My Way of Life and Death draws significant inspiration from the mid-late 20th century American counterculture, which began and flowered (for most practical purposes) in Northern California. Above is a selection of joke courses “offered” by the Communiversity, an experimental San Franciscan free school. The “Deathskool” curriculum is a parody of the type of courses promoted via “Lifeschool”, which was a real institution catering mostly to genteel hippies. According to Tales of the Cacophony Society (2013):
We ran joke classes every catalog for two years until our “DEATHSKOOL” catalog, when people got too confused and we stopped for a while. Someone had registered for every joke class we have ever run, no matter how outrageously it was written. When the HARIKARI class asked them to kill themselves, they politely asked if it was real or not. For DEMONIC POSSESSION we were asked in a whisper if we “had connections.” When we ran PARANOIA AS A STATE OF HEIGHTENED AWARENESS, we had to reevaluate the whole concept of joke classes—a device, as far as we know, that no other alternative university has used.
SIXTEEN people signed up for Paranoia. These were the ones either cowardly or fun loving registrars let sign up. Many more were turned away by other registrars. Some people didn’t want ANY other class but that one and as you can imagine HATED filling out the skills exchange (a program we run in which participants signing up for the school offer their skills for barter). If you re-read the description a couple of times, I think you might agree that it’s pretty horrible. But people wanted it. People in on the joke wanted it to happen but the BIG QUESTION MARK was what kind of people had signed up for it? The joke became too real; everyone who wanted to see what the registrants were like were also afraid to offer their homes to find out! The joke became very real.
Eight months later someone was moving out of their house and offered to have the class the night before they gave the keys back to the landlord. We wrote and called people, had the class, and had a very intense and fantastic evening of sharing what we were afraid of. Our first joke had become real. An incredible reversal.