April Fool’s Day? – sometimes it’s hard to tell

The difference between reality and fiction is that fiction has to make sense —Unknown

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

April first is April Fool’s Day. It’s not a holiday in the usual sense, but it is a day, for some of us at least, to expect the unexpected.

The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year.

- Mark Twain 

Normally on April first, a news story might strike us as a bit out of the ordinary, but then we remember the date. Some stories fool us, and some of us take a bit longer to make the connection between a barely believable news story and  the tradition of April Fools.

But that was long ago, or at least a couple of years ago, back in the ancient, un-ironic days when news stories were presumed to be predominately fact-based.

Those days, by any standard, are long gone.

These days, too many news stories – no matter how preposterous – end up being true.

The newest, most advanced Boeing jet falls out of the sky, twice, killing all passengers and crew – and is banned from flight around the world within weeks of its introduction.

Our president begins a tradition of signing Bibles – and one recently sold on eBay for $325.

What story is – or isn’t – true?

It hardly matters in our era of “fake news” and “alternative facts”.

Satire loses its edge when the daily news is a ridiculous as any comic’s rabid and unhinged imagination.

Oddly enough, many people are creeped out by clowns. What could be creepier than a statue of a clown? Is that a smile or an evil smirk? Photo: Morf Morford

Oddly enough, many people are creeped out by clowns. What could be creepier than a statue of a clown? Is that a smile or an evil smirk? Photo: Morf Morford

The online magazine The Onion (https://www.theonion.com/) “America’s Finest News Source”, originally a university parody journal, finds itself closer to the truth than many “mainstream” news sources.

Consider these recent Onion headlines:

“Report: Just Go Ahead And Tell Yourself Bribery Is The Only Reason You Didn’t Get Into Columbia”

“Experts Recommend Changing Batteries In Smoke Detector Every 6 Fires”

“Virginia Governor Calls On State To Move Past Racist Legacy Of Last Few Weeks”

“Trump Complains About Overly Complicated Controls Needed To Operate Modern-Day Doors”

“Mike Pence Criticizes Venezuela’s Use Of Torture, Starvation On Non-Homosexual Citizens”

“Elliott Abrams Defends War Crimes As Happening Back In The ’80s When Everyone Was Doing It”

“Exciting New App Allows Users To Be Pawns In 26-Year-Old CEO’s Little Game”

Unfortunately for The Onion (and for us) the distinction between preposterous exaggeration and an actual event has been blurred beyond distinction.

For those with a religious inclination – or education -  The Babylon Bee satirizes religion and its peculiar absurdities and contradictions.

Here are a few recent headlines from The Bee;

“Man Feels The Need To Clarify He Doesn’t Support Trump Before Every Mundane Statement”

“The Princess Bride’ Officially Recognized As Inspired Scripture”

“Nation Finally Incited To Rebel After Government Takes Away Hour Of Precious Sleep”

“Chick-Fil-A Manager Reminds Patrons To Examine Themselves Before Partaking Of The Chicken And Milkshakes”

“‘Everything Is Bad And The World Is Ending And You Shouldn’t Have Kids,’ Says Party Of Progress”

“Nation’s Republicans Weep Bitterly Upon Learning Hillary Clinton Not Running In 2020″

And then there is The Borowitz Report from The New Yorker with recent articles like this;

“Betsy DeVos Suggests That Bribing Colleges Helps Students Learn Math”

“Iraq Offers to Help Establish Democracy in North Carolina”

“Cindy Hyde-Smith Says She Never Lost Faith in Mississippi’s Racists”

As you can see from this quick overview, some headlines intended to be satire, accidentally veer toward the truth – if not insightful – regarding current news.

What could be more perverse, if not banal, or even predictable, than rich people sending their kids to prestigious universities for no reason other than to say that they “attended” a fancy school – certainly not to actually learn anything or acquire a skill.

There’s an old saying that the truth hurts – but sometimes humor can take the sting out of pain or injustice.

Humor can say things in a way that puts things into perspective and may make us think a little more about our automatic opinions and slogans.

No matter where you are, this is probably good advice. Photo: Morf Morford

No matter where you are, this is probably good advice. Photo: Morf Morford

Things are funny because they hurt or because they are true.

And sometimes saying things in a humorous way is the only way to say them. And making fun of the absurdities of life and work and relationships can be the best way of dealing with – or even making sense of – them.

Lord, what fools these mortals be! 

- William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Nights Dream

It would be easy to conclude that the news gets more absurd and unbelievable every day.

There used to be a political slogan that, when things got too messy, “the adults would enter the room.”

I don’t hear that saying anymore.

No one says it, but I think we all share the sense that the “adults” have left us long ago.

We are on our own. It is our job to sift truth from deception and absurdity.

Fortunately we have political and cultural leaders to show us the way.

As political satirists have noted for years, if not centuries, a comic doesn’t need to exaggerate or make up anything, they just need to report the news.  (1*)

One politician observed that global warming was good because more living things like warm weather.

He’s right of course; most of them just happen to be “living things” we’d rather not have around – like fleas, ticks, roaches and mosquitoes – and the diseases they spread like Lyme Disease, malaria and Zika.

And then there was the politician who warned us that too many windmills would not only “use up” all the wind, but they would cause the rotation of the earth to slow down.  (2*)

At least he acknowledges that the earth rotates – and is round – unlike about 20% of Americans who are convinced that the world is flat (3*) – and about half of those who believe in a flat earth do so on religious grounds (www.livescience.com/62220-millennials-flat-earth-belief.html).

If you want to see some classic April Fool’s Day spoofs, take a look here – https://www.geekwire.com/2018/fake-news-gets-real-april-fools-comes-early-smartshoephones-brewolingo-much/ and for the one hundred best ever hoaxes look here – http://hoaxes.org/aprilfool/.

Neil Simon’s play “Fools” portrays the story of a village under a curse of stupidity. In this case, not only are the villagers imbeciles, they are also incapable of caring for anyone or anything.

It’s fiction, of course. Or is it?

 

(1*)    For a list of some of the best political satirists, look here – https://mic.com/articles/56107/10-best-political-comedians-of-all-time#.AG1MvH5A0

(2*)    Does he assume that wind spins the earth? And that mountains and large buildings wouldn’t have the same affect?

(3*)    If you want to see the “evidence” that the earth is flat, look here – https://theflatearthsociety.org/home/ or if you want to try a few simple observations to prove the globe shape of the earth look here – https://www.popsci.com/10-ways-you-can-prove-earth-is-round#page-5.