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Today is April Fool’s Day. My husband and I were chatting last night about it and we agreed that there’s very little fun left in April Fool’s Day these days; in the age of social media it seems to consist mostly of groaner jokes and poor-taste pranks, like fake celebrity death rumors, that simply get annoying when you see them on your Twitter feed or Google+ page. (I do have to say the “Google Street Roo” from a few years back was pretty funny). Before the Internet age, however, the BBC pulled a rather infamous prank, and ended up getting punk’d themselves–largely from the shock of realizing how many people thought their April Fool’s prank was real.
It happened in 1957. On April Fool’s Day of that year, the BBC TV service ran the above news story on its news show called Panorama, detailing the “harvest” of a spaghetti tree from the town of Ticino, Switzerland. To us, of course, it looks pretty silly and obviously a joke. Charles de Jaeger, the reporter who dreamed up the hoax, was channeling an old insult from childhood, when a teacher told his class that they were so stupid they’d believe it if someone said spaghetti grew on trees. Somebody at the BBC indulged his sense of humor. The spot was filmed in Hertfordshire, with some brief scenes shot at a hotel actually in Switzerland. Millions saw the story run on the evening of April 1.
The reaction was bizarre. Hundreds of viewers called in wanting to know how to grow their own “spaghetti trees.” In 1957 pasta was not nearly as common on the dinner table in the UK as it is now, and indeed many people thought it was an exotic delicacy. Still, how thick do you have to be to think pasta is a plant?
To date BBC has never done any similar prank, whether on New Year’s Day or any other time. News organizations seeking to deceive the public–even in fun–are walking a pretty fine line. Today, of course, it’s much easier to simply throw a tweet up on Twitter with a fake link announcing “[Name Famous Celebrity] is dead,” and watch the RT’s pile up. That also takes a good deal less imagination than the “spaghetti tree” hoax did. In 57 years, I think technology has effectively killed April Fool’s Day. Ah well.
Strangely I feel like cooking pasta for dinner tonight.