Title photo: «mime» by micmol is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
What it is
A prank I came up with years ago and pitched to Catalonian nationalists as a way to gain sympathy for their cause by showing the world they had a sense of humor. Sort of like when giant corporations make some viral ad poking fun at themselves while also very much not doing that. Or like when PETA rescues animals from shelters and then exterminates them. Sometimes a little self-ironic comedy is the best way to keep your brand relevant.
How it was made
They liked the initial idea and emailed me back to ask if I could fly to Barcelona for a meeting at a tapas bar. I counterproposed a meeting at a cafe, saying I’ve had the unprovable theory for years that tapas are intentionally oversalted to make me spend more money on drinks, and while I appreciated their entrepreneurial spirit, it made the food borderline inedible. This was the absolute worst possible thing to say to a group of nationalist nutjobs, but they agreed anyway.
Two women and an older man representing the group were already waiting for me when I arrived, and despite my best efforts, the one sitting with her back to the wall wouldn’t trade places with me, so I spent the entire meeting not being able to see when the waiter was coming and constantly wondering if the rest of the cafe thought I looked fat from behind.
I pulled out my folder of notes and gave each of them a copy. The basic idea was pretty simple: we found a fake group called «El Instituto Nueva Historia» (they changed it later) and start releasing viral videos on YouTube. This was in 2006, so I had to explain to them what YouTube was, and the old man still didn’t get it, so I finally just said, «It’s a radio station» to shut him up.
I briefly went through all the things we could do after that if Phase One was a success, like a Spinal Tap-style mockumentary about Catalonians inventing the first manned spaceship in 1957 with Gimson, but then accidentally locking the keys inside days before launch and having to tear it down again; or Joan Cornellà’s role in the creation of the Garbage Pail Kids when he was four.
And front and center of it all, I told them, was Christopher Columbus. I can still vividly remember I even leaned back and folded my arms dramatically like an asshole, waiting for their minds to be blown. They just looked at each other in befuddlement.
«Why?» one of them said, «Christopher Columbus was a…I think you say…douchebag?»
«One of history’s greatest monsters,» the other chimed in. «Why not a fictional monster like Dracula? It’s less offensive.»
I bent over the table real close because I thought some tourists behind us were eavesdropping. «People, that’s the joke. That’s what gets you attention. Take the biggest names you can think of so no one in their right mind will believe it.»
They all nodded at each other and we started brainstorming other people they could ridiculously claim ownership of. It was honestly one of the funniest hours I’ve ever spent with complete strangers. The list was a goldmine. Pol-Pot. George Orwell. Tom from Myspace. Franco. Someone said Shakespeare, which we all had a good laugh at, but decided that would strain credibility too much–at least for the first iteration.
At last came the time to negotiate my price, but I ordered another round of coffees and excused myself because I had to go to the little splainers’ room. I came back and sat down and they were discussing something in their weird dialect so I pretended to have found something in one of my notes that needed my deepest attention and kept reading the same three words repeatedly while stirring my coffee. Finally they stopped and said, «So you were asking about compensation.»
«I think all of this can be done for a reasonable amount. Maybe 250,000 euros to start with and then we see what happens.» That’s what I wanted to say. But what actually happened was, I took a big gulp of my coffee to show them my steely, businessman-like resolve and immediately felt like I was going to vomit and choke to death at the same time. I held my throat and fell out of my chair, gasping for relief. One of them had apparently gone around to all the tables and collected the salt shakers and then poured them into our sugar dispenser. As I lay rolling on the ground, convulsing, the old man stood up and kicked me in the crotch. Then they took all of my papers and left. That was the last I ever heard from them, till about a year later when I saw their Institut make the international news. They’d gone ahead with everything we discussed, but completely left my name out of it.
What I like about the Institut Nova Història
I came up with the idea for it, so of course I like it. I’m also a big fan of pulling facts out of your ass when you don’t feel like doing research. And I don’t pay any of the taxes in Catalonia (€3m as of the time of writing) being
embezzled carefully considered and legitimately paid to this organization, so basically everything about this story is hilarious to me.
What I dislike about it
They keep pretending they came up with it and not me. My sole responsibility for their existence and financial prosperity is not even a minor footnote in their Wikipedia entry.
How it could be improved
By being honest and acknowledging the critical role I played in its foundation
Next time on Spainsplainer: I’m starting to think Carpanta Hambrón is hungry all the time because he’s infested with tapeworms. I bet when he takes a dump it looks like that snakepit in Raiders of the Lost Ark