Long Live the Pranksters!

Photo by flickr user ItzaFineDay via a CC license

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The US Chamber of Commerce, the massive business organization that’s taken a shellacking in the media lately for its climate-change stance (among other things), apparently can’t take a joke. Last month, prompted in part by Mother Jonescoverage of the Chamber’s shenanigans, the Yes Men held a phony press conference purporting to be the Chamber and announcing the group’s about-face on climate matters; now, the Yes Men-turned-PR-flacks said, the Chamber would be eagerly supporting climate legislation on Capitol Hill. The real Chamber, however, was far from pleased—so much that they’re suing the Yes Men for the stunt.

While the ensuing legal action may be novel, the spectacle of political prankery has a rich history. From Joey Skaggs’ infamous New York “Cathouse for Dogs” to the phony pundit Martin Eisenstadt of the 2008 election, there’s no shortage of memorable pranks in this country, as Dave Gilson describes in his new story “Jumping the Snark” in Mother JonesNovember/December print issue. But more importantly, Gilson asks, are these kinds of clever hoaxes a dying art?

Gone are the days of Skaggs and cultural icon Abbie Hoffman; now we have the CollegeHumor “prank war” and Bruno and Borat—funny, but lacking the weight of the hoaxes of yore. Pranks, Gilson writes, “have morphed from an outlet for political and artistic outsiders into another form of popular amusement,” where everyone can try to be a prankster and the better organized gags are used to peddle Taco Bell.

Which isn’t to say the prank is dead; it’s just evolving, Gilson says. “Just as Sacha Baron Cohen’s first three personas have gotten stale and the Yes Men are searching for a new gig,” he writes, “so will the current crop of predictable pranksters be pushed aside by a new batch of jokers who’ve concluded that it’s better to light a stink bomb than curse the darkness.”

Find Mother Jones‘ ongoing coverage of the Chamber of Commerce here.

Read about how climate activist prankster Tim DeChristopher put one over on the Bureau of Land Management here.

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