No joke: Researchers say we are moving away from personal, real-world pranks and into a world of media-driven jokes and Internet tomfoolery. Does this spell the end of April Fools’ Day as we know it?
Though pranksters and joke-lovers in many countries now gleefully prepare to dupe friends and loved ones on April Fool’s Day, no one knows exactly when or why, or even where, this tradition began.
The importance of this day of prank-pulling freedom is no laughing matter. It’s integral to American culture, a day of funny is important to society, and also helps humans bond. Researchers say ourtake on comedy is changing, though. And that may mean fewer pranks in the future.
"The usual pranks that we would see 50 years ago are much less common," Gary Alan Fine, a sociologist at Northwestern University in Illinois, told LiveScience. "I think we are seeing the decline of interpersonal pranks."
"At one time, prankstering played a bigger role in American society. Some of the prankstering was also very harmful," Joseph Boskin, a professoremeritus of history at Boston University, told LiveScience.
This type of harmful prank-playing was usually directed toward marginalized sections of society. "Pranks have played a very big role in this situation, so I’m glad that the prankster part of it has declined, but the poking fun at life in general goes on," Boskin said.
The big problem is knowing where to draw the line between playful pranks and meanness on the verge of bullying, Fine said.
"Practical jokes of a certain sort shade into bullying, they shade into meanness and we are very concerned as a society about meanness," Fine said. "Finding out what that point is, is difficult for a society."
Because of our conscientiousness and desire to ensure equality, Americans may have drawn that line too far along the spectrum, hedging outplayful pranking. And traditional pranking may be left out in the cold, Fine said.