The Swiss Times - Swiss News in English

Why April Fools’ jokes are having a hard time today

"Today is the first of April, so send the jester wherever you want" - the April Fool's joke used to be an established custom in most Western European countries. Nowadays, however, it has a hard time, not only because there were no newspapers on Easter Monday this year.

It is unclear where the April Fool's joke came from. One reason could have been the calendar reform of the French King Charles IX. In 1564, he moved the New Year from April 1 to January 1.

Anyone who stuck to the old date was considered an "April fool". Other explanations see the origin in the Roman festival of fools in honor of Mars, the god of war, or in the Indian "Hulfest". In both cases, mischief played a major role. There is probably also a connection with spring customs.

The beginning of April is not just a time to watch out for friends and family. Politicians also demonstrate their sense of humor on this day. In 1986, the then Danish Prime Minister Poul Schlüter told the international press that Denmark wanted to campaign for the abolition of left-hand traffic in the UK.

Original joke: spaghetti harvest in Switzerland

April Fool's jokes are also deliberately circulated by the media, institutions and companies. A classic example dates back to 1957, when the British media broadcaster BBC showed television pictures of a supposedly successful spaghetti harvest in Switzerland.

Hundreds of viewers then asked where they could buy the plants. Since then, the channel has played pranks on its viewers several times. In 2008, it claimed to have discovered flying penguins. The partly computer-animated video was viewed millions of times on the Internet.

The good old April Fool's joke is now a daily occurrence on the internet or social networks. Joke videos are shared millions of times on social media channels. So-called pranks have become popular on platforms such as YouTube and Tiktok. The videos attempt to annoy friends, family members or strangers with pranks.

April Fool's joke thrives on mini-scandal

The transition from hoax to disinformation is fluid. Deceptively real, computer-generated images are flooding the web, such as the Pope in a down jacket or Putin allegedly falling to his knees in front of China's president. It's only funny for those who realize it.

The April Fool's joke thrives on a mini-scandal in the public sphere, as cultural scientist Gunther Hirschfelder told the news agency DPA. On the Internet, however, there are almost no more scandals in relation to images because almost anything can be shown.

According to Hirschfelder, another aspect of the declining importance is the general commercialization of the established dates for the customs: Valentine's Day, Halloween or Christmas are playing an ever greater role. "Things that cannot be commercialized at all are rapidly losing their significance. Today's cultural markers not only need a media component, but also a commercial component. April 1st lacks that."

©Keystone/SDA

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