Pranks: an approach to reality cracking
"A prank should have a resonance and a ring to it. It should speak of
the higher aspirations of human activity"
(20 March 1997)
Reality cracking tricks
Courtesy of reverser's page
of reverse engineering
Well, I had some doubts about publishing this essay, because reality
cracking is -as our German friends say- "so 'ne Sache", and even if
pretty difficult to define, it had -in my
opinion- nothing to do with simple "pranks".
Yet Rhiddler's answer to
my doubts was convincing: pranks as possible mean in
promoting a sound "reality
cracking" attitude, and, "A prank should have a resonance and a ring to it. It should speak of
the higher aspirations of human activity"
Should anybody want to discuss this, please, by all
And now enjoy 1) Rhiddler's explanation about the
importance of pranks for reality crackers and 2) Rhiddler's original
essay (and you'll see that the 'dead fish' punishment for greedy bankers,
even if not exactly a 'reality cracking' approach (or is it that, after all?)
is anyway far from being a bad idea for anyone of us :-)
Rhiddler's explanation about the
importance of pranks for reality crackers
I think the essay would fit quite nicely in the tricks section of your
reality cracking page.
I consider the pranks as warming up exercises for budding reality
crackers. You recently added an essay to your page that emphasised the
importance of thinking like a cracker. I am merely trying to promote
thinking like a reality cracker.
Beyond pranks as simple opportunities for revenge is pranks as fuel for
confronting reality, or preparing to confront reality.
Very few people stop to think why they do things every day of their
lives. Why do you buy shampoo (or feel the need to)? Why do you drive a
car? Why is watching TV the most popular recreational activity in your
country? Why do you buy CDs? Why do you buy platform heels? These things
seem so natural and ordinary to the people that do them. A recent survey
in my country found that less than two percent of people now make their
evening meals using unprocessed foods! The companies that process and
manufacture these foods have made themselves into an important part of
the food chain! They have created justification for their own existance.
I believe that commiting or contemplating pranks is like the buddhist
philosophy of contemplating incongruous or ridiculous things to arrive
at a greater enlightenment. This enlightenment is so much more important
in these days, as we have more and more freedom to question reality, so
too does reality become more and more of a smothering blanket of human
Mark Pauline, the founder of Survival Research Laboratories, said:
"A prank should have a resonance and a ring to it. It should speak of
the higher aspirations of human activity. It should go far beyond the
limitations one would expect it to have. That's what pranks are all
about: the unexpected - the element of surprise transposed onto some
kind of poignant act that ultimately is a violence against the society.
Just like "literature" means violence against commonplace language, and
represents an organised attack against complacency of thought and
"Pranks are a constructed, fabricated attack against the framework of
the society. They're like a bursting-out. Society paints us all into a
corner and the whole point of pranks is to open the trap door and
escape! That's how I see a good prank."
Andrea Juno, publisher/editor of Pranks, said:
"A good prank is a social comment. One has to have a good analysis of
the society: who has power and who doesn't ... the fact that the basic
tenets of our society are intrinsically stupidifying, inane and evil. A
good prank pokes fun and is illuminating, whereas a bad prank supports
the society and is a conservative action enhancing existing power
relationships, conventionality and all that one is rebelling against. A
good prank raises life up to what art should be: a critique of society,
and a glimpse into a better, more poetic future!"
You can see the relationship between pranks and cracking. Frankly, I get
the same buzz out of reversing a difficult protection scheme as out of
pulling off a great prank.
We can take a page from the books of experienced 'lucid dreamers' here.
They advise that if you wish to become a lucid dreamer, there are some
things you must do to prepare. In our dreams we behave much as we do
during our waking life. When we are awake, we never consider how strange
our world is, so in our dreams we do not either. They suggest that if
anything odd or unusual happens during your day you do not dismiss it,
but rather think deliberately to yourself: "Am I awake or am I
dreaming?" If you can create this habit when you are awake, you will
also have it when you are asleep, and as you dream you will first
question and eventually control your dreams. I would like to think that
if you ask this question enough, you might just have a chance of
controlling your reality as well!!
Rhiddler's original essay
Reality Cracking: Pranks
NB: Some of the activities described herein are illegal in some
countries, but many are quite legal, if subversive, things to do.
However, please exercise your judgement in these issues. As stated many
times in this area, knowing is often better than doing. The purpose of
this information is to broaden your knowledge of the sorts of things
that are possible.
Most consumers are blissfully unaware of their rights as consumers as
guaranteed under their local laws and the additional rights that large
organisations grant to consumers to avoid damage control situations.
Large companies have long ago discovered that:
a) An unsatisfied customer will tell an average of 20 others about the
bad service they got from a company but a fully satisfied customer will
tell an average of only 3. It is very uninteresting to hear from someone
how they bought something with no problem and when they got home the
thing worked fine just like they expected. However, if a sales person is
rude or drunk or stoned or the product does not work and the customer
can’t replace it without trouble, then watch out. So rule number one for
large (service oriented) organisations is that the customer must leave
the bottom level of salespeople happy or they must be referred to a
higher level for that person to make them happy.
b) It is over ten times more expensive (in marketing and promotion) to
attract a new customer than it is to keep an existing customer.
Therefore, a large retail organisation must try first to keep the
customers it has already got, and then to keep them happy as possible.
What does this mean to you? Well, these organisations must create
‘customer service’ codes and ethics and train their staff in these.
Usually, in your town, there will be at least one and probably more
retailers that have one or more of these policies.
“We Return Anything” policy. Large ‘user friendly’ department stores
with flagging profits often have a returns policy that allows you to
return items without a receipt. Quite often you do not even require a
reason to return the item. Sometimes the stores will accept the item for
return even if they do not sell it. You can act confused, or bluster
your way through. If your item is in good condition, you can make out
that it was a birthday present from Auntie Mavis or something. If it is
in rougher condition pretend that it doesn’t work and ask for a
replacement, then return the replacement at another store.
Some people will even take items from the shelves of stores and return
them without even leaving the store. This is most commonly done with
computer software or perfume because of the low volume to pricetag ratio
of these items. However, this also means that they attract a lot of
attention from store security, and since this activity is illegal in
some places, it is advisable to check with your local laws. Strictly
speaking the merchandise is not stolen because it has not left the
store. All you are doing is instead of giving the money to the
salesperson and taking the merchandise, you are giving the merchandise
to the salesperson and taking the money. There is, however, probably a
case for false pretences in here somewhere… In any case, most people who
are apprehended in the store with ‘stolen’ goods can in most cases be
only reprimanded and not charged because they have not left the store.
Do not shoplift!
(John Waters, the American film director, tells that when he was
younger, he would enter a clothing store wearing shorts and a t-shirt,
select an entire suit from the rack, put it on and then go to the
personnel department and apply for a job. Generally speaking, the store
people were too intimidated or confused by this display to apprehend him
as he left the store with the suit still on.)
A much safer alternative to this is to visit charitable stores such as
are often run by church groups and other benevolent societies. They
carry a large array of clothes and goods at ridiculously cheap prices,
mostly because the goods don’t work or are horribly out of fashion.
Here, however, it is possible to often find electrical goods and other
items that are still carried in stores, purchase them cheap and replace
them for either cash or the new version of the same thing (which can
then be replaced for cash at another store). You get the added bonus of
feeling good because you have legitimately fleeced the retail giant
whilst assisting the benevolent society of your choice. In some
countries, this sort of activity is even tax deductible.
When returning goods such as these, you may encounter some resistance
from shop attendants. Always ask to see the fine print (in anything).
Ask to see a copy of the store’s returns policy. You will always find a
way to justify what you are doing in the returns policy. Ask to speak to
a more senior manager. If the manager tries to tell you that the store
has no returns policy, and that he/she cannot help you, simply argue
that since they have no returns policy, the manager is therefore not
constrained and may exercise their own judgement. It is ridiculous to
argue that you have no returns policy and therefore cannot return items!
Try bluffing that the item was bought within the last week or month (see
your local consumer protection “cooling off period” laws for the
relevant period) and from another branch. This is almost impossible to
verify immediately, and most countries protect consumers from sharks
that like to sell people things on emotion and then not allow them to be
returned when they realise that they are completely unneeded or
unsuitable for any purposes!
(If you encounter a store without a formal returns policy, by all means
lobby them with letters about how ridiculous it is to have no policy and
look how important it is and see that such-and-such store has one etc
etc. Address it to public relations and a few other people. You may be
able to pressure the store into hastily preparing a formal returns
policy which you can then take advantage of)
An aside to this is the “unqualified special offer” syndrome. Sometimes
shops and restaurants make special offers or deals. Most of the time
these offers come with the proviso that “this offer cannot be used in
conjunction with any other special offers.” However, if you are lucky
enough to find one that does not carry this exception, then it is likely
that you will find more from the same retailer with the same problem.
This can be quite nice when you have dinner and get 50% off the meal
price AND a free bottle of wine. People are so accustomed to seeing this
restriction on their coupons that they assume that it is always there.
In actual fact it is often missing, probably more than you realise!
McDonalds and other large fast-food conglomerates that operate on a
turn-key franchising principle and employ large numbers of young
McClones are forced to institute global and binding customer service
principles that many people may not be aware of. In many countries,
people are simply not aware, for example, that McDonalds has a policy of
allowing free refills of any drinks. Ask for a large iced water, and you
can return and refill with the sugar-water of your choice! They have a
returns policy with regard to food that means that you can ask for
replacement of anything you eat. Try burning a little your burger pattie
with a cigarette lighter and asking for another one “because this last
little bit that I left was burnt”. If, like me, you do not want or
cannot handle the stinking fast food in large amounts, try this one.
Come into the store and say “Yesterday I came through the drive through
and ordered a McDisgusting Meal, but when I drove away, all I got in my
bag was a McPathetic Burger and McCoffee rings.” They will give you what
you “ordered” yesterday without charge.
Remember at all times that you are dealing with other human beings.
These people should all realise that any notion that if they work in a
Department Store or a fast food outlet, one day they will own the store
is completely fanciful. Often these people have gone as far as they
possibly can go by the time they turn 17. Most of them are more
concerned with not losing their job than anything else. Therefore their
reaction to your actions will be, at worst, that they simply want to get
rid of you as fast and as courteously as possible. At best, you can make
some money and get fed (albeit only on junk foods!)
Once you have the money, what can you do with it?
Pranks are probably the best form of social reengineering that exists.
Pranks can be malicious or michevious, but the aim should always be to
confuse thought in order to provoke insight. Some pranks are instant and
simple. Others take time and effort. Sometimes you can see the results
of your pranks, other times you can only imagine them.
Try these things sometimes. (I owe some of these ideas to the Re-Search
Magazine’s “Pranks” Issue. All due acknowledgment goes to the Re-Search
team for a magnificent and re-educational experience!!)
If you get a wrong number, don’t waste the opportunity. You have an
obligation-free opportunity to change someone’s life and practice
valuable improvisation skills. EG:
Caller: Oh. Hi. Is Fred there?
(quick thinking, this is the critical point. You must convince the
caller that they have called the right number, even though they suspect
that they have not.)
You: No, he’s just gone out to the shops.
Caller: Oh. Well, is Barry there?
You: No, Barry went with Fred. Can I take a message?
Caller: Who is this, anyway?
You: I’m Fernando, just looking after the phone for Fred. He was
expecting a call.
Caller: Oh. Can you tell him Janice called, and get him to ring me back.
You: OK, Susan, what is your number then.
(you might get lucky here!!)
Caller: No, I’m Janice, not Susan, its 17263544
You: Oh! Janice! Gee, I’ll pass on the message, but I don’t know if Fred
will call you. He was pretty upset just before over that episode last
week. Bye Bye. (Hang up)
Perhaps you can see the possibilities here.
Fish in the Banking and Postal Sector
A favorite of an irate banking customer is to open a safety deposit box
in the bank of your choice. Whenever you get poor service or other
frustrations, place a nice fresh fish in your box. Since the banks are
not allowed to open the safety deposit box of any person who is still
alive, things can get difficult.
A subtle form of intimidation is the old “sardines posted by surface
mail” trick. The further away your victim lives, the better the surprise
when the package arrives. Just be sure not to put a return address on
your handiwork! Or better still, put the return address of another
adversary, just in case.
One artist mailed his trash to unsuspecting persons picked at random
from a phone book for a whole year. While this can get expensive, it is
an effective re-education experience. (Try not to mail out trash
containing letters, bills, bank statements etc that can be traced.)
(just for fun, try mailing something to the dead letter office, with
your return address on the back. This creates an ingenious paradox if
done properly. Some people write regularly to the dead letter office.)
When staying in hotels, write cryptic or distressing notes on the backs
of paintings hanging on the walls. Imply that you are being held by a
madman against your will. If your conscience permits, sign with the name
of a well know missing person from the area. Your message may not be
discovered for weeks or months, but it will be discovered eventually.
Take out a stall at a local market. Sell a food with an unpronounceable
name (Like Hueuglymyl) and sell it for a great price, preferably in
multiples (say, two for a dollar). It should look ethnic, and be very
very salty. Do not sell drinks. Watch people snap up the bargain and
then watch their faces as they try to eat this new delicacy. Most people
will eat both Hueuglymyls on principle, because they were such a
At boring parties, start to discuss with one or two friends a
non-existent movie that ‘just came out’ and stars so-and-so actors etc.
Talk about the best scenes. Get creative and use your imagination. See
if you can make anyone feel left out of the group because they haven’t
seen this movie. If you are good, you might get people claiming to have
seen the movie. Change the plot. Anyone who has tried not watching TV
for more than a week at a time will be well aware just how much of our
social chit-chat these days revolves around “did you see this show” or
“did you watch that program”. People who waste time habitually watching
TV sitcoms about nothing and then waste more time reliving them with
workmates the next day deserve to be made uncomfortable.
If you live on a “through road”, put a big sign at one end saying “Huge
Garage Sale” and pointing down the street. Put another sign at the other
end saying the same thing. Sit and watch the garage sale bargain hunters
drive up and down looking for the sale. If you are lucky, maybe they
will run over the next door neighbour’s dog. In a similar act of
misdirection, stand around in the outdoor mall of your choice staring
meaningfully up into the sky. Try to aim in the direction of something
large and distant, like the top of an office building. After a few
seconds, maybe twenty or thirty people will be glancing or staring up
into the sky as they walk past. The momentum should be enough to carry
on like a chain reaction. You may be able to just stand back and watch.
Baaaa! (bloody sheep)
Put blank pieces of paper under the windscreen wipers of peoples cars in
shopping centres. They will look at it, turn it over, and then they will
check the paper on the car next door. It is like they want to be
marketed to! The added advantage of this ‘psyop’ is that you can even do
it at centres that prohibit distribution of handbills. You can always
say that you are recycling! People will be so surprised that there is no
advertisement on their paper that they may even thank you. More likely,
they will think you are some sort of lunatic anarchist (they immediately
try to exclude you from their ‘group’ because you have alienated them
and made them feel uncomfortable.)
Go to large weddings. Most large venues are booked out months or years
in advance, and large weddings almost always get notices in the
newspapers etc. It is not difficult to crash a large wedding and then
the reception afterwards. If there is assigned seating, be sure to leave
before dinner commences. However, you can still mingle, take some drinks
and food. Try very hard to get your photo taken with the bride and
groom. Quite often there is a line of people at the beginning of the
reception doing this. They won’t wonder who you are. By definition, half
the people at a wedding don’t know the other half, and they are too
absorbed with the bride to ask.
Use colour. Max Luscher noted the psychological power of colour as early
as the 1940s. Put red dye in public toilets in the bowls. If you are
late in the toilets, you can put jelly crystals in the bowl for an early
morning surprise! Try to put them in the cistern as well. This may not
be a proper prank, but sometimes toilet humour is called for, or you may
be accused of being too serious.
Humans have an instinctive aversion to eating anything blue. Hold a
dinner party and put blue food colouring in everything. Your guests will
‘fill up’ much quicker, and eat much less (this is an experiment that
Salvador Dali actually tried).
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(c) 1998 RhiddlerAll rights reversed
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