April 01, 2011

In years -- decades -- of watching April Fool's jokes go by, the crass and the clever: never have I seen so stiff, so rigid a general response, even to the lightest attempts at humour.

Where the humour hangs on an ambiguous turn of phrase, the attempt at humour is increasingly met with a demand for literality. Twists in meaning are struggling, metaphor failing, irony a lost art. If the resolution of the ambiguity falls in lines with the original expectations, no humour is seen because no other meaning has ever been seen. If the resolution does not match the original expectations, the original statement is seen simply as being wrong.

I recently completely rewrote the Wikipedia article on "At The Hotel", an underappreciated Ken Finkleman production which plays with multiple layers of realities, the discovery of which causes the viewer to reevaluate all that has gone before. Yet every single review I tracked down -- and the original article I rewrote -- completely missed that key point, and evaluated the show accordingly. It did not even seem to matter that the shift had been stated explicitly within the show itself, multiple times. Once the original assumption had been made, it stuck.

The Wikipedia volunteers take pride in their April Fool's page. Not a single item is made up! Every item on a Wikipedia April Fool's page is genuine -- but almost always turns out not to be quite as the lede implied. We can learn that in Australia, high risk sex workers are required to wear full mask respirators; that Batman is half female; that the final resting place of Rudyard Kipling is on the ocean floor. On a different day, I would expect different things from the lede: but is not this day of all days about questioning assumptions?

(I even learned about the not-so-secret candy desk on the floor of the United States Senate: one of the few front-page links which had no need for a hidden meaning lede. I had never before considered that the acquisition of candy could be so politically laden.)

Yet somewhere along the line, among a growing segment of the population, a willingness to reevaluate expectations and laugh at oneself has quietly morphed into resistance and then outrage: How dare you find us something to be laughed at? At that point, it is only a very small step to conclude: How dare you laugh at me! You need only read the comments following any April Fool's event on a major Internet page to track the trend for yourself.

When did we become so rigid? When did we become so stuck-up?

The Wikipedia Overlords have heard your request and agree. It will take several hours for your concerns to be addressed, but rest assured that we will have returned to the regular wikipedia by tomorrow. Be aware, however, that issues like this one may occur in 1 out of approximately 365 days of the year.
- Quietmarc (talk) 15:31, 1 April 2011 (UTC)

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