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Weird News

NYC Sidewalk Gag Old News to Veteran Prankster

May 24, 2010 – 8:49 AM
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David Moye

David Moye Contributor

(May 24) -- The old phrase "What goes around comes around" is a fairly accepted axiom, but it doesn't always work for pranks -- or for the pranksters.

Recently, an anonymous prankster in New York City decided to express distaste for slow tourists who dawdle on sidewalks by painting a line down the middle of a Fifth Avenue sidewalk between East 22nd and 23rd streets.
A section of the sidewalk along Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, near E22nd Street, is seen partitioned into lanes designated
NY Post / Splash News
A separate lane for tourists? For frustrated New Yorkers, it might seem like a good idea. Instead, it's just an old joke.

The result was two lanes of traffic, one marked specifically for locals who need to get somewhere in a New York minute and the other for slowpoke tourists obviously overwhelmed by the bright lights and tall buildings of the Big Apple.

If the pedestrian prank's purpose was to get publicity, it did the trick. Local and national publications ran photos of the sidewalk, and, presumably, readers got a good chuckle.

But one person isn't laughing: a man who came up with a similar prank back in 1984 and feels credit should be given where it's due -- to him.

He's media satirist and conceptual artist Joey Skaggs, who has a 40-year career creating media pranks that are designed to satirize the culture and the laziness of the media at covering big issues of the day.

Some of his previous pranks included creating a "cathouse for dogs," where pooches could get sexually gratified by an assortment of "hot bitches"; the "Fat Squad," a group of commandos who would follow fat people around to make sure they stuck to their diets; and the Solomon Project, a revamp of the American judicial system, where super-computers would replace judges and juries.

Skaggs says the sidewalk gag is reminiscent of his 1984 "Walk Right!" prank, where he created an imaginary ad hoc group of vigilante sidewalk-etiquette enforcers who patrolled the streets to make New York a better place to live and walk.

"The concept was supposed to satirize the infamous rudeness of New York residents as well as the vigilante mentality of groups like the Guardian Angels and other fascist concepts," Skaggs says.

The group created a manifesto that included 66 rules of pedestrian behavior, including: obese people must walk single file, short people could not walk with umbrellas unless they could hold them at least 5 feet, 10 inches high, and a variety of different pedestrian lanes including one-way lanes, a passing lane and window shopping lanes.

News outlets like CNN walked right into Walk Right! and fell for it hook, line and sinker, reporting it as fact. The story appeared all over the world before Skaggs confessed it was a hoax, and, as usual, few of the media outlets that did stories on Walk Right! declined to publicly admit they'd been duped.

Skaggs, 65, doesn't know if the person or persons who painted the Fifth Avenue sidewalk were inspired by him, but he believes it's possible.

"The sidewalk graffiti is close to the School of Visual Art, where I graduated from," Skaggs says. "I also taught and lectured there as well."

But if the sidewalk scribble was a tribute, Skaggs wasn't impressed.

"There are so many things to criticize," he admits. "It's been done before, and it lacks finesse. It's simple graffiti. I like it when people raise the bar. When we did Walk Right! we didn't break any laws."

Being copied is something that Skaggs is getting used to.

"A German artist copied my Cathouse for Dogs completely and had all sorts of publicity," Skaggs says. "It was exactly the same."

But while Skaggs isn't impressed by the sidewalk spoof, there are some media pranksters who do tickle his funny bone and manage to be provocative as well, such as "yo-yo master" Kevin "K-Strass" Strasser, who has convinced numerous Midwest TV stations to book him as a guest, despite having no yo-yoing ability whatsoever.

"He's funny and clever," Skaggs says. "He's pointing out that the morning show producers aren't looking beyond a press release or a phone call. [Strasser] can keep booking himself on shows just by saying, 'I was on WPIX last week.'"

No word on whether the mysterious New York City sidewalk scribbler will reveal himself, but Skaggs is working on a documentary that he hopes will put his work in the proper pop culture perspective.
Filed under: Weird News
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