By Breanna Whipple
CALGARY — This format in which you’re consuming serves as an exemplary component of iconic media prankster Joey Skaggs’ life mission. For Skaggs, reality became a malleable subject at a very young age. One of Skaggs’ teachers painted the largest picture of all, diminishing each individual to a single molecule in this vast universe. That is when Skaggs changed forever.
Initially pursuing a career in fine art, he found himself bored by the dull process and lack of immediacy. With so much emotional turmoil fuelled by the Vietnam War, Skaggs decided to combine political commentary with art, resulting in a well thought-out protest. Curating a Vietnamese nativity scene, which he and a band of hippies obliterated later by flames, the media twisted the events and spawned a story full of fallacies. This aftermath, like his experience with that teacher so many years ago, worked as a catalyst for self-discovery – he realized that he could use his unique form of art to challenge the system.
Becoming “The Godfather of the Media Hoax” did not occur overnight. It was a lengthy, ingenious process that expanded from the late 1960s continuing to the present day. One of his earliest, most legendary hoaxes began in 1976. Skaggs managed to publish an ad for a dog brothel in the alternative weekly newspaper The Village Voice. Expanding on the fib in the same ways he would for several years to come, he hired actors to play along to receive airtime on various news outlets, in this instance ABC News. Gaining attention from both the APSCA and the Bureau of Animal Affairs, Skaggs was finally moved to reveal the truth in order to avoid a court hearing. Did this stop him from executing episodes of culture jamming? Not a chance in hell.
The Art of the Prank is an aesthetically striking documentary that chronicles Skaggs’ fascinating career as a professional anti-establishment prankster. Having pulled off truly unbelievable stories over a large magnitude of decades, his mission to expose media bias in such a tongue-in-cheek manner is unlike anything that has yet to be offered. Instilling belief of the existence of things such as a celebrity sperm bank auction or a fat squad that chains up refrigerators to impulsive reporters is only the tip of the iceberg of his extensive lists of accomplishments.
Though obviously humourous on the surface, Skaggs’ life mission is also a very important one. Skaggs warns us that we must all be skeptical of the media-dominated world. We are currently in a time where an endless amount of information is a mere click away, allowing irresponsible words to be believed by those who are quick to accept opinion for fact. Skaggs set the groundwork for future generations to continue the art of exposing the bloodhounds of mainstream media. It is all too easy to swallow words and ignore the facts. This film demonstrates the importance of taking risks, specifically opening your eyes and thinking for yourself. Don’t be submissive – question everything.
The Art of the Prank makes its Canadian premiere at the Calgary Underground Film Festival, with two shows scheduled April 16 (at 6:30 p.m.) and April 17 (at 1:30 p.m.).AB, Alberta, Calgary Underground Film Festival, CUFF, CUFF 2016, Globe Cinema, Joey Skaggs, The Art of the Prank