Saturday, December 8, 2012

Pranks r us

A lot of people seem pretty stirred up about the death of a nurse that seems to be connected to her very recent public humiliation at the hands of a pair of DJs in Sydney, Australia. The nurse, Jacintha Saldanha, accepted a prank call by the DJs, who were pretending to be Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles, and connected them to the duty nurse attending the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge. The call became a minor sensation around the world, presumably because no one could believe how easily Saldanha had been taken in: even the DJs were surprised their stunt succeeded.

Saldanha was found dead on Friday by what the New York Times is calling "an apparent suicide". Suddenly no one is all that amused by the prank any more.

Yet be honest: how many of you laughed when you first heard the story, before Saldanha was found dead?

Not to be holier than thou, but I've never found prank calls funny. Not even a little. I've never understood where the humor is to be found in making someone else look, sound, or feel foolish.

I'm evidently very much in the minority, though. From Candid Camera onward, the audience seems to have rewarded producers who have figured out how to make ordinary folks look ridiculous.

Even two of my favorite TV shows, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, do this on a regular basis. I hate those bits. It's one thing to deflate the hypocrisy of politicians. It's quite another to humiliate ordinary people just going about their business.

At least in the DS and CR bits, people know they're on camera: they are willing (if seemingly oblivious) conspirators. What seems to make prank calling so appealing to so many in the audience is that the victims don't realize anything is amiss.

Apparently nobody stops to wonder how he or she would feel if the tables were turned. Nobody stops to wonder if there might be consequences to these little pranks, either.

What the hell is wrong with you people? And by "you people", I mean not just the producers and (using the term loosely) talent, but the audience, too. Are you totally incapable of empathy? Does it take a death to wake you up to the cruelty that has always been at the very heart of your insipid "comedy"?

You say all comedy is cruel? Maybe so. But the cruelty of a stand-up tends to be aimed at groups, or at people who have willingly placed themselves in the public eye. Prank calls aim right at one person, someone who is just trying to live his or her life. When you focus the cruelty so tightly and make it public, you have stopped being funny. You've become merely the sorriest of assholes.

If you reward such assholes by listening to them and laughing along, you're a sorry asshole too.

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