A Prank Renaissance

The Wall Street Journal's Ellen Gamerman has written an article about the resurgent popularity of pranks. But the pranks aren't aimed at making fun of anything. Instead, their only goal seems to be to introduce an element of the surreal into everyday life. Examples include:
  • "Freezing" events: people pose like statues in public places.
  • going pantless in subways
  • staging impromptu musicals in malls
  • pretending to be zombies and roaming city streets
  • crowds of people dancing to music no one else can hear.
  • identical twins on subways mirroring each other's actions

Not everyone is taken with the new pranks. Old-school prankster Joey Skaggs is paraphrased as saying, "the stunts lack a subversive, anti-establishment edge. Because of that, people are less likely to stop and think about what they're seeing -- or even care. 'The bar's been really lowered,' he says. 'There's a lot of junk out there calling itself pranks.'"

And then there's the inevitable attempt by corporations to co-opt the trend. For instance, Mr. Todd, founder of Improv Everywhere, was hired by Taco Bell to stage a "freeze" in one of its restaurants:

The stunt was later used in a viral marketing campaign for the restaurant's Frutista Freeze drink, and a video of the prank has been viewed 500,000 times online, says Taco Bell spokesman Will Bortz. "We thought it was brilliant," he says.


Posted on Fri Sep 12, 2008


I don't think these are really pranks. There's no intent to deceive, make fun of, or embarrass anyone. Instead, it's just simple game-playing. If you think this sort of thing is new, you must have never met any children, teenagers, or college students.
Posted by Big Gary  on  Fri Sep 12, 2008  at  02:33 PM
Several people did a 'freeze' in one of the merchandise halls at our State Fair. There were so few of the freeze-ers, though, and so many other people that it didn't even make anyone stop and stare.
Posted by Ahdora  on  Fri Sep 12, 2008  at  04:24 PM
Yeah, I don't see how most of these stunts can be called pranks. I don't know what the zombies in San Francisco were about, but I've taken part in the Columbus Zombie Walk for two years now, and there's nothing pranky about it. A lot of cities hold organized, publicized zombie walks that often benefit some charity. CZW is a food drive that benefits the Mid-Ohio Food bank.
It might be a stretch to call these stunt participants "artists," but it's closer to the mark than "pranksters."
Well, except maybe that pantsless guy on the subway.
Posted by Gloria  on  Fri Sep 12, 2008  at  04:24 PM
http://improveverywhere.com/missions/ is where most of these "pranks" are taken from. Read the site to see how they just are trying to make a form of public art and give some fun to people's ordinary lives instead of really "pranking" them.
Posted by Jojo  on  Fri Sep 12, 2008  at  04:26 PM
Of course, it's not really improv if they were hired by Taco Bell...
Posted by Ahdora  on  Fri Sep 12, 2008  at  05:25 PM
This is just another example of the co-opting of the formerly cutting edge or avant garde by corporate America.

Traditional advertising isn't working very well anymore (especially if you're trying to reach young people) and has become VERY expensive, so they're looking for new outlets for their product propaganda.

Gee, I sound like a Commie hippie, don't I?
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Sat Sep 13, 2008  at  02:24 AM
Well, a lot of the 'Flash Mob' events aren'tr eally so much as pranks as a a surreal form of art.. but mostly just an excuse for people to let down their hair and be *silly* with the anonymity of the crowd granting them a free reign over what they might be embarassed to do normally.
Posted by Robin Bobcat  on  Sat Sep 13, 2008  at  01:32 PM
Now, for a prank you might try convincing somebody that they are going to be participating in one of those Improv things, and get them to do something really really silly and embarrassing all alone. Perhaps not a really deep or meaningful prank, but at least it would be an actual prank.
Posted by Accipiter  on  Sat Sep 13, 2008  at  11:48 PM
"...but mostly just an excuse for people to let down their hair and be *silly* with the anonymity of the crowd granting them a free reign over what they might be embarassed to do normally."

Oh, like Halloween.
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Sun Sep 14, 2008  at  02:41 AM
Maybe they're rebelling against the authority of old-school pranksters?

My sister's attended three of these 'Flash Mob' events; the last was supposed to be a pillow fight on Anzac Day (the day Australians and New Zealand'ers honour their WWI and II veterans).

She left when the police threatened to arrest them.
Posted by Hugo  on  Sun Sep 14, 2008  at  10:01 PM
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