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Today's announcement by the government that it will take action to regulate April Fools' Day hoaxes and practical jokes is to be welcomed, but does not go far enough. This pernicious practice should be unequivocally outlawed.
For too long we as a nation have tolerated the anti-social "jokes" perpetrated on April 1st for no better reason than that they were regarded as a long-established custom, which is never a good enough reason to tolerate anything. On the flimsiest grounds - those of respecting tradition - we have permitted much more heinous acts of disrespect, and have turned a blind eye to the offensive spectacle of malicious "jokers" making fun of those who, through no fault of their own, are gullible and credulous. In effect we have permitted, even encouraged, discrimination, in that people with a specific characteristic - that of a naïve and trusting disposition - are singled out to be victims. Rightly, the law already bans discrimination on the grounds of race and sex, and in essence this is no different. Victimisation of any kind is an outrage, and the victimisation of those not endowed by nature with the faculty of scepticism that the rest of us take for granted is particularly repugnant, especially when aggravated by ridicule. It has no place in a civilised society.
The framework of regulation proposed by the government for April Fools' Day activities is but a teetering, half-hearted step in the right direction, gesture politics of the most insipid kind. Typically tentative, this administration proposes that April Fools' Day "jokes" should continue to be legal, though only when carried out by officially qualified, licensed and accredited practitioners, who would have their licences renewed annually on payment of a fee, provided that they satisfied examiners as to their competence and good faith. Regular CRO checks would, of course, be carried out on all applicants. Once licensed, they would be required to wear identifying badges, clearly visible to prospective victims, and to carry supporting documentation with large print, foreign language and braille versions available to be produced on demand, together with recorded audio versions for the literacy-challenged. Following authorised procedure, the practitioners would first remind victims of the date and warn them in advance that an April Fools' Day "joke" was about to be perpetrated, allowing ample time for them to refuse to participate if they so preferred, or otherwise to take evasive action. Inspectors would ensure that these procedures were adhered to, and an advice bureau would be set up to inform citizens of their rights, provide both pre- and post-joke counselling, and to pass on complaints to an overall supervisory body (Department against April Fools' Transgressions), which would adjudicate accordingly and have powers to revoke licences or otherwise discipline offending practitioners. DAFT would also be responsible for working with the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service to bring any unlicensed "jokers" to justice.
This proposed paraphernalia of regulation and enforcement is all very well in its way, but begs the fundamental question: once April Fools' Day "jokes" are recognised as socially undesirable, why not simply ban them outright?
There will doubtless be those who argue that such a ban would be an unwarranted curb on individual freedom. It is indeed a curb, as most laws necessarily must be, but not an unwarranted one. The interests of society as a whole are paramount, and of what value to society as a whole is the "freedom" of an individual to deceive, trick and mock his or her fellow citizens? Far from being of value, such behaviour can only devalue public standards of honest dealing, mutual trust and mutual respect. By the same token, the perpetuation of April Fools' Day "jokes", no matter what supervisory controls are put in place, will continue to encourage falsehood and dishonesty of all kinds, mutual distrust, and ultimately outright fraud. Specious, emotive arguments about individual freedom can be of little substance when weighed against the moral benefits to society at large. And not just moral benefits, but practical benefits as well. Often, those misled by April Fools' Day deceptions take action as a result, at a cost to their finances, time, convenience or peace of mind. Such cost and inconvenience would be entirely obviated by an outright ban. The related health and safety hazards - of which there are many - would be obviated too, as would any danger of April Fools' Day "jokes" being used as a cover for terrorist attacks.
There will doubtless be those who argue that, even under the government's proposals, the new criminal offence (when committed by unlicensed practitioners) of "April Fools' Day Foolery" will be difficult to define legally, and therefore difficult to enforce. Maybe, but such difficulties should never stand in the way of doing the right thing. In any case, the proposed legislation incorporates a simple and elegant solution to the difficulty of legal definition, by stipulating that the offence will be victim-defined. In other words, if someone thinks they have been the victim of an April Fools' Day hoax or practical joke, then the law will support them by so defining whatever was done to them accordingly. This victim-centred approach is as sensible as it is sensitive, recognising that victims may be confused in the aftermath of their ordeal, and inexperienced in grappling with the complexities of the law. The objection that this would give scope for false accusations by the paranoid or the petty, the vindictive or the vengeful is a minor concern by comparison, as well as being an implicit slur on the integrity of victims. Clearly, if someone is offended, someone else must have committed an offence. In any case, defining the crime in these terms will ensure than anyone contemplating behaviour that might be interpreted as "April Fools' Day Foolery" will think doubly hard about the appropriateness or otherwise of what they intend to do, and will strive all the harder to avoid upsetting anyone else or having their motives misinterpreted. There will be a built-in incentive for everyone to adopt a habit of restrained and considerate behaviour, and this too must be a benefit to all.
There will doubtless be those who argue that the proposed minimum sentence of five year's imprisonment for unlicensed April Fools' Day "jokers" is harsh, even draconian. On the contrary, it is far too lenient. In this, as in other, respects the government's proposals do not go far enough. Not only should there be an outright ban, rather than mere regulation, and stiffer sentences for transgressors, but the prohibition of "jokes" should not be limited to April Fools' Day, but extended throughout the year. Otherwise, would-be "jokers" will make a mockery of the law by timing their offences accordingly. There is no reason why anybody should trick or dupe anybody else on any day, any more than they should an "April Fool" on April 1st. All such activities should be prohibited without exception.
Let it not be said that April Fools' Day Foolery - or foolery in general - is just innocent fun. No fun is innocent, for it would certainly not be so regarded by its victims. To categorise hoaxes and practical jokes as "fun" belittles the very real pain, even psychological trauma, suffered by those on the receiving end. The "fun" derived by the "jokers", in contrast, is of the cruellest kind, deeply sadistic in its nature, of a similar stamp to that derived from vicious blood-sports like fox-hunting or bear-baiting by their blood-thirsty adherents. Let us remember that these barbaric pursuits also had their apologists, for there is always someone ready to bend over backwards to defend the indefensible. Such special pleading on behalf of the bullies masquerading as purveyors of "fun" must be ignored. The government, to its credit, has set the ball rolling. Now it should follow through to ensure no April Fools' - or any other - jokes are ever again tolerated in our country.
© Also published under the name torr on Ciao UK, 2012
I am going to have to cast my mind back to when i was 17 ..... not so long ago (i wish)
I was oppressively about 5 months pregnant with my eldest daughter and April Fools day was coming round so being a little on the large side and in general depressed with waddling like some constipated duck.
A friend determined to lift my spirits decided to include me on a prank in the local village where i used to live,
I was feeling slightly deflated in enthusiasm but agreed ,basically anything to get out of the house, so on the eve before April fools day he called me and told me he would pick me up at 3 am.
I was suffering from sleepless nights anyway so being up before the paper boy did not really bother me, But i was getting curious as to what he possible had in mind, Especially to be done at such a silly hour.
So around 2.45 am , he pulled up outside my house in his van, Now this friend of mine is not a quiet character, he was a full time landscape gardener with a passion for the magic roundabout and his obsession with the characters from the show were evident on his van , you had doogle, emintrude, and the springy one painted on his van all basking in a neatly done landscaped garden.
I have in the past refused to get in the van for fear of embarrassment but at silly o'clock in the morning i was not bothered, it was not like i was going to be seen by my friends, as they are mostly sensible and would be in bed like any other sane person!
Anyway I got in the van and off we went , I had no idea where we were going or what we were doing , he just told me to wait and see. About 5 minutes after heaving myself in to the van we pulled up on a quiet car park, which was large and empty, he told me to get out of the van and follow him to the back of the van , where he unloaded a large tin of yellow paint and a lengthy piece of rope, after looking round and making sure the place was clear he guided me to the centre of the car park , gave me one end of the rope and told me to keep a hold of it and not to let it slacken.
He then went away from me with the other end of the rope till it had got taught , opened his tin of yellow paint and started to paint the car park till he had moved in full circle, i was still confused at this time as to what he was doing and really thinking he had looped the loop and was in need of a straight jacket.
He then told me to get back in to the van while he finished it off , i still could not fathom out what he was doing, after ten minutes of him paint on the car park floor he got back in to the van giggling. I had asked him what he had done and he refused to tell me saying all would become clear.
He then took me too another pub and again we parked on the rear car park , i was not willing to get out and do a repeat performance, until he told me what he had done , again he refused telling me again all would become clear.
So at the rear of the second pub in the car park he once again got out of the van produced another tin of paint this time in Black he told me to keep an eye out while he ventured up on to the fire escape and on to the roof,
I was unsure of what he was doing all i knew was that i was on a car park at nearly 4 in the morning freezing and in need of a cup of tea, after what seemed like a 45 minutes he reappeared , laughing so much that if anything he would attract someone , even the owners of the pub so we got in the van where after ten minutes his laughing had subsided enough to say to me " you know what pub that is don't you " of course i did it was the towns central pub " yeah its the white horse if you go round the front you will see the sign and the big horse on the front of it you dime bar" i said "is it are you sure ? "he replied. I was getting pretty narked off by now i was cold and not really in the mood for cryptic clues, so he started the engine and drove us round to the front of the pub where i nearly wet my self.
The big white horse on the front of the pub now sported stripes and looked more like a zebra than a horse. I started to laugh, then once i had finished i started to panic, what if we had been seen , worse still what if the police were about , i told him i wanted to go home straight away,
Yes i wanted to help play a prank on the town but i did not think it would extend in to criminal damage, In theory , i had nothing to do with the zebra malarkey but i still wanted to know what he had done on the first car park , he still refused to tell me and that it would all come clear, and it did on the 3rd of April it was published in the local paper, I had been an accessory to painting a helicopter landing pad on a car park. And that the local land mark known as the white horse was now a zebra, there were a few comments in the paper claiming it was funny and that they thought out of towners were responsible little do they know it was two locals one of which was pregnant at the time,
I have since moved from there and considering it took place over 16 years ago it is still a topic of conversation on April fools day, if you go in to one of the pubs it is relayed like some old folk story.
You hear the punters saying " remember them clowns that turned the horse in to a zebra", or "painted an helicopter landing pad".
Needless to say it is part of my past but i can say i was there when it happened, although i did not actually take much part in doing it , i was part of a little town gag that 16 years on is still talked about.
I was on that night, creating history.
I was just flipping through the TV and on some repeat its actually April Fools day so I thought why not and I thought of a couple of April Fools day stories and throught I would tell one.
Personally I love April fools day its so much fun. However I know some people find it cruel and degrading. My cousin was born on April fools day and when he went out for his 18th Birthday he couldn't get served for alchol anywere as they all thought it was pulling an April fool I found it so funny when he told me.
I once had a really cruel April fool joke on me when I was in school in year 9 I had an allergic reaction to face cream and could barely speak and was off school for 5 weeks until it healed and I could move my face and neck again. My best friend brought all my work over for me and told me we had a big mock test which would take hours to revise for on a novel actually on 1st April and I revised and read the novel the test was on and knew loads about it. I got to school and was given the test and it was on a completely different novel to the one my best friend had given me and I found out she was getting me back from the previous year because I did something very childish. However I got her back because my teacher had rung my mum to tell her about the test and she told me it was on a different novel and I got a higher mark than she did I love it when you can get someone back.
I wonder if anybody else has had an April fool put on them and it backfires on the person doing it.