Aaaaaaaapril Foooooool!

It has been a particular challenge going through the Danish press today: they seem especially gripped by (to coin a new term) “April-Fool-itis,” that is, celebrating this April 1 by planting remarkable “news” stories that turn out just to be a joke. Even if one is inclined to look favorably on the practice (e.g. as an amusing change-of-pace from the pedestrian nature of most news during the other 364 days of the year), Danish newspaper practice unfortunately waters it down substantially through the practice of frequently running the same articles from the Danish news-agency Ritzau in several of the papers at the same time. This naturally reduces substantially the amount of truly-original (as opposed to “echoed from Ritzau”) material. (Dutch papers also have this problem, i.e. of too many papers too often publishing the same article, by the way.)

Still, there are a handful of original joke-articles out there. But then the next problem arises, i.e. that the humor is too tied-in to the Danish cultural and/or political context to raise any laughs outside of the country. Anyway, let’s go looking for these jokes-articles and you can decide this for yourself. This exercise will also be valuable as a means to “innoculate” you against these tongue-in-cheek news-tales in case you later run across them within a context elsewhere that presents them to you as real.

The best articles that I have found offering April-Fools article compendia are, unsurprisingly, original articles (i.e. not Ritzau) from Berlingske Tidende (Aaaaaaaapril Foooooool! – yes, I stole that title – by Karoline A. Markholst) and from Jyllands Posten (April Fool – so JP keeps its enthusiasm more in-bounds, you see – by Henrik Skytte Nielsen). These two articles do have considerable – if not total – overlap; let me simply provide a list of the April Fools jokes that they report (together with the newspapers that are trying to pull each particular joke):

  • First, from Berlingkse Tidende itself (presented in a separate article, of course, here, and with a separate forum-piece here asking readers to opine whether this is a good idea or not): Get married on Facebook! The Danish (Lutheran) State Church will soon allow people to get married on-line, via Facebook. “Will you take as your lawfully-wedded bride the woman who is noted on your profile as your fiancée? Click on ‘Yes’ or forever hold your peace!” This is an important step that State Church has undertaken to enhance its image as modern-minded and in-step with current social trends, you see.
  • From Politiken: Good news for smokers! Denmark banned smoking in clubs and restaurants back on 15 August 2007, but now Health Minister Jakob Axel Nielsen has announced that that ban will soon be scrapped, as a gesture to aid the economic recovery of the restaurant/bar sector in these troubled times. As Nielsen himself allegedly put it, “We can’t just look on passively as an entire hospitality-culture goes under due to the crisis. And to skeptics I only want to say that this change will not create more smokers. [Nowadays] they just slip outside to freeze there. When they are inside they create turnover, and that’s what we want for our business sector during the crisis.”
  • From the down-market/tabloid paper B.T.: Danish premier Anders Fogh Rasmussen, before heading out to the upcoming NATO summit in Strasbourg on Friday, will first attend Friday prayers at a mosque in the northwest part of Copenhagen. Rasmussen is a leading candidate to become the new NATO General-Secretary, you see, but feels that he needs to burnish his Muslim-friendly credentials in order to attract the additional votes he needs to put himself over the top. (Actually, the only Muslim land within the NATO alliance is Turkey.)
  • From Ekstra Bladet, also a Danish tabloid: Naser Khader has announced his candidacy for the position of Copenhagen’s mayor! You see, Khader, born in Damascus, Syria, but a naturalized Danish citizen, not long ago tried to start a new political party called New Alliance, and then Liberal Alliance . . . you’re right, this one’s hopeless when it comes to appealing to anyone outside of Denmark.
  • From MetroXpress, a free newspaper: The Great Belt Bridge is to be torn down in 2015! That’s the enormous (18 km total) bridge-complex, the largest construction project in Danish history, that connects the two major Danish islands of Sjælland (that’s the one Copenhagen is on) and Fyn (the one that the third-largest Danish city, Odense, is on). But it has to come down, as the Danish government has come up with a much better ecologically-friendly substitute, namely a tunnel to be dug under that same span, designed to be able to capture the greenhouse-gas emissions of the vehicles that use it and keep them stored underground so that they don’t escape into the atmosphere. Quoth that government’s energy and environment spokeswomen, Anne Grete Holmsgaard, “This sends a good and very clear signal to the rest of the world in connection with the climate-summit in Copenhagen in December. With this initiative we show the world that we are ready to lead the way in the fight against climate-change.”

  • Here’s a pretty good one, and it comes short and sweet and appropriately from the Christian newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad: Taking a page from what seems to have become standard banking practice, Danish bishops have decided to award themselves additional bonuses of 1.5 million Danish kroner (= €200,000) out of Church funds.
  • This one’s also pretty good, and it’s actually on the Danish job-hunter’s website (you can see it there at the top of the homepage, if you move fast!): Copenhagen’s Tourist Council is searching for someone (female preferred) to fill in for a while for the famous “Little Mermaid” statue there in Copenhagen harbor, while the mermaid herself (realize: it’s only a statue, people – but it’s topless!) goes to China to fulfill a commitment made in her name to appear in an exhibition in Shanghai. The full, extensive job-listing is a pretty good piece of humorous work – maybe I’ll translate it for you in full sometime in a separate blog-entry – with neat little jokes like “Looking for a good sit-down job?”, “What do you have to be able to do? The most important things are that you are good at sitting still and have really good body-control,” and “You will get the opportunity to work with the best body-painters, who will ensure that you resemble as closely as possible the Little Mermaid.”

OK, so I admit it’s a mixed bag; again, at least that bogus job-announcement for the Little Mermaid stand-in was pretty good. But there is another wrinkle to this April Fools tale, going in the opposite direction – yes, an article that was not intended as an April Fools joke, yet was interpreted to be one! The paper involved here was Jyllands-Posten, and that is interesting because JP (the paper behind those infamous Danish cartoons back in late 2005/early 2006) likes to say that it is the only Danish paper that never has and never will publish any fake news article, whether for laughs or for any other reason. Yet, as the paper reports here, that is what Ritzau thought it had done today in the form of an article it published reporting that the government intended to start requiring young women of the right age, as well as the usual young men, to report to the Danish equivalent of draft-boards to be evaluated for suitability for military service. That bit of news was true, but Ritzau thought it was just a joke and included it in early versions of an article the news agency wrote (similar to this blog-entry) about how the Danish press was fooling around with its readers on this April Fools Day. What do you say, ladies? A bit of male chauvinism on display here from Ritzau, no? – basically expressing the notion that women aren’t really fit for military service – although the JP article about this goes on to cite a female editor at Ritzau, named Mette Josias, as apologizing for the error on the news agency’s behalf, admitting that “we should have checked [the report] out.”

(Oh, I might as well pass on a couple April Fools-type articles that I found today in the British press. This one, from the Economist, I think you’ll agree is pretty lame. But the Guardian’s effort is quite good – you should check it out.)

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