April's Fools’ Day at a time of crisis
WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez (The Freeman) - April 1, 2020 - 12:00am

I'm not sure if people worldwide are in the mood to play practical jokes today, in the face of too many deaths and an air of anxiety during this global pestilence. Nonetheless, it might lighten our heavy day by just acting like children again and playing some pranks and simple hoaxes, but without hurting others.

It was never intended as a hoax or a prank last week, when I wrote that column about writing my last will and testament and followed it up with a suggestion to all seniors, during this lockdown and quarantine, to start writing their autobiography. My column reached all my friends in Kuwait, Malaysia, and Taiwan. Most of them responded with statements of concern about my state of health. My sister-in-law in Japan called my wife, asking whether I have a serious health problem. She’s an avid follower of my column. Well, it wasn’t really an advanced April Fools' practical joke. It was a truthful suggestion to keep people busy, e.g. to write the stories of their life as well as their last wishes and instructions to their loved ones.

My research with Google and Wikipedia told me that April Fools’ Day, as a global event, started in 1582, when the Council of Trent decided to shift from the Julian to the present Gregorian calendar. Some people in France were still celebrating New Year in the last days of March until the first of April. The revelry and celebrations became a joke to the others who were already shifting to January.

In 1708, the English satirist Jonathan Swift played a cruel joke on his enemy, astrologer John Partridge. Swift published a fake news that Partridge prophesied his own death to happen on March 29 of that year. Swift also said that Partridge would admit in his deathbed that he was really a fake astrologer. Partridge retaliated by publishing his own fake news that Swift is really a fraudulent writer. That April Fools’ joke ended in protracted damage suits and counter-suits. Bad joke.

On April 1, 1905, a New York correspondent published in a German daily, Berliner Tageblatt, a joke that some robbers were able to dig a tunnel under ground beneath the US Federal Treasury Building in Washington DC and stole billions worth of gold and silver bullions. This was before the US transferred this depository to Fort Knox, Kentucky. The fake news spread all over the world, causing a major financial crisis. Very bad joke.

On April 1, 1989, Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of the Virgin group, played a joke on all Londoners. He flew a balloon shaped like a flying saucer, and spread the rumor that aliens from Mars are soon to land in England. Indeed in the evening of that day, that mysterious flying object hovered over London and hundreds of thousands of locals and tourists saw the UFO and when it landed, two figures dressed like aliens emerged, and the people scampered away. It turned out it was Branson himself with his friend Don Cameroon.

For almost a month already, the whole world is on a lockdown. An invisible microorganism is playing a cruel prank on all of us. More than 10,000 deaths is no longer a joke. We need to be very careful with hoaxes these days. And hope that that joke isn’t on us.


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