The contemporary comedic take on April Fool’s Day is that it is the one day of the year that we direct some skepticism at what we encounter on the Internet; it is the one day of the year that we exercise discretion and judgment over the content of the material we read and deign to ‘share’ with our ‘friends’ online. We are treated to news of disasters, absurd decisions, and perhaps even cosmic catastrophes; we hasten to spread the word, but our hands are stayed by a quick glance at the calendar, electronic or otherwise. If only we were so discriminating for the rest of the year–when we are busily and happily aiding rumors and conspiracy theories and even worse, destined-to-be-stale ‘hot takes’ go ‘viral.’
Comedy always being paired with tragedy it is but inevitable that we should peer at the dark side of such an understanding of April Fool’s Day. For it is on this day–thanks to the many faux news bulletins that make the rounds– that many, many of our hopes are raised, only to be cruelly dashed against the unforgiving rock of the cruelest month’s first day. We are told that corporations have acquired common sense and stopped polluting the world that contains their consumers, present and future; we are assured the substances we would most like to consume but which medicine claims are slowly killing us are actually harmless and might even be good for us; we learn of windfalls and literally unbelievable strokes of fortune; the list goes on. (The science fictionish April Fool’s announcement has its own pride of place here: we are informed that cold fusion will soon power our cellphones, perhaps setting us free from the onerous business of recharging batteries, or perhaps, as Google once claimed, we could even recall the emails we had sent.) Lies, all of them.
We smile ruefully when we learn we have been duped. We had dared to hope against hope, dared to believe that this promise-breaking world had changed its ways. All for vain. That little flight of fantasy, borne aloft on wings beating powerfully and hopefully, has been called back to earth; the gravity of the real world has proved irresistible. April Fool’s Day had animated it; it renders it moribund too.
April Fool’s Day is the perfect symbol of our civilization; it isn’t enough that we have been systematically duped into imagining salvation lies around the corner in some religious, political, or intellectual dispensation. No, we must also set aside a special day of the year when we can reenact, worldwide, a human simulation of the cosmic prank. Ours is a species that dares to hope in the face of hopelessness; it is on this day that those hopes can be made to look even more forlorn.
Note: On this second day of April, residents of East Coast received their own particular notification from the cruelest month: a spring snowfall in the morning that snarled commutes and for a few hours made it clear that winter hadn’t gone anywhere just yet.