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April Fool's Day
Member Name: duncantorr
April Fool's Day
Date: 01/04/12, updated on 28/05/13 (166 review reads)
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
Summary: A Modest Proposal for Preventing Practical Jokers From Causing Hurt or Offence