Thursday, April 1, 2010

Johnson Smith & Co. and the Meaning of April Fool's Day

Today is April Fool's Day, an informal holiday devoted to pranks. Many people will burst into guffaws as victims fall prey to obligatory, yet unpleasantly surprising, deceptions. However, few will consider the historical and philosophical context of their "practical jokes.".

One of the most sacred texts for the prankologist is the Johnson Smith & Co. Catalogue of Surprising Novelties, Puzzles, Tricks, Joke Goods, Useful Articles, Etc. Highly recommended by the most discerning cognoscenti, including Anton Szandor LaVey, this catalog is a cornucopia of... well, the title says it all! The catalog offers gags intended to amuse, confuse, or alarm their victims. Some are even designed to inflict physical harm.

This industry flourished during the first half of the 20th century, when the best editions of the catalog were printed. It survives today as Things You Never Knew Existed... I deeply enjoyed reading this later incarnation during the early 1990s, when I was around ten years old. However, it lacks the charm and abundance of the original. But I digress.

LaVey pointed to the pranks sold by Johnson Smith & Co. as evidence that humans are, to some degree, inherently sadistic. How else could a company profit from selling these embarrassing, sometimes painful devices?

LaVey suggested ways in which one might put this cruelty to good use. The primary approach would be to take a deserving enemy down a peg. Why throw a curse when you can throw a prank? The latter is usually more fun! He also shared methods of manipulating others by making oneself look absurd, the results being far more revealing than any pair of so-called X-ray goggles.

With all of the above in mind, I encourage pranksters to deploy their arsenals wisely. You might want to avoid committing undue mischief against your friends today. Instead, aim your pies at the faces of your enemies.

"After all, a joke or a trick is really not much fun, I feel, unless it is perpetrated upon someone who is deserving, or who is going to be deflated by it."
-Anton Szandor LaVey, Speak of the Devil

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