Making Mischief in the Modern World

by Kembrew McLeod

Published by: NYU Press

364 pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in

  • Hardcover
  • ISBN: 9780814796290
  • Published: April 2014



From Benjamin
Franklin's newspaper hoax that faked the death of his rival to Abbie Hoffman’s
attempt to levitate the Pentagon, pranksters, hoaxers, and con artists have caused
confusion, disorder, and laughter in Western society for centuries. Profiling
the most notorious mischief makers from the 1600s to the present day, Pranksters
explores how “pranks” are part of a long tradition of speaking truth to power
and social critique.

Invoking such historical and contemporary figures as P.T. Barnum,
Jonathan Swift, WITCH, The Yes Men, and Stephen Colbert, Kembrew McLeod shows
how staged spectacles that balance the serious and humorous can spark important
public conversations. In some instances, tricksters have incited social change
(and unfortunate prank blowback) by manipulating various forms of media, from
newspapers to YouTube. For example, in the 1960s, self-proclaimed “professional
hoaxer” Alan Abel lampooned America’s hypocritical sexual mores by using
conservative rhetoric to fool the news media into covering a satirical organization
that advocated clothing naked animals. In the 1990s, Sub Pop Records
then-receptionist Megan Jasper satirized the commodification of alternative
music culture by pranking the New York
Times into reporting on her fake lexicon of “grunge speak.” Throughout this
book, McLeod shows how pranks interrupt the daily flow of approved information
and news, using humor to underscore larger, pointed truths.

Written in an accessible, story-driven style, Pranksters
reveals how mischief makers have left their shocking, entertaining, and
educational mark on modern political and social life.