The Etoile Monitor's Seasonal Distraction
Kyris pointed at the newspaper with a smile. "Looks like you're not allowed in the event this year, Alistair. No wizards." Her cafe partner let out a disgusted groan. "A few bad seeds ruin it for everyone. What else is new in Etoile?" He took a slow sip of tea. "Not that I was planning on doing anything crazy this year." "Being dragged before Mellitus and three weeks of Slush duty too much for you?" A quick laugh as the ranger took a closer look at the fine print. "Looks like the target list changed this year, too. No women." "That was always a mistake. Someone takes things a bit too far and this all goes from 'distraction' to 'crime'." Alistair had an annoyed tone. "The Monitor assumed that people would be, you know, reasonable about this sort of thing. That people knew what a 'prank' was, and that people would take it in good humor." "Is this one of those, 'Back in my day', segues you're going on about, old man?" The ranger sighed. "Maybe you're just cynical. The Monitor just needs to be more careful about who they list as targets, that's all. No wife of the First Minister, no favorite mistress of the head of the Canal Authority, nobody who isn't in on the joke." "And no magically created portraits of them doing the dirty with each other in the sky, either." Alistair cracked a smile at that. "Still, I took the fall for that one." "Only because you refused to say who actually did it. Why cover for those donkeys?" The ranger ate a bite of lemon cake and dabbed at her lips. "You brought that on yourself."
The Etoile Monitor is the second of the two newspapers in wide circulation in the Etoile Capital City, and known for its more irreverent tone compared to the leading state-sponsored Principality Standard. The Monitor is well known for poking at authority; its muckrakers are always on the prowl for scandal among the well heeled and the powerful, and more than once the Principality of Etoile has shut their offices down, only to allow their re-opening after public outcry. The Seasonal Distraction is a twice-per-year event that 'imparts a spirit of participation in the public', according to the Monitor's editor. Announcing the event in First Season 718, the Monitor published a list of names on its front page, inviting any interested party to play a public prank on one of these figures after mailing the Monitor a couplet describing the prank. Successful pranksters would have their couplets printed in the paper. Famous pranks have included the sabotage of the First Minister's suspenders during the opening of the Etoilean Plenary Committee, the illusory sinking of the Princep's flagship in port (accomplished with clever use of the locks in the Grand Canal), and the training of a number of pigeons to annoy and peck at the head of the Power Engineering Consortium. Notorious 'pranks' have included the intentional crashing of Power-Wagons to block certain city streets and strand certain ministers in traffic, tampering with the food at a manufactory to induce mass vomiting, and the use of magic to draw a floating illusion in the sky of certain persons in compromising poses. Over the years, more and more rules have been added to the Distraction in order to reduce the chance of a crackdown by the authorities, as well as reduce the chances of damage and magisterial liability.
Every First and Third seasons, the editor of the Monitor puts together a list of prominent Etoileans from the past two seasons. The list is typically those who in some way found themselves worthy of public ridicule. For example, in 721 the head of the Women's Temperance Lodge was placed on the list after her son was discovered employing the services of four courtesans in a disreputable public house. Typically, about ten figures are targeted on every Distraction, and their names are published on the front page of the Monitor. For a week, members of the public are prompted to play pranks on the listed figures. Each would-be prankster must 'call their shot' by sending a couplet to the Monitor by post, describing with wit their prank and target. The prank must be something that is publicly verifiable; i.e. there must be independent witnesses to the prank willing to confirm their account of the prank to the Monitor. After the week is over, the most impressive pranks and couplets for each target are assembled into a poem and published on the Monitor front page, ensuring a permanent record of the prankster's successes.
Components and tools
The printing presses of the Monitor are critical to the success of the Distraction. Similar events have been held as one-offs, but the reach and circulation of the Monitor ensures wide knowledge of the pranks and infamy for the pranksters.
Naturally, the local malcontents and pranksters of the Etoile Capital City are crucial to the success of the Distraction. Equally important, however, is the general implicit agreement between the Monitor and the members of the Etoilean nobility and upper crust - the pranks are seen as a harmless way for ordinary capital citizens to vent, and it serves to humanize the less approachable members of Etoilean society.