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12:45pm on Saturday, 8th December, 2012:

Not So Funny Now


I've said before that I loathe practical jokes. They exploit innocent people's trust in a callous, look-how-powerful-I-am way, then pass it off as a prank. You're supposed to laugh at how stupid you were to fall for it. It's a domination thing, which is why most people who do it hate being the victim of a practical joke themselves.

The world wouldn't work if you had to be suspicious of everything anyone said to you. I know, because I've been in such a world. There was a craze at our school back in about 1972 in which people would tell you something and then say "sucker" if you believed them. Well, that's how it began; it rapidly went on to setting traps (undoing someone's shoelace — "sucker for standing too close") or just vandalism (open up your exercise book and someone has written "SUCKER" across a whole page). By the end of it, kids were being told that a teacher wanted to see them and had no way of knowing if it was true or not unless they actually went to see the teacher, which meant they'd get a rocket if they'd been duped. It's just too easy to sucker someone; making your jolly jape more elaborate may make you feel more clever, but it's pointless because you can get them anyway. After about a month, the craze stopped: people (me included) issued warnings that they wouldn't so much as talk to anyone who suckered them. The individuals who were doing it eventually had to turn on themselves and found it's not half as much fun when someone has put dog shit in your sandwiches as it is when you've put it in someone else's.

I don't suppose that the apparent suicide of the nurse those Australian DJs hoaxed over the Duchess of Cambridge's pregnancy will affect in the slightest their — or any other prankster's — view that these things are entertaining. They can always find a way to frame their actions such that they feel excused. I particularly dislike the way that the head of the radio station involved called it a "tragic event", as if the hoaxers were mere pawns in some unstoppable force leading inexorably to Jacintha Saldanha's suicide. Tragic is when a parent rushes into their burning house to try rescue their child and dies in the attempt. Tragic is not when two consequence-impervious DJs on a media-entitlement power trip wreck the life of a nurse by playing a cheap trick on her.

Practical jokes. I hate 'em, hate 'em, hate 'em...

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Copyright © 2012 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).