Master Prankster

In many countries around the world, April Fool’s Day is celebrated on April 1. This day has been celebrated as far back as 536BC in Iran, where it is called Sizdah Bedar. Iranians play jokes on each other on the 13thday of the Persian new year, which normally falls on April 1 or 2. In Denmark, May 1 is known as May-kat and is a day for playing pranks on other people. Royal family and courtiers in Korea were allowed to fool each other on the first snowy day of the year under the Joseon dynasty. In Spain and in most of Latin America there is also a tradition of pranks, but it is celebrated on December 28. Interestingly, on that day Christians also celebrate the famous Massacre of the Innocents, an infanticide ordered by Herod the Great. Which is why pranks in Spain are called inocentadas. Funny how a massacre can inspire a day for pranks.

Even though the day of the Holy Innocents is celebrated today by Christians, the historical fact itself has been questioned, and some recent biographers of Herod deny it entirely. But, tradition is tradition, and the show must go on. In most countries even the media plays jokes on viewers and readers, publishing absurd or ridiculous stories that day. Playing jokes and hoaxes is just too much fun and everyone has to participate.

Loyal to tradition, Sir Richard Branson played an original prank on everybody a few days ago. The world-famous tycoon and explorer announced his boldest challenge yet: Virgin Volcanic. It was an elaborate prank, because even a website was set up, which included images of the vehicle, that looked like a corkscrew, that would carry, not only Branson, but also actors Tom Hanks and Seth Green and singer Will.i.am, in a maiden voyage to the center of a live volcano. “Experts predict that one could travel from Hawaii to Naples in a couple of hours via the molten lava flows, with passengers boarding and disembarking from a network of “Earthports” close to the world’s volcanoes,” says the Virgin Volcanic website.

Accustomed to Branson’s spectacular enterprises, like Virgin Galactic, the space exploration project, and Virgin Oceanic, his ocean exploration program, a journey to the center of the Earth seemed even possible to many.

Unfortunately though, it was not more than a mischievious joke by the playful Branson. Plunging into a live volcano is something that not even Sir Richard would attempt.

If there were materials that could resist the incredibly high temperatures -more than 1,800 degrees Farenheit (1,000 Celsius)- without melting in minutes, there would still be the density of the magma to deal with and the pressure down there would make it virtually impossible to move around. And how can you navigate molten rock? How can you know where you are? How can you determine your position?

But we have to give it to Sir Richard Branson, for a brief moment there he made us dream. It became the subject of discussions. The fantasies of Jules Verne suddenly seemed at arm’s reach. It opened our minds. Which is what the Branson philosophy is all about anyway, “screw business as usual” and imagine that the impossible can be possible. Being Richard Branson, this is probably only half a joke, he may actually be serious about this and attempt it one day. But in any case, Sir Richard has shown us once again what he is a master at, getting attention. And he surely had some fun in the process.

(To read my article in PDF, go to Master Prankster)

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