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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.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments Introduction 1. This Is the Dawning of the Age of Enlightenment . . . and Pranks 2. Con Artists and Consumer Culture 3. Spirits in the Material World 4. Meet the Illuminati 5. The Golden Age of Newspaper Hoaxes 6. Political Pranksters 7. Prank Blowback 8. A Satanic Panic9. Showbiz Tricksters and the Pop Underground 10. An Education in Pranks Conclusion: Reflections of a Prankster Notes Bibliography Index About the Author

About the Author

Kembrew McLeod is a writer, filmmaker, and Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Iowa, and occasional prankster. He is the author of Creative License, Cutting Across Media, Owning Culture, and the award-winning Freedom of Expression(R). McLeod's writing has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Village Voice, and Rolling Stone.


"It's fantastic! Finally, a book that rescues the critically important art of the prank. Thanks to Pranksters, we finally understand what we've been trying to do all these years. No joke! Read it, and get out there and apply it!" - The Yes Men "The story of how mischief-makers hope to change the world one prank at a time...McLeod's renditions of his own pranks bring sparkle and humor to the serious message of his book.." - Kirkus "McLeod entertains and engages readers with everything from Thomas Paine to T-Pain in this clever mix of historical figures' imaginative pranks and modern attempts to capture public attention." - Publishers Weekly "An occasional prankster himself, McLeod...uses sly humor to explore the ways in which public opinion has been and can be manipulated by some unlikely deceptions. With looks at Rosicrucians, secret societies, spiritualists, conspiracies, John Birchers, Merry Pranksters, and a vast array of printed and broadcast hoaxes, McLeod weaves a tale of fantasies that sparked social commentaries and persisted for years or sometimes centuries." - Library Journal

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