By Charles Star | Issue #25
Zug: Credit Card Security
John Hargrave believes that "credit card security" is an oxymoron and, in two simple pranks, set out to prove it.
In his first experiment, he tested how carefully retail clerks checked his signature when processing a credit card purchase. Eschewing his own name — or even a name at all—Hargrave "signed" with a variety of gibberish. He filled the signature area with a crosshatch pattern; he inserted a doodle of a smiling whale; and he once simply wrote "Please check ID"—all of which were mindlessly approved. His reign of terror continued unabated until he tried to sign "NOT AUTHORIZED" for $15,000 in flat-screen TVs.
He then turned his attention to the security of account information. Do you really need to remember your mother's maiden name when you want information from a phone operator? No, it turns out you do not. Hargrave set out to access his account while demonstrating little to no knowledge of the account. On his first attempt he simply used a fake maiden name ("Swarthington"). The operator resisted, until he indicated that the name was simply part of a longer, faker name.
Unfortunately, distracted by the ease of his progress, Hargrave started pestering the operator without obtaining any useful information. In fact, he became so infatuated with his own silliness that the call fell short of succeeding. The second time around he didn't make the same mistake:
Improv Everywhere: No Pants
Improv Everywhere's Charlie Todd doesn't have a mean-spirited bone in his body. Normally that would result in a prank-free life, but Todd created a new style of prank—one that creates joy instead of embarrassment. For four years running, Todd has led his Improv Everywhere agents in No Pants: at an uptown subway stop, on a winter day, a rider enters the car without pants, acting like any other rider. With each subsequent stop, more pantsless riders enter the car, seemingly independent of each other. As the rider-to-pants ratio rapidly shrinks, and the civilians on the car start to get concerned, a vendor comes through the car—selling pants. For a dollar. And he has everyone's size.
Nobody gets hurt, everyone has a laugh and, despite the best efforts of the Office of Homeland Security, Improv Everywhere tapes the mission and posts dangerous pictures of our subway system on the internet. (ImprovEverywhere.com)
Rob Cockerham uses public, often commercial spaces to pull his pranks. A recurring theme is to replace banal icons with his own equally banal but slightly "off" projects.
Amused by the "fun" food descriptions on the T.G.I. Friday's menu, Rob Cockerham drafted colleagues to replace the Atkins-friendly menu in restaurants across the country with fake pages he designed. Substitute descriptions for real menu items (Buffalo wings are "[s]o delicious, you'll want to throw up and eat it again") sit alongside Cockerham creations like the Bacon Churner ("Two whole sticks of fresh Dutch dairy butter on a bed of crisp bacon. Topped with smoked bacon bits, served with a side of steaming cauliflower "fauxtatoes'") and Atkinz Soda ("Iced Sparkling Beef Bouillon with Sesame Seed Oil and Tabasco Sauce"). (Cockeyed.com)
Banksy: Fake Archaeology
London-based graffiti artist Banksy has moved beyond public walls and turned to museums as the canvas for his work. He has hung his own paintings at the Tate Modern in London, and at the Met, MoMA, and Brooklyn Museum in New York. His best prank, however, was placing a fake cave painting that depicts a stick figure pushing a shopping cart ("Early Man Goes Shopping") in an exhibition at the British Museum. The cave painting sat undetected until he posted about it on his web site. The result? Banksy sent up the exclusivity of the art world by showing that artists with less renown can sit alongside recognized artists, and even the curators are unable to distinguish what they have approved from what they haven't. Of course, it probably doesn't hurt that Banksy is good enough for his art to belong in a museum. In fact, after the British Museum curators were tipped to the fake in their midst, they promoted the piece to their permanent collection. (banksy.co.uk)
Eugene Mirman: Telephone Morality
In 1996, as a joke, Brooklyn comic and Stay Free! contributor Eugene Mirman made a nominal donation to Alan Keyes's presidential campaign, unaware that donating has the same effect as feeding a stray cat. After years of solicitations from the Republican Party and its affiliates, Mirman has now developed a twitching reaction every time the phone rings. Among the barrage of solicitors was United American Technologies, a phone company that defines itself not by low rates or easy-to-understand monthly statements, but by its lone-wolf opposition to gay marriage amid the immoral jungle of long-distance providers. Surprised by UAT's sales pitch, Mirman decided to go undercover and play along with them while he taped the call.
Curious, Eugene prompted the operator to tell him how other companies promote homosexuality:
UAT is so comfortably homophobic that the operator didn't flinch at Mirman's increasingly hateful comments. I'm surprised they didn't offer him a job. (EugeneMirman.com)