I don’t like practical jokes, even on April Fools Day. I never really enjoyed the original “Candid Camera,” and have never seen “Punk’d.” I squirm when I see people humiliated in public. Or in private. So it was completely unintentional, and rather ironic, when I became the perpetrator of such a hoax.
It began on March 31, when fellow Oak Tree Press author Sharon Moore emailed all of the OTP authors to check the blog on April 1 for an important announcement. When I clicked on the site the following day, there was a “press release” from Sharon that OTP publisher Billie Johnson had signed a deal with Simon and Schuster. “Wow,” I thought naively, “I wonder if S&S is going to distribute our books under a new imprint.” Then I read further and realized it was a doozy of an April Fools Day joke. Billie, Sharon wrote, was purchasing S&S! After I stopped chuckling, I sent an email announcing that I had big news, too: my books had been optioned by Hollywood, Broadway, and TV.
I thought my joke was so good (and absurd – I love absurdist humor) that I posted a version of the email onto my FaceBook page. I wrote:
“I was sworn to secrecy until April 1, but I can now announce my Rabbi Aviva Cohen books have been optioned as a movie by Spielberg, as a series by HBO, and as a musical by Sondheim. Bette Midler will star in all 3 productions. And Mel Brooks is teaming up with Gene Wilder and Carl Reiner to adapt Talk Dirty Yiddish as a PBS special.”
And that’s when the joke was on me.
Many people got it. I got a lot of comments along the lines of “Yeah, you wish.” But I got others with what seemed to be sincere congratulations
The April 1 “dateline” hadn’t tipped everyone off. So I added a link to Sharon’s blog. I still got awed responses. So I suggested people check the date of the posting. Still too subtle. So I posted it was a joke. Some friends responded to the original post without checking the comments. Two days later, after 135 likes (some for the cleverness of the joke) and 87 comments (many from people who understood it was a hoax), I posted a new status explaining it was a joke.
My favorite response was from an author I consider a friend (I hope she still feels the same about me) who wrote, “You mean I just wasted hours being green with envy? And now my husband is laughing at me.” But I couldn’t tell if she were serious, or if she had realized it was a joke and was going along with it.
And that’s really the crux of the matter. As I wrote in my mea culpa, the joke must have been a success if people believed it. But, I continued, it also “demonstrates the limits of the written word for communication, as people can’t hear tone of voice and inflections or observe body language.”
My idea is not original. Much has been written about how hard it is to know what someone intends when reading a post or a text. A whole industry – that of emoticons – is devoted to “solving” the problem. But is that big grin meant to be ironic? Is someone hiding behind the winking face to disguise an insult? Even my favorite comic strip, “Pearls before Swine,” devoted a series to using emoticons to excuse nasty comments. (“If you’re hurt by what I said, it’s your problem. I added a wink.”)
How can we really be communicating when comments are taken out of context and there are no auditory or visual cues to help understand what is meant?
Do I have answers? No. Just more questions. And puzzlement.
But I do appreciate my husband’s perspective on the matter. He told me I should be flattered that people thought the news could be possible. It meant they liked my books. Of course, it could also mean they have a low opinion of popular culture. I prefer to believe that they do think my books are that good. So if anyone has contact with Spielberg or Sondheim or HBO or Bette Midler or Mel Brooks or Carl Reiner or Gene Wilder, please let them know I’m willing to accept offers. But, please, no prank contacts from them. I, too, can be very gullible.