Thousands of email inboxes all over the land came under an avalanche of press releases, memos and resolutions starting on the morning of April 1 with which the public sector and private companies saw fit to celebrate the international day of humor. More than a few journalists have been hospitalized following exhaustion from reading so many funny emails.
Decades ago, April Fool's Day usually meant newspapers running a couple of whacky stories. One paper invited people to a grand exhibition of donkeys to be held in the central square. It took some time for those who showed up to realize that they were indeed the asses being made fun of.
Early last century, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (better known under his comedian's pseudonym Lenin) joked when he said that power needs to be given to soviets and electric power provided everywhere. Like coronavirus deniers and MMS salespeople today, Lenin paid for his grand trick with money from Germany, with the joke ending up very expensive indeed.
One needs to wield humor with caution, especially these days as one risks insulting entire social groups, being canceled and having new legislation introduced to keep them in check. More complicated cases can see a person sued for making a joke. Luckily or not, such dubious jokes have largely become a thing of the past.
Newspapers and portals usually refrain from making April Fool's jokes these days. Instead, publications prefer to cover various humorous phenomena, including the achievements of speech recognition software and past April Fool's jokes gone awry.
The burden of levity on April Fool's Day now falls on the PR staff of institutions and companies who are responsible for the constant stream of whimsical press releases mentioned previously.
Even journalists for whom copying press releases and pasting them into news stories under their own name is bread and butter cannot keep on top of all of these press statements. Editorial desks usually find a bitter old person completely lacking a sense of humor with nothing better to do and task them with providing an overview and analysis of all these April 1 press releases.
Here follows and overview and analysis of April 1 press releases.
Mandatory coronavirus jokes
Most April 1 press releases are written in traditional news format that would make Priit Pullerits proud. It is the one day of the year that allows PR officers to jump into the shoes of journalists and produce write-ups sporting a proper lead, body, quote and background.
At the same time, we cannot forget that several generations of journalists and press representatives have been brought up listening to Rohke Debelak's "Libauudised" with the style clearly recognizable in almost all press releases.
Therefore, April 1 press releases mainly rely on the achievements of two journalistic whales – Debelak and Pullerits, drawing from the former's structural integrity and the latter's warm humor.
Jokes about masks and e-commerce can hardly be avoided in the conditions of the pandemic and coronavirus restrictions.
State Forest Management Center (RMK) reports:
"RMK will launch a pilot project on April 1 to provide game in state forests with masks in order to hinder the spread of the coronavirus. The first shipment of masks will be delivered to a deer feeder in Saaremaa complete with a wildlife camera. "The concentration of animals is greatest there, they get together and communicate in groups, which is why we felt this was a good place to start," Tiit Hunt said."
A classic mix of medical and wildlife news. While the name Tiit Hunt (Wolf) might seem the funniest part of the joke, it actually isn't. Saaremaa is also a real place.
The Estonian Hunters Society went down a similar path with their press release, "Start of the e-hunting season."
"Starting on April 1, hunters will be able to go hunting without leaving the house courtesy of a new application. All they need is a computer, smartphone or other smart device. 'So far, we have been developing paperless hunting using e-documents. In connection with the coronavirus, we created an application young hunters can use to learn the theoretical basics, with the Metsis e-examination environment already in place. The process only lacked hunting itself that became a virtual reality today. The hunter no longer needs to leave their house,' said the hunters society's executive manager Tõnis Korts.'"
The Veiniekspress wine shop also concentrated on coronavirus restrictions:
"The government decided that masks will have to be worn when visiting online shops starting on April 5. Navigating to an online shop's address, the person must first prove they are wearing a mask or visor using their webcam. A photograph taken using the webcam must be sent to the shopkeeper. The recommendation for making masks mandatory for e-shoppers in full comes from the COVID-19 advisory council."
Lääne-Viru County Central Library harked back to the days when newspapers could be read on bulletin boards in the street:
"Starting from April 1, it is possible to read newspapers at the library without physical contact. Because the library is closed, the process of reading the paper will take place through the window. As it is difficult to converse through the thick glass, we will be using Morse code. For example, to turn the page, the reader will have to tap the letter E and the page number on the window. Therefore, in order to read the article on page three, patrons must perform a single short knock – paus – three short and two long accented knocks."
The University of Tartu allowed itself to ironize at the expense of self-styled experts and its own curriculum:
"The University of Tartu will open a new opinion leader curriculum in all departments for the 2021/2022 academic year. The aim of the new curriculum is to give opinion leaders a maximally comprehensive and modern education. Future opinion leaders will study virology, microbiology, epidemiology, vaccinology and immunology, be instructed on personal and self-defense (masks, visors, martial arts etc.) and obtain practical skills in neural and genetic engineering."
The public sector is usually a bit more diligent about celebrating April 1 than its private counterpart. It is likely that the reason is not so much more free time but rather the professional obligation of improving the lives of citizens, by making merry in this case.
The Tallinn Municipal Police bet on dark humor or simply copied a section from its development plan – both are distinct possibilities.
"The Municipal Police launched a new project today that will introduce fines for people who have correctly parked their vehicle. 'The reason is simple – the number of people violating parking regulations has fallen drastically, which is why new measures are necessary,' head of the Municipal Police Aivar Toompere said."
Allow me to summarize the next few examples in their titles that do a good enough job of getting the point across: "University of Tartu pharmacology students admitted based on knowledge the herbarium" and "Maarjamäe Palace Park to exhibit a model of the Valley of Kings in Egypt in the place of Soviet monuments." These relatively tame examples were followed by press releases according to which "Elisa introduces left-handed smartphones" and "Meie Mees will be sent to Iraq for six months," after getting through which one news editor permanently lost the ability to read and went to work at Tallinn Zoo as a sugar glider.
Politicians, companies et al.
Some companies, agencies and political parties have their own public relations teams that take April 1 very seriously, while for others, middle or even top executives take cracking jokes upon themselves. The result is usually the same.
Craft brewery Tanker and tech company Corle announced:
"The ingenuity of Estonian companies will bring permanent beer links to every household, The Est-Beer-Link1 will cover the northern region inside the next five years, with Est-Beer-Link2 to cover the south in the year after to ensure uninterrupted beer links in case of brewery outages. Home consumers will be glad to know that changes resulting from transmission efficiency will also result in a price drop."
E-state humor was provided by the Consumer Responsibility Organization (TVO) and Transparency International Estonia:
"Cooperation between independent journalists, progressive package entrepreneurs and watchful monitoring authorities has resulted in an agreement that a surveillance sensor will be included in all packages marketed in Estonia starting in 2022." (TVO)
"All smartphone users can download a free app called 'Corruption Radar' that works similarly to the HOIA coronavirus warning app but instead detects one's exposure to air particles that lead to corruptive acts." (Transparency International)
Politicians usually joke inadvertently, meaning that while they believe they are being serious, the listeners are laughing. That is why top politicians see no reason to force jokes on April 1 as they appear as naturally as leaves in spring and on a daily basis. Those not currently involved in the major leagues tend to be more prone to humor courtesy of more free time and zero responsibility.
The Greens posted a message disguised as a BNS news story on April 1 according to which the coalition threw its weight behind marriage equality but decided to delete it a little while later and replace with something more in tune with April 1: "RMK to stop clearcutting in Estonia."
Considering the consistently strong comedic sensibilities and satirical talent of EKRE portal Uued Uudised, their April 1 news story "Government announces: All Ukrainians working in Estonia to be given the status of IT specialists exempt from quotas" was so similar to what they run on every other day of the year it did not qualify as a traditional April Fool's joke.
However, we must commend Uued Uudised for working together with Reform Party MP Madis Milling.
Milling initially wrote on Facebook:
"In connection with attacks on the email accounts of MPs and the growing aggression of flat-earther protestors, the Board of the Riigikogu has decided. Members of the parliament are permitted to carry a firearm for self-defense starting from Thursday, April 1."
Uued Uudised immediately followed up with a story: "Joke in poor taste: Reform Party politician brandishing a gun."
The tradition of April Fool's jokes in media, social media and public relations is alive and well. Press releases meant to appear humorous are myriad which is incidentally one of their greatest weaknesses as more than a few good jokes can be drowned out.
More than a few April 1 jokes are indistinguishable from real news: "Students and advertising experts to launch campaign to promote tap water;" "Tehnopol Startup Incubator to give all participants 2 percent stake;" "Average old-age pension for 44 years of seniority to be hiked by €24 euros;" "Helir-Valdor Seeder expecting a good local elections result in southwest Estonia." Go figure.
Juhan Peegel once said that a head too thick for jokes is better suited to serve as a chopping block. The firewood has been split for this spring and we can go back to life as usual until April 1 rolls around again.
Editor: Marcus Turovski