Hi, everyone – sorry I’ve been away for so long. I’ve been a mixture of sick and busy and just haven’t been able to get back. Hopefully you’ve all had time now to read my story in Perihelion. Right?
Anyway, for today’s topic, I’d like to discuss satire a bit. It’s on my mind lately largely because it is becoming more and more prevalent in my social media feeds of late and, like most things, I have definite opinions about it I want to voice, and as this is my blog, well, you know the rest.
Satire, technically speaking, is a style of art that exaggerates something in society (usually people or customs) to the point of absurdity for the purpose of critique. While it is often humorous, it doesn’t need to be. Ostensibly, its purpose is to effect social change or draw attention to social problems, which is broadly what distinguishes it from parody, which is primarily intended to entertain and, indeed, satire can use parody, but in the end it often isn’t very funny.
The thing about satire is that it can be done very well (e.g. The Onion or The Borowitz Report) or it can be done very poorly (The Daily Currant comes to mind, though it has gotten a lot better in recent years). The difference, to me, is this: if you, a reasonably intelligent person, read a satirical article and cannot actually tell whether or not it is satirical or not, this is bad satire. If you find yourself googling whether or not the thing described actually happened, it has failed as a piece of satirical writing.
Let me explain: Satire is the art of exaggeration for the purpose of creating an effect. It is a kind of reductio ad absurdum: “If political figure A is like this, it basically means they could also be like this absurd thing, which is stupid.” However, if your satirical piece comes across as merely “extreme but plausible,” then the “satire” part hasn’t hit home. People who already agree with the critique the satire was intending are merely outraged and the people who disagree with the critique don’t notice that a critique has been made. You haven’t actually satirized, you’ve just made something up.
Granted, lots of people get confused by good satire, too. The Onion frequently gets angry e-mails from people who thought their articles were factual. Some folks out there thought the “Stephen Colbert” of The Colbert Report was actually a conservative. Obviously, satire is not for the dull-witted. However, satire needs to wink at the audience at some point. They need to realize that this isn’t real, but is making a point through absurdity. Any reasonably well-informed person should be able to tell the difference, even if at first they are confounded.
I’ve been seeing lots of bad satire lately. Saw a piece the other day claiming Mike Pence didn’t want to use the word “vice” in Vice President because of religious grounds. The article barely had any indication that this was false, and even though it seemed extreme, it wasn’t so extreme that it was impossible. The article included links to actual events, which merely obfuscated things further. It was by a Journalism professor. The winks to the audience, such as they were, were so subtle as to fail to qualify. It was only after looking at the author’s other publications on the Huffington Post that you could see the pattern – this guy is a satirist. Just a bad one.
Part of the trouble, I fear, is because our current political climate is pretty absurd to begin with. It’s hard to get crazier than Trump, and satire is a challenging business in any event. Nevertheless, now is the time for satirists to shine, and shine they must. If they don’t, nobody will know they were there until Snopes posts a declaration, and by then their message will have been lost in the scramble. As E.B White once said:
Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better, but the frog dies in the process.
Behold, wretched wetlanders, it is I, Vrokthar the Skull-feaster, Scourge of the Northern Wastes, once more compelled to visit my mighty displeasure upon thee and thy incontinent civilization. Oft in the past have I commanded this ensorcelled word-slate to convey my curses to your soft pink ears, but this time is different. Indeed, your fetid customs, while usually merely despicable and foolish in equal measure, have this time done Vrokthar true injury. Such injuries will be answered by your howls of pain. So have I decreed, and so shall it be. But before Vrokthar visits his meteoric wrath upon your flat, sweaty lands, let him first regale you with the story of the fatal errors that hath led thee to this bloody destiny.
As chieftain of a mighty tribe of marauders, it falls to Vrokthar to educate the youth in the art of violence and rapacity. These young ones flock to Vrokthar’s longhouse and squat by the side of his throne of skulls. By the firelight, I speak to them of mighty deeds and teach them the best way to flay a man whilst he lives. Woe betide the foolish boy who does not heed Vrokthar’s weighty musings, for it is he that we practice upon. The screams echo into the night, and we feast and sleep well.
Or so it once was. No more.
In our raids, very many of my tribe have wrested magical treasures from the twisted hands of thy wetlander countrymen. These “computors” and “celled phones” have proven their worth to my people many times. No more shall we be forced to wander endlessly the vast tundras of my land in search of prey. No, the oracle GOOGLE now betrays thy settlements to us, and we pillage at will. The many sacrifices we have burned in for the honor of the GOOGLE are great. Their clever logos also bring much amusement to my warriors.
But these gifts have cost my people more dearly than you know. Now my young charges wish to use the spirit world of the INTORNOT to aid in their learning. Indeed, there are surprisingly many learning packages for the young barbarian, purchasable for reasonable fees. We, of course, do not buy – we take – and many educational software companies have perished beneath Vrokthar’s heavy boots. I now command a flexible and versatile platform of interactive lessons meant to occupy my students, meant to free Vrokthar’s precious time for more butchery and razing of wetlander settlements.
But it is not so. Vrokthar is BETRAYED!
The learning software has failed to function. My foolish students cannot manage to log on. The structure of the program is as dense and mysterious as the Labyrinth of Gloom. Vrokthar has not saved himself time at all! Indeed, I am now forced to poke and prod at mine own word-slate to goad the sluggard programs to load. I am forced to prostrate myself before mine sworn enemies, Tech Support, and grovel for aid. Hours have become days, days have become weeks, and my students are as stupid now as when they began. Worst of all is this: the screams that echo into the night are my own, as I curse and flail impotently at the educational software’s inferior User Interface.
I now ask myself: what was ever amiss with my mighty axe and my booming voice? Where did I go wrong? I answer the question thusly: You fools have done this to me. This is thy vengeance – this is how you seek to destroy the mighty Vrokthar, by denying his heirs his weighty wisdom.
It shall not stand.
Beware, mewling wetlander scum! Vrokthar the Skull-feaster hath ferreted out thy cowardly plot, and now he shall unroot thee. He shall strike from the frigid north like a thunderbolt, dashing down your mirrored castles in thy sedate office parks. Then, when you have been dragged a hundred miles on your knees, eating nothing but the flesh of your fallen compatriots, THEN shall you grovel at the foot of Vrokthar for your very lives. And THEN Vrokthar will show mercy to any who can manage to log in to their wretched INTORNOT portal on the first try. Those who succeed shall become my slaves. Those who fail shall learn new ways to scream as they become an educational message for all their ilk, their entrails shipped to their competitors in small FedEx envelopes for months to come.
So sayeth Vrokthar. So it shall be.
Hello, and welcome to the Sudden Valley Interdimensional Gateway Facility. Assuming you made it through security, you are reading this document while under the watchful eye of our armed guards. Please don’t be alarmed – they will only kill you if you show any signs of being an alien. So just remember to act totally normal. Easy, right?
Now, here are the basic rules:
- No animal or plant matter (beside yourselves) is to pass through the portal in either direction. No matter how human they look, we will shoot any people you rescue from alien overlords, so don’t even bother.
- Always send a robot through first. If you can’t get a good picture from a robot, spend some time building a better robot before sending through a person. Yes, even Gary.
- The scientist who designed the portal is never, ever, ever allowed to go through it, no matter how much she wants to. Do not give Marcia the access codes no matter how much she begs you. We’re serious.
- Do not operate the portal while drunk. We would say that you could be shot for attempting this, but no drunken lush has ever lived long enough for us to do so, so…
- If you dream about the portal “calling you,” please report to the nearest armed guard and say “Code Purple.” They know what to do next. We promise you’ll be fine. Honest.
- If something comes through the portal on its own, it has to die. We don’t care if it looks like your grandmother or dead girlfriend or long-lost father or whatever. Shoot first, questions later.
- After returning through the portal, please report to “Proccessing.” Remember to act totally normal.
- If the portal throws you forwards or backwards in time, remember not to cause any paradoxes. Assuming such paradoxes are possible, which they might not be, since they’ve never happened. Or maybe they did and we don’t know. Anyway, be careful. Remember: if confronted by security, remember to act totally normal.
- In the case of a time loop, we have a chess set set up in the break room at all times to help you signal to yourself that you’re in a time loop. Always remember to act totally normal.
- The alien species you may or may not encounter might end up being really cool. One of them might even be a seven foot tall blue cat chick who introduces you to her people’s ways. We do not care at all–keep her world’s problems on her world, dammit. We’ve got enough crazy shit going down on Earth. Stay out of it.
- In case of emergency, we have this facility rigged to the warhead of a hydrogen bomb. It is wired to the Big Red Button. Do not push the Big Red Button unless absolutely necessary.
- If you return under mind control, we will kill you. Sorry, but it clearly violates the totally normal statute.
- If you return with super-powers, but are in all other ways Totally Normal, we reserve the right to rent your services to the government so we can pay for our facility. We know, we know – that sounds dystopian and mean, but you get to be a superhero now, so shut up.
Good rule of thumb: expanding the knowledge of the human race is good and all, but let’s try to do that without blowing up the Earth.
Have fun, and happy adventuring!
Hey there, Space Cadets!
Just dropping a note here to let everybody know that I’ll be taking a blogging break next week. Expect to see my usual hijinx reappear round about the 18th of July. To tide you over, I leave you with this compilation of dogs being terrible at dog things:
It’s the video America needs right now, though probably not the one it wants.
Be talking to you all soon!
A bit late in the week for a new post, but I’ve had a hell of a week and my writing is off-pace so screw it, I’m only writing 2000 words today and am going to finish up with a blog post instead.
I’m wrapping up a blog tour today (check out my post on The Dark Phantom Review!) and I’ve done a few interviews (most of which, for some reason, didn’t surface on the internet – go figure). Anytime I do an interview, one question usually crops up:
Where do you get your ideas?
It has it’s variants, too: “What inspires you?” or “where do you look for inspiration?” and stuff like that. It’s a perfectly reasonable question, too – lots of people would like to know where an author gets his or her ideas. Seems pertinent, interesting, and so on.
Except it’s totally unanswerable. I mean, sure, there are rare occasions where I can trace an idea back to a particular moment in time, but the vast, vast majority of my “inspiration” is ineffable. It is the particulate matter filtered from the substrate of my life and experiences. Asking somebody (anybody!) where they get their ideas is kinda like asking “why do you like grapes?” Jesus – hell if I know! Why do you like grapes? Did you take a grape aptitude test? Is enthusiasm for grapes a genetic trait shared with your extended family? Did you, on March 17th 1985, eat a grape and then, from that moment on, grapes and you were best buddies? Or was it just, you know, that article in The New Yorker you read last year that talked about how good grapes taste?
Now, I usually try not to answer that question that way because it’s a bit rude and the interviewer is nice enough to do me this favor of interviewing me and I don’t want to be a jerk. But the answers I furnish (I read history; I’ve worked a lot of odd jobs; I loved book X which inspired me to riff off the concept of Y) are half-truths and abstractions. Inspiration is not a mechanical process or a simply understood one. Our ideas are synthesized from the full range of our experiences and combine in odd and unpredictable ways and I can’t tell you how it works because it isn’t a thing that I can explain. It’s a frustrating question, therefore, no matter how reasonable it is.
Seeing as my standard reaction to frustration is sarcasm, and seeing how I’m feeling frustated today, here is the definitive list of things I wish I could say as an answer to “where do you get your ideas,” but never will because they are mean and I’m not Tyvian Reldamar:
Where Do You Get Your Ideas?
- From a box buried in my yard. There are lots of ideas in there scribbled on paper. I don’t know how it got there.
- God. Duh.
- All of my ideas come exclusively from the crawl at the bottom of MSNBC.
- I play Bananagrams long enough that, by random chance, whole plots are formed in the random scatter of letters.
- Your mom.
- I steal my ideas at gunpoint from local “creatives.” Then I make them sign a non-compete.
- I have no ideas. Ideas are an illusion. We are all an illusion. Nothing really matters.
- MASSIVE AMOUNTS OF PEYOTE!
- At night, I throw off my human husk and feed off the dreams of neighborhood children with my single, jawless mouth.
- All ideas come from the American Idea Book, Tenth Edition, available at exclusive bookstores nationwide. There are no ideas anywhere else. This is the secret that all the writers have been keeping from y… (silenced gunshot) (dull thump) (silence)
- I trapped a leprechaun once and made a wish.
- If you stare at Twitter long enough, ideas are formed in your brain like tumors. Then you have to remove them through your nose with a long, pointed hook before they become malignant and turn into pop songs or commercial jingles. This is, incidentally, why pop songs and jingles get stuck in your head – you had an idea, but didn’t remove it in time to save it.
- I keep my eyes open when I yawn, and then I see the ideas the gods tried to hide from me.
- This guy named Leon. No, not that Leon – you don’t know him. If you did, you’d have the same ideas I do, and then we’d have to have a duel to the death like in that show Highlander. No, not the movie, the show.
- I gained access to my permanent record from elementary school, wherein I discovered that all my creative ideas were siphoned out by my teachers during recess and stored for a later date.
- You need to get an Idea License. There’s a course you take down at the city annex and a twenty question true/false exam. Costs like $40 or something.
Hail, unholy brethren! We meet tonight, beneath a moonless sky, to discuss our fiendish and ungodly enthusiasm for that blackest of black speech, the literature of fantasy authors. Bill will pass around the basket for monthly dues, as usual. No more newt’s eye, please – we’ve still got a crap-ton we’re trying to unload on those Wiccans who meet in the university annex down on 5th street. Stacey is also circulating a copy of the minutes from last month’s minutes. Just everybody confirm it’s written in the blood of an unbaptized virgin and we can get to new business.
All set? Oh, and there’s a fountain of baby tears at the back if you’re thirsty. And coffee. Yes, Paula, there’s decaf. Jesus.
Okay, new business:
It has come to our unholy attention that Graeme Whiting, head of the Acorn School, has declared to all who will listen that our genre of literature – Fantasy – is likely to damage the sensitive brains of young children. He says that he “stands for the ‘old-fashioned values of traditional literature’ rather than the modern ‘dark, demonic literature’ which could warp children’s subconscious minds.”
He is, of course, entirely correct. Such is our goal and has been ever since the Grand Wizard Tolkien spoke to us in the thousand-tongues of the goat-footed god and gave us our life’s goal: to consume children’s innocence with tales of wonder and magic.
What is distressing is this: Mr. Whiting suggests to the world that parents “leave those mystical and frightening texts for when they can discern reality, and when they have first learned to love beauty.”
This, of course, may prove to be an existential threat to our goals, and must be counteracted. Why, if children learn to love beauty, they will never be indoctrinated into our hellish ways and our nefarious cult may die out with its goals of world domination unrealized. This must not come to pass! Think of the mind-warping horrors children will be spared!
If our future acolytes are driven away from Harry Potter, the unholy ominbus of Grand Priestess Rowling (praise be her name!), how shall we infest the youth with the demonic notion that even the least among us may hold within them great power? Why, in studying the forbidden books’ heretical whisperings, children will develop the perverse idea that people should not be judged by outward appearances but rather by internal character and nobility. Think of the wickedness the world would be spared if these books are banned from young eyes!
And what may occur if the impressionable innocents of future generations are not exposed to the grim and hapless prose of Dark Master Roald Dahl? Why, how can we be assured that children are corrupted to believe they are independent and respected agents of their own fate? We will never bring about the end of civilization if innocent youths are indoctrinated into a love of chocolate or exposed to the possibility of going on an adventure inside oversized produce. Indeed, Dark Master Dahl’s work has been instrumental in making school heads look like sadistic monsters ever since his black manifesto, Matilda, was circulated among the unsuspecting population. Obviously Mr. Whiting caught on to what we were doing there. He is a clever one, no doubt, and must be taken seriously if global apocalypse is to be assured.
(pause for evil laughter)
But let us consider the gravest of threats posed by this unrepentant servant of the light, Mr. Whiting (foul gods! Even his name is a clue to his spotless soul!). What if Mr. Whiting manages to get children to not read the works of the almighty Grand Wizard himself? Why, without Tolkien ravaging the immaculate souls of children, they may never grow up never having his magic worked upon their deepest being. Then, instead of becoming lovers of such black virtues as “peace,” “fellowship,” “humility,” and the “beauty of nature,” they will instead grow up to gallantly work as cogs in the mighty machine of the modern world, bravely grinding their hopes and dreams to dust so that they can selflessly save society from the foul curse of dreaming about sunlight and the sound of trees.
And then the forces of evil will lose.
Brothers and Sisters in Wickedness, we must redouble our efforts. We must strive to put a Pratchett in every pre-teen’s hands. We must slip Lloyd Alexander beneath the pillows of unsuspecting whelps the world over! We must not rest until we inflict the words of Lewis Carroll, L Frank Baum, Suzanne Collins, Ray Bradbury, and David Eddings upon the impressionable minds of young people, twisting their brains into organs capable of that great perversion: unrestricted imagination, wonder, and love of reading.
If we fail, the forces of light will triumph, and our children will instead learn to read sterilized, safe, and reverent works of great literature, such as Titus Andronicus, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, The Odyssey, Heart of Darkness, Beowulf, and Frankenstein.
You know: kids’ stuff.
Will the wailing of you weakling wetlanders never cease? Now, I, Vrokthar the Skull-feaster, Scourge of the Northron Wastes, am forced to listen to you moan and weep over who shall be your next King? What madness is this? What ails thy current King, the one known as “Obama?” Hath his death-drones abandoned him? Why can he not slay his rivals, as is fitting? Is his champion, Biden, bereft of blade and fire with which to burn the homes of his foes? This perplexes me.
Why should finding the Obama’s successor require so much time and foolish preening, like cocks strutting in the yard? Why do these contenders not merely fall upon one another on the field of battle and the mightiest prove the gods’ favor in him? This talk of “super delegates” and “caucuses” is madness.
But lo, Vrokthar is no man to sit and ponder the mysteries of your depraved people! Vrokthar acts, and what he does shakes the foundations of the world! So it is that I will settle your whimpering, once and for all, and command you to choose the king who would suit thee best. Therefore, wetlanders, heed me: Trump is now thy new King. Bow down to the Trump, lest thee be slain for thy insolence!
Why? You dare to question Vrokthar’s wisdom? He who hath slain seven polar bears with his bare hands? He who hath razed thy villages and sold thy children into slavery in the Mysterious East? For this insult, all you and your clan shall have thy bones ground to meal to make my bread!
But, in the meantime, Vrokthar shall explain.
This Trump is the only suitable King for your wretched people. In the first place, he is an unnatural color orange, and therefore is no doubt blessed by the gods. Indeed, his skin may even be impervious to the spears of his enemies, as was the case with Golmarg the Yam-Colored in days of yore. Furthermore, this chief Trump is the only candidate who wears the pelt of a beast he hath slain upon his head. I know not what unnatural creature it was, but I can be certain that it was a mighty battle, given how restlessly the pelt lies upon the Trump’s brow.
Yes, the Trump will be a mighty King. Already he hath found innumerable enemies for thy people to ride forth and slay. Yes, much war and glory shall come to your shores with this new King. The name of thy tribe shall ring with fear the world over, and he even promises to be so fearsome that thy foes shall construct a mighty wall to keep thee out. It is a testament to the bloodthirsty urges of the Trump (and, indeed, to all barbarians) the height and length of the walls their enemies, in their abject terror, are forced to construct.
Let it also be known that the Trump speaks his mind, not fearful of being called a liar, for such persons will no doubt be silenced by his champions. He speaks in short words, which is fortunate for the many fools who dawdle their pointless existences within your borders, and when he speaks, he speaks of victory! Yes, the Trump promises to win in all things, just like a good chief must. Care not that he hath no “plan” or “knowledge” – such are the trappings of lesser men! A true king acts, he does not plan! A true king makes his vision true by force and rage and the blessings of the gods! Surely, his orange hide is proof enough of his virility!
The Trump hath many wives and hath built great towers to his own glory! He hath pillaged fortunes and then squandered them and then pillaged still more, without care for the weaklings who perished in his wake! Those who challenge him he mocks, for he knows they are too weak to face him in battle! He is, at long last, a King worthy of my own people, who ravage the northern wastelands and live hard lives worthy of the name.
Who else wouldst thou select, fools? The duplicitous dowager queen? The wild-haired old madman? The beardless, malevolent wood-sprite? That other guy, who bears no discernible features?
No! It will not be! Trump is the victor – Vrokthar hath declared it! Kneel to him and his battle sledge, or become the first of the slaves tasked to build his mausoleum! So Vrokthar hath decreed!
Trust me in this, weaklings. It takes a true barbarian king to know his own kind.
Dear Mr. Bigtime LaMorte,
Thank you for your interest in Financial Operations and Underwriting Limited (FOUL) and our contract killer service. Take your time reviewing the material, but understand that, in order to guarantee confidentiality, the material in your possession is radioactive and will result in radiation poisoning and death unless returned to its lead-lined briefcase in three hours. The briefcase will then destroy the documents inside and the case is yours to keep as a token of our esteem.
While this is not an exhaustive dossier of all our operatives, it does give you a general overview of the kind of professionals we tend to employ.
El Cazador, Sniper
El Cazador is a good, mid-rate sniper available for reasonable fees. He is discreet, professional, and never misses his target. He is, however, a bit slow. He stalks his prey methodically over a period of weeks and then, when he decides on the perfect place to take them out, he will camp out for sometimes several months waiting for the right moment. Birds have been known to nest in his hair.
Thanks to his slow metabolism, El Cazador does not need to eat very much, which keeps his rates reasonable. He also never moves faster than a casual walk. Never. You should see him play Capture the Flag – he’s legitimately awful at it. Still, he is very reliable, assuming you’ve got the time.
Oh, and he takes his damned time cashing his checks, FYI.
Ke-blammer Sam, Mad Bomber
Sam is the best explosives man on our staff, even though none of us have actually met him. Well, to be more specific, everybody from FOUL sent to meet him gets blown up. He blows up cars, trains, airplanes, toilets, lunch boxes, cigars, spare change, and once managed to render a burrito a WMD. In short, he blows up everything, all the time. Accordingly, he has no problem blowing up anybody you want blown up. Assuming you don’t mind the distinct possibility he’ll blow you up, too. Our intelligence suggests he’s even blown himself up a few times, though how he’s survived this is anybody’s guess. We don’t imagine he’s entirely stable, you know?
But he is pretty darn cheap.
Master Doom is one of our staff of Mad Scientists. He doesn’t go by the name “doctor” because he never technically earned his PhD, though he did explosively dehydrate his thesis advisor which, in our world, is tantamount to earning the degree.
Master Doom specializes in the esoteric assassinations – poisonings, accelerated aging, getting somebody bitten by a genetically engineered cobra, liquification, swallowed by a giant frog, etc.. If you have an elaborate or intricate death planned for your enemies, this is the man to call.
One warning, of course: in order to avoid becoming victim to Master Doom’s more unusual experiments, please refrain from touching him, drinking anything he gives you, eating anything offered, making eye contact, brushing against his clothing, borrowing clothing from him, meeting with him at his lab, driving with him in a car, or engaging in any kind of physical or electronic correspondence. If you want him to do something, let us know, and we’ll send one of our interns down to give him the message.
You will be billed the cost of training another intern. This is built into Master Doom’s fees.
The Bullet Man
The last, and arguably most expensive, assassin on our rolls is The Bullet Man. A former US Marine, Navy SEAL, Green Beret, SPETZ NATZ, and French Foreign Legion Commando, the Bullet Man is an expert in every single weapon ever invented and is seemingly immune to all injuries. We have seen him gun down the entire armed forces of Honduras with a single machine gun and all he walked away with were a few scratches across his pectoral muscles that, somehow, only made him look tougher. There is not a stronghold on this planet that he cannot walk up to, grunt some kind of one-liner, and proceed to blow up with whatever weapons are available. Seriously – once he destroyed an American nuclear submarine with an antique musket and a rusty Roman gladius. He is easily the best of the best. However, if you want to hire him, you must sign a waiver stating you will not do any of the following:
- Steal his woman.
- Kidnap his daughter.
- Murder his partner (especially when his partner is nearing retirement – we can’t stress this enough).
- Laugh at him. At all.
- Kill his dog.
- Hire his rival (The Blaster Supreme) at the same time.
- Challenge him to a game of skill.
- Allow your goons to make eye contact.
- Lie to him in any way, shape, or form.
- Call his bluff.
- Try to force him out of retirement by blowing up his mountain cottage/seaside retreat/mom’s house.
Again, these assassins represent just a sampling of the vicious killers we are willing to contract to you for a modest finders fee. Please make your reservations quickly – 2016 is shaping up to be a very busy season for untimely deaths, and we are likely to develop a backlog. Also, your body isn’t getting any less irradiated – being decisive at this juncture will prevent all manner of health complications a few years down the line.
Good luck, and happy hunting!
It’s April Fools Day, and I’d like to talk about pranks and practical jokes. You see a lot of these things floating around the internet, on television, and sometimes they’re things your friends play on you or each other. We’re all supposed to have a sense of humor about it, but the fact is that a significant number of pranks out there just straight up aren’t funny (at least to me) and some of them should never be pulled. Others are great – creative, fun, and entertaining. It may be hard, however, to determine if a prank you’re considering is a good or bad idea. So, here are my thoughts on the matter – feel free to disagree – about what makes a good practical joke and what makes a bad one.
So, in my opinion, the purpose of a practical joke is ultimately to be funny. The more people who are entertained, the better it is. Furthermore, the source of the amusement is the person upon whom the joke is being played, not the joke itself (though that can help). Accordingly, the wider variety of reactions you can get out of the person being pranked, the more interesting it will wind up being – humor, after all, is spontaneous. Finally, the greater concentration of negative reactions elicited by the joke, the worse it becomes, as the odds of feeling empathy or sympathy for the people being pranked rises. If you feel bad for the person you pull the joke on, it isn’t funny anymore. At least, assuming you aren’t a sociopath.
With this in mind, here is my hierarchy of prank-types, from best to worst:
Pranks That Cause Bewilderment
A prank that causes bewilderment exposes the targets to something strange and inexplicable and asks them to react. Frequently, this joke is funny in and of itself. You get a lot of different reactions to these jokes – confusion, annoyance, amusement, excitement – and every once in a while the targets even start to play along. These are the best pranks because they’re fun, nobody is harmed or embarrassed, and usually everybody leaves the situation laughing along. Any joke that ends with everybody smiling is a pure winner.
Pranks That Cause Shock
The next step down are pranks that are scary, but not viscerally so. The simplest example is somebody jumping up from behind a couch and shouting BOO! Probably nobody is hurt, and so long as you aren’t doing it in a hockey mask and covered in blood, people get over their fear pretty quickly. The best of these pranks mix in with the Bewilderment stage because the “shock” is not one of momentary terror, but of just plain old surprise. Often, the targets are not, themselves, the focus of the prank – it may be a shocking thing that they witness. Again, a variety of reactions can be expected, but among these reactions is actual fear and terror, neither of which are good things. Targets for these pranks can often appreciate them in retrospect, but don’t enjoy them while they’re happening. Some people actively hate them. Ultimately, your mileage may vary.
Pranks That Cause Disgust
The next step down is where we start to get into “probably not funny” territory. These pranks are designed to gross people out (though without destroying property). They are frequently sexually inappropriate, involve nasty smells, or are just generally creepy. Some people can appreciate these jokes (though I’m not one of them) and most of the amusement is generated on the part of the practitioners, not the target. This is where the jokes are starting to really be made at the target’s expense.
Pranks That Cause Fear
Now we are really getting into “not funny” territory. These jokes are intended to create pure, visceral panic in their targets. Unlike disgust (which has a variety of possible reactions) the reactions to these jokes are pretty standard: fight or flight. In that sense, not only are they cruel, they are also predictable. How they are supposed to be funny is a bit beyond me, but they can be interesting, in that you almost never see people exposed to these kinds of things. These jokes don’t involve intentional injury or harm, but they can cause it by accident, and for that reason I really don’t think they’re a great idea.
Pranks That Cause Embarrassment
These pranks are just for the purpose of being mean. I fail to see the humor in them or understand how other people find them humorous. Fear pranks, at least, are over quickly. These are likely to stick with the target and make them bitter and angry for a while. They aren’t even interesting, really – they’re crass and rude. As many of us live with embarrassments on a daily basis, there is nothing novel or clever about inflicting another one on another human being. Just stop.
Pranks That Damage Property
You know that prank where you spread chocolate sauce all over a friend’s bedsheets and say they shit the bed that night? Fuck you, assholes. Buy them a new comforter. Likewise if you squirt cherry sauce on somebody’s shirt, if you befoul somebody’s car with dead fish, or the like. That isn’t funny, that’s destructive, and making somebody believe it was their own fault that property was destroyed is even worse.
Pranks That Cause Horror
You’ll note here that I’m differentiating between Shock, Fear, and Horror. Shock is sudden and then suddenly over – there isn’t necessarily an element of danger, just true surprise. Fear is meant to evoke a survival response but, again, is relatively brief. Horror is destroying somebody’s sense of trust and faith in the goodness of the world or otherwise driving them towards despair. I think you can make a legitimate case that these pranks can be actionable in a court of law, and even clever ones are pretty much terrible. If you laugh at the expense of somebody who thinks her children have been kidnapped or her husband has died in a car accident, you are a bad person and should feel bad.
Pranks That Cause Physical Injury
There is nothing funny or clever or even interesting about hitting your buddy in the groin when he isn’t looking. It isn’t funny to put tacks on a toilet seat, or glue somebody to a doorknob. That is an unprovoked physical assault, and the person you do it to should knock your teeth in. Cut that shit out, assholes.
And no, in this instance I will not provide any examples.
So, in conclusion, go forth, cause bewilderment or shock, and do no harm. We will all appreciate it.
Following my repast and confessions to the gentlemen that weekly gather in my home, I retreated to my bed and sank into its luxurious linens and flannels without further instruction for my servants. I slept, as they say, as one dead.
I awoke early with a troubling thought on my conscience that has compelled me to make this entry in my journal. Possibly the last entry, as I shall be too busy in the coming days to write overmuch, so consumed do I expect to become with my work.
The thought is simply this: I did not tell the gentlemen the full tale of my journey to the future. Indeed, my adventures with the Morlocks and the Eloi were only the most trying of my experiences. There was one experience that came before it and, whilst it may not have been quite so dramatic, it was, in its way, much more thoroughly troubling. I left it out simply because it is so unbelievable – much less believable than the carnivorous beasts of 802,701. Nevertheless, as a scientist I consider it my duty to record my experiences for posterity, and so herein I shall do, though I rather suspect this shall be discounted as the ravings of a man disturbed. I am not so certain they are wrong, truth be told.
During my headlong progress into futurity, I at length became fatigued and parched with thirst. I resolved to stop, albeit briefly, to see if I might secure refreshment in some far-flung future date. I moved the levers of my time machine until I came to a complete stop. The dials read 635,972.
My machine rested upon a flat green, mowed and manicured to precise length by a device of unknown but doubtlessly mechanical provenance. It was an altogether pleasant location – birds twittered calmly in the branches of geometric trees, a road of smooth and multicolored flagstones ran by to my left, and the sun shined merrily upon the countryside. I stepped out to go exploring.
No sooner had I journeyed ten paces than I was challenged by a denizen of this distant era. I might say he was a man, but he was the most wretchedly deformed man I have yet laid eyes on. His skin was black as pitch, his ears distended into massive discs planted upon his head, and his face elongated and unusually tan, the pigment of his skin for some reason having drained from his visage. He wore red breeches with white buttons and overlarge yellow shoes. He was horrifying to gaze upon – not human by any stretch of the imagination save one: his speech.
“Hey!” he called, quite merrily, “wanna come inside my Clubhouse?”
I was taken aback, but good manners enabled me to accept his hospitality. I feel I did little more than grunt affirmation, but the creature took it in side. “Well all right! We’ve got to say the magic words! Say it with me now: Meeska-mooska-Mickey Mouse!”
Perplexed, I consented to recite the odd phrase. As I did so, a structure materialized from the ground itself – a large, red domed house with a kind of tower at the center that was fashioned to basically mimic the physiology of my host, who identified himself as “Mickey Mouse.”
From the structure and various outbuildings emerged other bizarre anthorpomorphic forms – man with the face of a duck, a woman-mouse, a woman-duck, and various dog and cow people as well. They each introduced themselves to me by name, chanting in unison. It was all choreographed, as a stage play might be. For reasons I could not ascertain then and cannot now, it disturbed me greatly, though none of the creatures spoke to me in anything other than friendship.
I was invited inside. The furnishings appeared sparse, but at a word any manner of thing would emerge from a door in the floor – a promise, I felt, of what mankind’s future industry might bring us. I was offered water, which I drank with thanks, but very soon some manner of problem developed. The glasses, it seemed, were each of a different shape and color, but the proper trays upon which the glasses were meant to be stored had gone missing. This caused great tribulation among my strange hosts, and they insisted on questing out from their abode to find them. It seemed strange to me that apparent adults would suffer such distress over so minor an inconvenience, but I have since come to believe that this was a side-effect of their life of effortless comfort: as technology coddled them, smaller and smaller impositions upon their comfort were seen as greater and greater tragedies.
I assented to join the search, again acutely aware of how hospitable they had been and how little desire I had to offend creatures that could summon structures from the very earth by voice alone. Before departure, their leader (Mickey) chanted before a great machine. This had the effect of causing the machine to eject a small disk from which, later on, my hosts were able to summon up all manner of odd objects – a series of pillows, a length of ribbon, a bowl of dog food, and so on. These were employed to solve “problems” later on, though none of these problems were any more complex than the kind that could easily be solved by an eight-year-old of our present day. Surely this was evidence of the waning intelligence of man! I was disheartened.
Conversation with these degenerate creatures was virtually impossible. The art of free exchange of ideas was extinct, evidently replaced with the banal presence of plenty afforded them by their wondrous machines. Their stares were of the blankest sort when I asked how “Toodles” functioned or asked what had ever become of England or, indeed, of Europe as a whole. Were they alone in the world? Were there cities? Were there other “clubhouses” to see? No answers were forthcoming. The only thing they would say is “We’d better ask Professor Von Drake!” This professor (a duck-creature with a notably German accent – you can imagine my skepticism) insisted that the machine could answer my questions. I looked at it, massive, all-powerful, and felt deep terror in my bones. When they said it was time to “stand up and do the hot-dog dance” my revulsion could no longer be concealed.
I departed with haste and resolved never to return unless, by guile or force, I might destroy this machine that had so un-manned my distant descendants. So it is now that I pack several sticks of dynamite, a revolver, and a sledgehammer into my time machine. If the Toodles might be destroyed then, perhaps the Morlocks might never have diverged from the Eloi. Perhaps the future of mankind need not be so bleak.
Time grows short. I must make ready.