Tag Archives: prank

School Game- Spundalele

Context: My informant grew up in Texas during the ‘70s. In elementary school during integration, he was one of the few white students transferred from a white school to a black school. He recalls a game the black students taught him called Spundalele. The first time someone “spundaleled him” he was surprised and angry because he didn’t understand it was a game. Once he understood, he and the other white students quickly adopted the game and played it every day. He says it was one of his first interactions at his new school, and it was a game that quickly brought together the white and black students. 

The Game: M: “Basically, if you have something in your hand, and somebody knocked it out of your hand, said ‘SPUNDALELE!’, and then picked it up before you could…it was theirs and you don’t get it back. Well I mean you can take it back under violence, but that’s not really part of the game.”

To Play:

  1. Find someone with something in their hand
  2. Knock the object out of their hand and onto the floor
  3. Shout “spundalele”
  4. Attempt to pick it up before they can
  5. If you succeed, you get to keep the item
  6. If you fail, they get to keep the item

The game works best if everyone knows the rules before playing

My thoughts: The concept of this game is strange to me; why would you play a game where people take each others’ things? But as an elementary school student in the ‘70s, you probably aren’t carrying anything of great value. Integration was a dramatic change to schools in the south, so if this game brought people of different races together, it sounds like a good game to me.

Dropbear

Context:

PH is a 20 year-old student who lives in San Diego, California. She learned about the folk creature of the dropbear through her friend who is from Australia. She told me about it in an interview.

Text:

PH: my Australian friend tried to convince any non-Australian person she met about the existence of dropbears. This one is quite famous, I already knew about it. The fact that it’s so famous though made it easier to convince people because you can google dropbears and there’s a wikipedia page and lots of pictures so it seems legit. The pictures are all faked. The wikipedia page is actually about dropbears as folklore but at first glance it just looks real. Dropbears are koalas except carnivorous and vicious with very pointy teeth, they drop out of trees and attack people. Honestly almost every time my friend mentioned them to people she convinced them of their existence. It was always fun watching her casually do it to people. When we ran into other Australians she would mention dropbears and they would laugh and keep up the ruse.

Thoughts:

The legend of the dropbear plays into the exported national image of Australia as a land full of wild and strange creatures. People believe the informant’s friend when she tells them about dropbears because they don’t know any better, they assume that it’s true because they know that “there’s a lot of weird animals in Australia.” The informant’s Australian friend clearly takes joy in exploiting this popular representation of Australia and tries to convince people of something that is totally made up. It is something, according to this informant, that Australians seem to be “in on.” They know better but they like to perpetuate belief in the legend.

The idea of the dropbear, a hidden, dangerous creature that descends upon the unsuspecting walker at any moment, reveals anxiety about the unknown creatures in the woods. The jungle is a place of rich and dense biodiversity, and a lot of creatures can be dangerous. This legend reflects the anxiety of facing them. Moreover, foreigners’ gullibility with respect to the dropbear reflects the anxiety about encountering a national other, one characterized by wildness, the jungle, and primitivity. The Australian telling the story then stands in for this other, from a far off and unfamiliar land. The story also gives its tellers some national pride in being Australians.

Owa Tagu Saiam

Context:

I collected this bit of wordplay from my mother (LP) in a face-to-face interview. She grew up in a white Unitarian household in suburban Colorado in the late 20th century. She learned this joke from her mother, who pulled the prank on her and her brother when they were young.

Text:

The prankster says to their victim:

            “Say: ‘owa tagu saiam’”

After repeating it, the prankster asks them to say it faster until it sounds like they’re saying “o what a goose I am.”

Thoughts:

I remember other silly word pranks like this from my childhood, where one person employs a riddle or a pun to get another person to say something self-deprecating or otherwise humorous. The appeal of the joke comes from the moment of recognition when a string of nonsensical sounds becomes language. These games, while seemingly inconsequential and banal, offer a profound look into the mechanisms of signification. The humor of the joke comes from the moment of recognition in which a string of nonsensical sounds becomes meaningful, takes on significance. What was thought to be nonsense becomes sense, becomes a signifier of something completely unexpected.

The prank points to a couple of interesting traits of spoken language. One, that sounds bear no intrinsic relation to their significances: a string of gibberish to one person in one particular subject position (the victim when speaking the phrase slowly) can hold meaning to those occupying other subject positions (the prankster and the victim after the moment of recognition.) Secondly, it reminds the participants that all words are first and foremost just sound. Sounds are assembled and juxtaposed to signify abstract notions, and this process of signification can get so entrenched, so internalized that the signified takes precedence over the signifier, and the language-bearer is “tricked” into equating the two. This prank shatters that implicit assumption by pointing to the sonorous qualities of the word and laying bare the process by which sounds are tied to meanings. This disenchantment with the word, the recognition of the materiality of the signifier, has radical implications. For one, it allows for a kind of verbal play, a refiguration of sounds and their meanings, a liberation from the logocentric notion that words contain no ambiguity, no internal contradiction, that individual words always mean the same thing, like in a dictionary. But dictionaries are produced and disseminated by publishing companies that operate under certain ideological agendas which are always political, which have in their interest the imposition of hegemony.

Such pranks as these can act as subversive and counter-hegemonic, calling into question the ways in which meaning is constructed through language, opening up the potential for resistance through wordplay.

Pool at the Top of the School

Abstract:

This piece is sort of a legend or belief that there could be a pool at the top of Albemarle High School. It is a prank or joke that the upperclassmen pull on incoming freshman.

Main Piece:

“L: For our high school, they tell the incoming freshman that there is a pool on the roof. You guys didn’t have that?

C: No, I’ve never heard of that.

L: So what they tell you is that “oh you can’t get onto the roof, but there is a secret, exclusive pool that if you make friends with the janitors or something, you’ll get to go up and see the pool roof.” So my brother, he’s at SCA here, but he made the video that they show to eighth graders at the end of the year when they come into the school as incoming freshman and, um, he was playing around with Final Cut and they went up to the roof and he figured out how to CGI a pool on the roof to trick all the eighth graders. And at lunch they were all like “omg there is really a pool on the roof.”

Context:

The informant is a 19 year old girl who has lived in Charlottesville, VA for her entire life before moving to California for college. She attended Albemarle High School for all four years and first learned of this “pool on the roof” when she was an incoming freshman.

Analysis:

These kinds of pranks on “new” students or freshmen remind me of initiations that happen at clubs or in Greek Life. I think it is an event that students have to go through and the original belief is what bonds them together as the “new” student class. Going through that shared belief and realization that it is a joke helps bring the students into the community that has also gone through it.

Office Folklore- Unicorn Death

Subject: Office Folklore. Pranks and comradery.

Collection:

“Interviewer: So… you have an employee in your office who is in a band… what type of music does her band play?

Interviewee: Death metal.

Interviewer: And what is the name of her band.

Interviewee: Unicorn death.

Interviewer: Now, for her birthday or before she’d go on tour, is there anything, any hijinks the office would get into surrounding her band?

Interviewee: So, she only wears black, and so we took her office and we covered it all in pink posy-notes, and then we saran wrapped her chair, um… we put Justin Bieber… pictures and we stuck them inside her notebook and inside her drawers and…

Interviewer: Why Justin Bieber?

Interviewee: Because he is a music genre she would not be interested in… um, we all put on a unicorn hat that was pink with like a purple horn… and um we um forced her to wear it.”

Background Info: Sehi Computer Products is in San Clemente, CA and consists of an inside office and an outside warehouse division. They have roughly twenty employees at any given time with most employees sitting at open work stations in one larger room. Conversation is open with side banter occurring intermittently with tasks and projects. My mother has worked in the office since 1989.

Context: This story was given over dinner with my mother and father while discussing jokes and events to parts of our lives unique to the rest of the family.

Analysis: It is now part of office culture to collect and send photos of unicorns to workplace associates. By the time clock, there is a bulletin board of photos of different employees wearing a unicorn hat in honor of the employee and her participation in the band. Such actions allow for employees to feel involved in one another’s personal lives within the often impersonal and task-based office setting. Now that the employee is touring with her band, the employees still mention and joke about unicorns, allowing her to stay relevant in the office community and actively works to integrate her into their social circles. Furthermore, all levels of personnel in the office participate in the tradition which helps to break down the traditional structures of command that can lead to negative feelings between manager and staff.

Being told the backstory around the unicorns is a rite of passage for employees, marking them as participants and contributors in the office community. Often, summer employees clock in and out every day without understanding the significance of the photos. However, to people in the office at the time of the employee going on tour, it marks a tie to a dear friend and a spirit of kinship, originating in being part of the “in” group in the office.

Furthermore, there is an element of play in the pranks that plays on subverting the individual’s personality. The people playing the prank purposefully choose items they knew the individual being pranked would not like and augmented them. The prank is tailored specifically to her interests, and this level of care communicates to the individual that they are known and valued in the office environment. The prank was not malicious, but rather a celebration of the individual and her unique personality .

Rickrolling

The particular details and background of the following prank were introduced to me by a fellow student majoring in computer science.

 

The prank in question takes place on internet video platforms, most commonly YouTube, where viewers are led to believe they are accessing entirely unrelated material and instead are met with the surprise appearance of the music video for Rick Astley’s 1987 song ‘Never Gonna Give You Up.’ Having been performed so many times as to have earned its own name, the prank has come to be known as ‘rickrolling,’ a reference to Astley’s name.

 

Although I was previously familiar with the prank’s ubiquity, having been ‘rickrolled’ myself a number of times prior, its intentional nonsensicality was not apparent until being explained.

 

As a prank that exists in a simple digital form and relies entirely on taking advantage of the internet’s functions, ‘rickrolling’ is a definitive example of the relationship between perpetrator and victim when pranks are performed over the internet. In real life, there requires some kind of physical interaction to be pranked, but on the internet, there remains complete anonymity. The victim will likely never have any idea who ‘rickrolled’ them, and given the nonexistent physical consequences of the prank itself, will not have any incentive to find out themselves.

 

See More:

A transformative step for this prank occurred as that of a marketing tool in the leadup to the release of the second season of HBO’s television program Westworld. The creators of the show, known for its complicated narrative and plot twists, formally announced they would release a video revealing a comprehensive guide to every narrative step of the show in advance, effectively spoiling every surprise the season held before airing.

 

Because much of the show’s popularity derives from trying to guess and anticipate each of these twists, critics and viewers alike contentiously debated this unprecedented decision that would undermine the effectiveness of a highly anticipated release and seemed to reflect an unsettling ignorance (on the creator’s parts) of the show’s major appeal.

 

When the aforementioned spoiler guide was released onto the video platform YouTube, viewers were treated to the sight of the program’s lead actress singing a piano cover of Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up,’ a nod to the traditional practice of ‘rickrolling’ and a solid indication that the entire announcement was a prank itself.

 

It is worth noting that even this sly and cleverly-angled marketing strategy relied on an unexpected narrative twist (although created in real life, impressively), just as the show itself relies on such methods to keep viewers engaged.

Calera Pens Severed Testicles Prank

Tres, a cowboy that has worked on my family’s ancestral ranch for nearly twenty years, illustrated a commonly-occurring prank that occurs during the process of castrating and ear-tagging young cattle (calves) during the summer months.

 

To provide locational context:

The calera pens, where the prank is most likely to take place, is an octagonal dirt arena where calves are let in three to five at a time from an adjacent pen holding around 100 calves in total.

 

At any given time, there tend to be around ten cowboys occupying the pens as to make quick work of the calves that are let in. Clearing out the total queue of calves takes a matter of what usually amounts to three hours.

 

Each round of calves that enters is quickly and methodically dispatched with a combination of lasso-ropes thrown around the calves’ hind legs (preventing them from running and compromising their balance) and a ‘mugger’ who turns the animal on its side and holds it in place. A third cowboy then approaches with a knife to sever the calves’ testicles (since breeding is designated for carefully-selected bulls, clipping young calves keeps both genetics and numbers in check). An ear clipper is then used punches a hole in the calves’ ear that will then be used for placing a plastic numeric identification tag on the calf in a permanent manner.

 

The prank in question involves the cowboy who has just performed the business of cutting off a cow’s testicles, which he now holds in his hands as two bloody balls of flesh.

 

With these in hand, the cowboy will put away his knife and nonchalantly walk up to an unsuspecting co-worker, placing the severed testicles either on their shoulder, in their front pocket, or, in particularly biting cases, down the back of their shirt.

 

The sight of a co-worker reeling in disgust or groaning as they flap the back of a rapidly-untucked shirt is can prompt immediate laughter from bystanders who may not have even seen the perpetrator’s approach, a clear illustration of its familiarity within the pens and a helpful outlet of humor and fun in a workplace that can very quickly become physically punishing and demanding in terms of both high heat indexes and the unpredictability of handling large, frightened animals.

Smart Pills Prank

Main Piece: Prank/Joke

So I used to hear this a lot when I was about 6-7 years old from my dad. Who heard it from his grandfather. When my dad was younger he would always try to pull pranks on his friends, as he friends would to him, so one day he went up to his grandfather and asked if he had any ideas. My great grandfather said: Robbie, have you ever heard of smart pills? My dad replied, no. So my great grandfather went on to explain that my dad should pick up some rabbit pellets (rabbit poop) and put them in a pill bottle. Then, go up to your friends and say, Hey! wanna smart pill? it’ll make you super smart and hand them the pill bottle. Now I don’t think my dad actually gave anyone a rabbit pellet, but the meaning stands.

 

Background Information:

  • Why does informant know this piece?

It was told to her as an amusing anecdote

  • Where did they learn this piece?

It was told to her by her father.

  • What does it mean to them?

It’s an amusing prank that was played by her father.

 

Context:

Described in main piece.

 

Personal Thoughts:

This seems like a common game in the U.S., where there is a strong tradition of pranking people to eat things that they would never normally eat.

Cup of water and broom prank

Informant is a junior at Penn State University who grew up in NJ. Informant tells me that they heard about the prank first from a camp counselor, and then on a TV show which they can’t remember.

The following is a description of the prank and how to pull it off:

 

“So, it’s pretty easy. All you need is a cup of water, a chair, and a broom. And somebody else in the house with you… to prank of course.

First, you take the chair and hold the cup of water to the ceiling so the rim of the cup is on the ceiling. Then, take the broom and use the stick part to press the bottom of the cup to the ceiling, holding it there. Now you can move the chair back… or have a friend do it or something, because you have to keep the cup on the ceiling.

Next, you just wait until somebody walks by. Ask them if they could hold the broom for a second so you can run and grab something, or go to the bathroom, or whatever you want to say. The idea is that if you get them to hold the broom and walk away, they have no choice but to just stand there or have a cup of water fall on them. It’s foolproof!”

 

This prank is pretty sinister because of how easy it is to set up, and how dire the circumstances become for the poor soul who falls for it. Ideally this is a prank you would pull on a close friend or family member. Although the intent can be lighthearted, I would imagine this would really drive anybody crazy– especially if he or she had something else to do before being either drenched in water or reduced to standing under the cup helplessly.

“It has to be somebody you could afford to anger and disappoint, like your brother” my informant tells me, giggling.

 

 

Lights off on Elm Street

Folk Piece

“The movie nightmare on Elm Street was filmed in my town, on Elm Street. One of the things that’s been a legend on elm street is that cars would be driving on Elm Street, like at night, and there would be a car behind them and they could see it and they could see it, and then all of a sudden it would just disappear. And suddenly someone would appear in front of their car. It was just like super freaky, and I don’t know, that’s just one of the stories that I’ve heard. So my friend tried to like fuck with people at night because he had an all black car that was really quiet. So he could like drive up right behind people and when there was nowhere to turn or anything he would turn off his lights and just roll on behind them and people would like pull over and freak out that he was like gone, but he was actually there the whole time”

 

Background information

The informant began by saying “Well, my town is boring, I don’t think we really have many cool stories or anything… Well, we did have Elm Street from that movie.” She had said that she’d never seen the movie, but that it had an impact on the way that people thought about the street. Especially kids her age, that weren’t born for another decade after the movies’ premiere, would tell stories of Elm Street, but not necessarily ones that originated from the movie.

 

Context

“No, it wasn’t just my friend, a lot more people did it. But, like, he just drove down it a lot and yeah, he did a few times.” She said that the prank itself was done by a lot of people, mostly older high schoolers, though. She had never witnessed it herself, but only heard about it.

 

Analysis

Pranks, or practical jokes, are performed for a variety of different reasons. In this circumstance, the prank is driven by a legend about a mysterious figure that would appear in front of people’s cars on the street where A Nightmare on Elm Street takes place. The legend is so widely known, that the exploitation of a plot point in the story can lead to drivers becoming very scared. It is interesting to note that A Nightmare on Elm Street doesn’t have a scene where there are cars driving down the road and the lights turn off. The original authored story transformed the street itself into somewhat of a legend, which in turn was exploited as a prank. This transition from authored material, to legend, to prank could be explored further with more data from other town members.

Also interesting is that older high schoolers are the one performing this prank. Presumably, these are drivers that had just acquired their license and are given some autonomy. That they take this new found freedom and also exploit it for humor and rebellion shows why this might be such a popular prank in this town.