP stock on the Detroit Stock Exchange in 1922, supposedly standing for American Fire Protection and actually meaning April Fool Preferred. Another hoax posted on YouTube, in 2014, from the famed King's College Choir, demonstrated how King's College could overcome having to use the high pitch of pre-adolescent voices by injecting helium into the performance.
Political hoaxes have also been rampant. In 1971, the Texas House of Representatives honored the Boston strangler when it passed a resolution in honor of Albert DeSalvo for his "unconventional techniques involving population control." The resolution's sponsors said they submitted it to demonstrate that "no one reads these bills or resolutions." In a second political hoax, in 1992, National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation indicated that President Nixon was running for president again, indicating that he said, "I didn't do anything wrong, and I won't do it again." Nixon's voice had been impersonated by Rich Little.
My favorite hoax came in April 2008 by the BBC when scientists filming in Antarctica revealed that certain penguins were taking flight to get away from the cold; they were flying thousands of miles to the rainforests of South America to bask in the tropical sun! Surely none of us who are older would ever fall for any of these hoaxes — oh, but alas, I'm afraid we have been duped!
On this Palm Sunday of the Christian calendar, let us realize that the April Fools' Day hoaxes are funny and won't hurt us. But, let us not underestimate the destructive power of "alternative facts" and so-called "fake news" that have been bombarding our gullibility recently. Rather, let us — old and young alike — run to embrace the sublime of Easter Sunday!
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Hermine Saunders writes from Westminster. She can be contacted via email at email@example.com.