I used to sit on the 21st floor. Now I am retired

Saturday, December 31, 2005


In our office, one of the most common pranks is to find an unlocked computer and send a mass mail to a few people/ groups. Every year, the batch of new hires discovers this ability and we see a surfeit of such mass mails. Sometimes the mails are harmless - people asking for help on most important topics (fertiliser production in Myanmar, beauty parlour contacts in 26 cities in the country, etc.), people communicating their vacation (I am bored and hence am taking next 2 days off!!). Sometimes these are slightly more malicious - personal announcements (of love, engagement, marriage), announcement of a new intiative and asking for sign-ups (benchmarking trip to other offices, cost-reduction!!)...

Sometimes people have reacted to announcements of real engagements by asking whether it's a prank. I have on occasions ignored mails asking for contacts of people (film-makers, event-managers) as pranks, even though I had them.

Mostly, such pranks are boring. Hence, I have moved on from them!! (Although, people still suspect that I am behind every mass mail sent from Senior Leadership's account)

The best pranks that have been played are far more elaborate. Like the one last year on M.S. by the F team (I could have shared details but I would like to play such a prank again!!) or on P.A, by her team. Or when people took out all the contents of the A's office and convinced him that it was never his office. Or when S** reached a client site with only potatoes in his laptop bag (don't know how the presentation went, but I am sure they had fries with that).

Some pranks, on the other hand, don't go off so well. Senior leadership was very upset when we changed his ringtone to 'Dr. Dang thappar ka badla lega'.

Hence, the question, what makes a good prank?? Economist, as always, has some answers. Their prank competition is open, by the way.

"Abbie Hoffman, a 1960s radical-cum-trickster, said most pranks fell into one of three categories: “good” pranks were amusingly satirical, “bad” ones gratuitously vindictive, and “neutral” ones surreal and soft on the victim (if there was one). An example of the first is the time Mr Hoffman and his fellow “Yippies” showered the floor of the New York Stock Exchange with dollar bills in 1967, thereby managing to stop the tickertape for six minutes while traders scrambled to pick up the notes. For a taste of the second, go to any college fraternity initiation. Examples of the third are many and delicious. A master of the art in the early 20th century was Horace de Vere Cole, an inveterate British prankster. Cole bore a striking resemblance to the then leader of the Labour Party, Ramsay MacDonald, and one of his favourite japes was to appear at Labour rallies posing as MacDonald, stride on stage to rapturous applause, and denounce everything the party stood for.

Priceless or puerile? There's the rub, for one man's brilliant prank is another's mindless stunt. Most would agree that the best pranks offer more than just deception, mischievousness or ridicule, and that much of the genre dished up on television now—the mutant progeny of shows like “Candid Camera”—falls well short of the mark. But what is that special ingredient? Elaborateness or simplicity? Satirical bite or surrealism? Irony or bluntness? Even dictionaries seem unsure how to define “prank” (orig. unk.): it is, by turns, a malicious trick, a conjuring act performed to deceive or surprise, a mischievous frolic, and more."

National Geographic has an article on April Fool Hoaxes. The photo (shown above) with the shark was a hoax (Photo of the Year!). However, it probably can be called amusingly satirical. But, what about Piltdown Man? And Ramar Pillai? When does a prank/ hoax become malicious or vindictive? What happens if the prankster/ hoaxer earns financial rewards? CBI arrested Ramar Pillai. Then, why not a case against Taco Bell, where sales increased by half a million dollars?

Wonder what Senior Leadership has to say about this?
Is the point of view/ intent of a hoaxer important (I never wanted to offend Senior Leadership, but he was offended)?


Blogger Ravikiran said...

Fine Print!

Prank versus Hoax - there may be a fine print there! Wiki version of their meanings is useful to understand this,
Prank: A practical joke or mischevious trick
Hoax: Anything deliberately intended to deceive or trick

I guess the difference is in the scope (the intent) and the scale (the audience).

Deal with it your way, on a case by case basis!

Fine Print indeed!

Sunday, January 01, 2006 9:59:00 PM

Blogger dhoomketu said...


But, still am not comfortable with dealing on a case by case basis.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006 8:23:00 AM


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