From Benjamin Franklin’s newspaper hoax that faked the death of his rival to Abbie Hoffman’s attempt to levitate the Pentagon, pranksters, hoaxers, and con artists have caused confusion, disorder, and laughter in Western society for centuries. Profiling the most notorious mischief makers from the 1600s to the present day, Pranksters explores how “pranks” are part of a long tradition of speaking truth to power and social critique.
Invoking such historical and contemporary figures as P.T. Barnum, Jonathan Swift, WITCH, The Yes Men, and Stephen Colbert, Kembrew McLeod shows how staged spectacles that balance the serious and humorous can spark important public conversations. In some instances, tricksters have incited social change (and unfortunate prank blowback) by manipulating various forms of media, from newspapers to YouTube. For example, in the 1960s, self-proclaimed “professional hoaxer” Alan Abel lampooned America’s hypocritical sexual mores by using conservative rhetoric to fool the news media into covering a satirical organization that advocated clothing naked animals. In the 1990s, Sub Pop Records then-receptionist Megan Jasper satirized the commodification of alternative music culture by pranking the New York Times into reporting on her fake lexicon of “grunge speak.” Throughout this book, McLeod shows how pranks interrupt the daily flow of approved information and news, using humor to underscore larger, pointed truths.
Written in an accessible, story-driven style, Pranksters reveals how mischief makers have left their shocking, entertaining, and educational mark on modern political and social life.
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