December 11, 2012

Before we let one suicide end a great tradition of fun and puncturing pomposity...

... let's remember great moments in prank calls:
The Queen in 1995 spent 17 minutes talking to a man she thought was the prime minister of Canada. It was actually Pierre Brassard, a Canadian radio presenter and impressionist.

In 1998, Prime Minister Tony Blair took a call from a man claiming to be William Hague, leader of the Opposition. He immediately realised it was a hoax but took it in good humour....

Cuban leader Fidel Castro unleashed a volley of abuse after being hoaxed in 2004 by a Miami radio station presenter pretending to be Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
The Miami djs had previously tricked Chavez into thinking he was talking to Castro. I found the audio of Castro talking to not-Chavez (untranslated Spanish), and here's the English transcript of Chavez talking to not-Castro:
''I'll do what you're asking me to... But I'm going to be harmed, I confess to you,'' Castro says.

Silence from Chávez. Castro goes on: "Everything's set for Tuesday.''

''Everything's set for Tuesday,'' Chávez repeats, obviously befuddled. "I don't understand.''...

Miami's Spanish-language radio stations often play outlandish practical jokes on the air, and Castro's Cuba is one of their favorite targets. Hispanic Broadcasting Corp.'s WRTO Salsa 98.3 FM has a segment dubbed Calls to Cuba in which the morning-drive hosts, known as Los Fonomemecos, call businesses and agencies on the island with some ridiculous request or inquiry.
In a recent segment, a DJ posing as a high-ranking Cuban military officer called a Havana funeral home to request a coffin -- for Castro. The mortician burst into sobs.
Chávez, known for his folksy manner, isn't above playing jokes himself.
For the past Day of the Innocents, Latin Americans' version of April Fool's Day that is celebrated Dec. 28, he announced on the radio that he was tired and going to resign. He then changed his tone. ''Ha ha! You fell for it!'' he laughed.
Oh, yeah. April Fool's Day. That's going to have to be abolished, lest someone's feelings are hurt and suicide ensues. But Day of the Innocents... had you heard about that? Which cultures are disparately impacted by suppression of pranking? This is an angle that will, I think, soften the urge to repress that bedevils the nannies of the United States and Britain.

31 comments:

edutcher said...

I like Day of the Innocents.

Largely because the Fools are usually the perpetrators.

sabeth.chu said...

as jane austen once pointed out, a joke that is acceptable against an equal or somebody strong, is acceptable --- toward somebody weak, it is an outrage and a cruelty. that is what happened in london. the joke went against a foreign nurse at the end of her night shift .... Not funny!

Cedarford said...

What if the gay guy whose college roomate filmed him having sex with a stranger had "owned it!" and laughed it off like a man rather than throwing himself off a bridge?

Would that have been taken as a funny prank by Althouse?

There is also the NBC people that pranked Zimmerman by altering his 911 call to fool other people. Like many pranks - someone disliked was targeted for slurring and ridicule.
Funny?
Or not?

And there are a lot of kids going to juvie court after pulling the fire alarm at school...with their first defense..."But, it was just a prank!!"

Sigivald said...

It was actually Pierre Brassard, a Canadian radio presenter and impressionist.

I prefer the pointillists.

Sigivald said...

It was actually Pierre Brassard, a Canadian radio presenter and impressionist.

I prefer the pointillists.

bpm4532 said...

I fondly recall Chicago DJ Steve Dahl calling Kentucky Fried Chicken in Tehran in 1979 to order buckets of chicken for the hostages.

Capt. Schmoe said...

Blaming the DJ's for this woman's suicide is like blaming Jackie for J.F.K.'s death.

I can't believe the "outrage" over this, it shows just what big pussies the Brits and Aussies have become.

Our jumping on the bandwagon is almost as bad, this trend of hypersensitivity is almost revolting.

If a ten second conversation before transferring a call is enough to put someone over the edge, one foot and four toes are already over the psycho-emotional abyss.

The whole thing, tragic as it might be, is B.S.

sabeth.chu said...

but would it have been acceptable if he had made fun of the hostages them selves?

Hagar said...

And the London police still has only declared her death "suspicious" due to the coincidence in timing, but positively state they have no evidence as yet as to the cause of death and will wait for the results of the autopsy, which may take some time, before commenting further.

sabeth.chu said...

there is no prank that is just a prank. there is always the victim to consider. is he strong or weak. and if he is weak, then this is NOT a justification, but makes the prank a cruelty.

Hagar said...

and I think I remember that a Quebec radio station had Hillary! thinking she was talking to Sarkozy.

rhhardin said...

I'd strongly recommend The Lazlo Letters (orignal version, he's tried to make later versions as good but they never are), letters to famous and powerful people who reply.

Note that the only two important people who come off well in the replies are Nixon and Nguyen Van Thieu.

Kit said...

sabeth.chu, I think you've got it exactly right.

bearing said...

I've certainly heard of the Day of the Innocents -- it's a Catholic feast day, in which we commemorate Herod's slaughter of the male children up to age two in the area where Jesus was thought to have been born.

I didn't know it was used for pranks. That's quite a leap.

Amartel said...

Didn't Palin get pranked by some fun-lovin' super-elite libs pretending to be French?
Good times, good times.
(Now would be a opportune moment for a hilarious suicide joke. Too bad the current script calls for opportunistic outrage about prank-call caused suicide. Oh, well, just wait another week or so.)

damikesc said...

the joke went against a foreign nurse at the end of her night shift .... Not funny!

...then, uh, why did the hospital put her in that position? They called the hospital. If the hospital put apparently a foreign and tired nurse on the line, that is hardly the fault of the DJ's.

What if the gay guy whose college roomate filmed him having sex with a stranger had "owned it!" and laughed it off like a man rather than throwing himself off a bridge?

Either plan demonstrated Darwinism.

There is also the NBC people that pranked Zimmerman by altering his 911 call to fool other people. Like many pranks - someone disliked was targeted for slurring and ridicule.

It's a "prank" to edit a call and broadcast it nationally? Really?

Colonel Angus said...

I will confess that I haven't been following this story all that closely (the Brit royals are about as interesting as watching paint dry), but are we really supposed to believe this woman killed herself because some Aussie DJ fooled her into thinking she was talking to the Queen?

Seriously?

Widmerpool said...

Step down from the stage, sabeth.chu.

Hagar said...

Amartel is right; it was Sara Palin who got pranked with the "Sarkozy" call from Quebec.

Unknown said...

Does the UK have laws and regulations comparable to our HIPAA?

There are pranks, and then there is impersonation to obtain information illegally.

Mitchell the Bat said...

The Queen gets pranked and she remains Queen.

Prime Minister Tony Blair gets pranked and he remains Prime Minister.

Cuban dictator Fidel Castro gets pranked and he remains dictator.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez gets pranked and he remains President.

Some nurse gets pranked and she commits suicide.

So yeah, the great tradition of prank calling seems like a pretty effective way to take somebody down a few pegs.

Marshal said...

Unknown said...
Does the UK have laws and regulations comparable to our HIPAA?

There are pranks, and then there is impersonation to obtain information illegally.


This would not have been a HIPAA violation had it taken place in the US. HIPAA only applies to custodians of medical information. The DJs are outside its scope. The nurse is covered by HIPAA but unknowing or inadvertent disclosures are not violations.

phx said...

I'm not saying it's "better", but I really don't enjoy practical jokes of any kind. It's just not my thing. I'm sure some other people must feel the same way.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

"Day of the Innocents" as in Feast of the Holy Innocents? And they make that their April Fools' Day?

Oh, yeah. I want to remember the senseless slaughter of two year old and younger Jewish boys at the hands of King Herod by playing pranks on my pals.

Dumbing Catholicism down.

PatHMV said...

Ann, you are generally far more tolerant of mean behavior than I. Your support for prank calls is of a piece with your attitude towards the parties involved in the AutoAdmit case... that the subjects of such jests should get a thicker skin.

Personally, I've never seen the humor in these prank calls, even when they involve heads of state. At heart, they are mean-spirited, inviting us to laugh at normal human foibles, at the expense of the target. I particularly despise the radio shows that do this to the average Joe, waking them up early, making them think they've won the lottery or something, etc. Fortunately, the "shock jock" persona has dwindled some in recent years.

Fraud just isn't funny. And these japes, even against the rich or famous, come at a cost. After it happened to, say, the Prime Minister, don't you think new procedures were adopted that make it that much harder to get the Prime Minister on the phone? Think they got off without consequences?

What about totalitarian societies? What was the likely consequence to the poor sucker who put the not-Chavez call through to Castro. Think Fidel's got a great sense of humor about such things?

Society, especially an open, democratic society, relies a great deal on the assumption that people tell the truth about who we are. Maybe that's good, maybe that's bad, but it's human nature. When people abuse that inherent trust, it causes everybody to react, to close up a bit. That's not good.

Cedarford said...

PatHMV said...
===========
I agree with him. The "pranks" don by shock jocks and many others corrode trust and comity in society.
That is not good.
And lets admit that "pranks" are part of the bullying toolkit when applied to weaker and more vulnerable people by the powerful. For some reason, the pranksters in Highschool prefer to target people that lack the ability to pound them to a pulp if displeased - the retarded girl vs. the junior gang leader just back in HS after a stint in juvie for stabbing someone.
For some reason, the Freedom Loving!! pranksters of media select their targets with the idea of minimizing blowback in their minds - making a black female victim look like an ignorant nigger in a prank is not good for media people's employment security - so that target is avoided - better target a dumb white woman instead for public ridicule. And I have yet to hear of a prank played on a sue-happy famous tort lawyer.

The Pathetic Earthling said...

My friends Dad was living in Helsinki in 1960 working for Bechtel and he and a colleague called the Kremlin and managed to get -- through sheer bluster -- to one of Kruschev's personal secretaries. When they thought they were about to be transferred to Kruschev himself, they had a long delay and got transferred to some other fellow. With the game finally appeared up, they told them, in English, "Just tell 'em Bob called." There was a visit from someone in the US Embassy the next day and how he didn't get sacked and permanently blacklisted from any useful employment remain a mystery to him until the day he died.

Now, this story *might* have been entirely made up, but the way he told it you never cared. It was the one time I've ever had to leave the room to throw up because I was laughing so hard.

Kenneth Burns said...

I loathe practical jokes. There's no joy in humiliating people.

Ann Althouse said...

I'm not a big fan of that kind of humor. I simply object to repression, and I think too much power is being given to the self-murderer. Suicide should be condemned not used as reason to deprive the living of freedom.

jeff said...

I cant imagine anyone could ever think someone would commit suicide over a prank call. However, its completely foreseeable that someone would lose their job over that call and considering that someone was a nurse just trying to do her job, I cant work up to much sympathy for the DJ's who make the call.

PatHMV said...

I have no interest in taking away their legal freedom to make such obnoxious phone calls, Ann. But I want them to accept responsibility for what they really are, mean-spirited bullying dressed up as "fun." And I do want them to stop, not because they will face legal consequences for doing so, but because I think they should be ashamed of what they do and far more aware of the potential negative impact it can have on the victims of their pranks.