Pulling The Plug On Pranks

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As students, we come across humour a lot: Whether it be from TV programs, events in real life, or impractical scenarios dreamed up in boring lectures (generally right when there’s a really quiet moment so everyone can stare at you while you giggle).

Arguably, it is humour that separates us from the animal kingdom, though there are theories that animals can also experience humour. Nevertheless, we are possibly the only species on the planet to actively engage in creating humorous situations, and branch comedy into various forms. One of these key areas of comedy is the prank.

Pranks, as defined by the dictionary, are “a trick of an amusing, playful, or sometimes malicious nature.” In most cases, it involves fooling someone, and then laughing at it. However, we have started to go to ridiculous lengths to milk this category for all it’s worth: leading to worries that prank culture has got out of control.

Recently there have been several events that are very worrying in terms of their dedication to fooling people, even if some aren't intended to be funny. One is Derren Brown’s show, Apocalypse. Viewers of his work will know about the extraordinary lengths this man will go to convince his “participants” that what they are experiencing is real: from hypnotism to full staging effects. This show, where he convinced a man that a Zombie apocalypse was occurring, was very realistic; so realistic in fact that numerous people have accused the man involved of being an actor.

The programme was a highly budgeted and deeply thought out plan, that involved hacking his phone, controlling his Twitter and news feeds and using over 200 actors, all to convince one man that the apocalypse was happening. In my opinion there’s nothing innately humorous about watching a man think the world has come to an end and that he’s going to die. The man breaks down several times, is coated in blood, is exposed horribly to the cameras, and goes through mental torture; all so Mr Brown can prove that he can fool another bloke.

Another incident is a prank from Brazilian TV linked here, that features an appearance of lookalike girl from The Ring entering an elevator. The prank goes as follows: The lights flicker off, she enters through a trapdoor in the side of the lift and when the light comes on she scares the living daylights out of people. The video has gone viral, so you can check it out online and see what you think. Personally I really don’t see the humour in it, the problem is there doesn’t seem to be anything clever in it – it is just pure fright factor.

Adding support to the idea that pranks have gone too far, there’s the recent tragic incident with Jacintha Saldana. If you’ve been following the news recently, you’ll know that Kate Middleton was recently admitted to hospital for morning sickness. A pair of Australian DJ’s decided to prank call the hospital, pretending to be the Queen and Prince Phillip, in an attempt to get information out of the hospital. To their surprise (as well as everyone listening in), they succeed in talking to the royal couple’s private nurse, who gave them details of the Duchess’s condition. Mrs Saldanha was the one who put them through to the nurse and has since been found dead, having committed suicide. The Twitter accounts of the two DJ’s involved have been bombarded with angry and abusive comments on the subjects, to the point where they have been deleted.

In actual terms, being convinced the world is ending is far more unpleasant than being convinced that someone is a member of the royal family, yet the hounding the nurse received from the media has led to the suggestion that a prank by two radio DJ’s has caused the death of a woman.

While Jacintha Saldana’s emotional damage was clearly extremely deep, Derren Brown insists that he has included a suggestion in the man’s mind that will prevent trauma, but can we really be certain that he won’t suffer emotionally damage from believing the world is coming to an end?

So, have pranks gone too far? For me personally pranks were never really funny. I was raised with the belief that a joke is only funny if the other person is laughing too; yet programmes such as Prank Patrol bring us up in a society that encourages laughing at the expense of others.

Many people use the phrase “I’m laughing with you, not at you”, and this is the boundary within which I believe pranks must be contained. For instance, I didn’t see the people in the elevator laughing while they were banging on the door, crying and screaming to be let out.

Have you been the victim of a prank that has gone too far? Let us know your thoughts on this topic below or tweet @labelonline

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