Politically motivated pranks may seem like a recent phenomenon, but they’ve been around as long as snarky people have been upset with their rulers and society at large. (That’s a long time). Here are mischief expert Andrew Boyd’s five favorite instances when tomfoolery became a form of popular dissent.
1. The Great Canadian Teddy Bear Catapult
When 34 heads of state from the biggest countries in North and South America converged on Quebec City to discuss a free trade agreement in 2001, the Canadian government erected a miles-long concrete and chain-link fence around conference center, walling off demonstrators. In response, protestors put on medieval gear and used a large wooden catapult to launch teddy bears over the barrier — laying siege on the political summit until security forces seized their stuffed animal trebuchet.
2. Nixon’s Conductor
During a “whistle-stop” on Richard Nixon’s campaign for governor of California in 1962, Democratic prankster Dick Tuck dressed up as a conductor and ordered Nixon’s train out of the station just as the politician was beginning a speech.
3. Barbie Liberation Organization
In 1993, an activist group calling itself the Barbie Liberation Organization purchased hundred of “teen talk” Barbie dolls and G.I. Joe action figures, switched their voice boxes, and slipped them back on shelves. Parents and kids were shocked to hear their newly purchased Barbies yelling things like “Eat lead, Cobra!” and their G.I. Joes bubbling about dream weddings.
4. Trojan Horse
The Greeks’ ploy of a horse filled with soldiers was a clever piece of strategy that allowed them to defeat Troy according to the classical tale — but it was also brilliant piece of trickery. “It’s not my number one favorite and it’s not exactly non-violent, but it’s one of the oldest ruses in history,” said Boyd.
5. Orange Alternative
During a period of martial law in Poland in the 1980s, a protest group held hands around the orangutan cage at the zoo and sang Stalinist hymns, according to Boyd. “It was clearly a thumb in the eye of the regime,” he argues. “But what could they arrest them for? That’s kind of beautiful action I’ve always admired.”
Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/emrosenberg.