To Prank Or Not To Prank

Image courtesy / Francesco Rollandin

Open your Facebook and you’ll see tons of videos gracing your news feed. With the recently introduces auto-play feature, you can’t help but preview each video before moving on; i.e. until you find one that catches your fancy. You must’ve noticed that the number of prank videos doing the rounds has significantly increased over the past few years. These are primarily meant to make people laugh, but also to inspire others to pull similar stunts on unsuspecting friends/strangers. Whereas some of these videos are harmless fun, others are downright mean.

Take a few examples of harmless pranks, like the kid-winking-and-blowing-kisses-at-older-ladies prank or Coke’s viral man-laughing-on-the-subway prank. Such pranks are characterized by the subjects (i.e. people who are pranked) being moderately surprised and often amused by the actions of the pranksters, and no one feels jeopardized at any point in time. Such pranksters aim to:

  • make others smile/laugh at their own expense
  • bring positivity into someone’s day/life
  • spread the joy when the prank is shared with others (either by word-of-mouth or through social media)
  • reinforce the belief that there are still good people out there

On the other hand, we have the malicious pranks, the ones that are intended to incite panic and mayhem. Take the pie-in-the-face, the bees-in-an-elevator or the bomb-in-your-hand pranks for instance. These pranksters do not discriminate between friends and family and are totally inconsiderate and insensitive to the feelings of others. Such pranksters are exactly the people your mother told you not to hang out with. Their motive is to:

  • terrorize/shock victim(s)
  • find perverse amusement in the shock, discomfort or embarrassment of others
  • have a negative impact on someone’s day/life
  • entice others to follow in their footsteps
  • reinforce the belief that there are people out there who’d do anything for a bunch of (virtual) likes

Let’s take a sample scenario; imagine an unemployed man sitting at the bus stop wearing his best Sunday suit with just enough cash to make it to his job interview. As this guy waits for the next bus heading downtown, mentally going through his interview responses, someone sneaks up behind him and smashes a cream pie into his face. Some people may find this man’s whipped-cream-smeared face and his ruined suit hilarious, but I do not. Maybe the pie-in-the-face is the last straw, triggering a mental breakdown, or worse, suicidal thoughts. Suffice to say; when pranksters pull off stunts like these, they do not consider what baggage their victims might be carrying.

Just to make my point absolutely, and I mean ABSOLUTELY, clear, I’ll take you through another hypothetical situation. Imagine an old man with a weak heart standing at a car wash, when out of nowhere, a guy dressed as an Arab hands him an ignited stick of fake dynamite and runs off in the opposite direction. The prank videographer also makes a run for it, leaving the old man in a state of utter panic; what the pranksters fail to see is the victim clutching his chest as he feels the onset of a fatal heart attack. If you’re one of those people who think this is funny, you are mentally sick and in dire need of a psychiatrist; I can refer you to a good one in London, in case you’re interested.

After coming up with these scenarios, I thought of doing some research on the internet to understand if there is some truth behind the idiom ‘scared to death’. Well, guess what? YOU CAN ACTUALLY SCARE A PERSON TO DEATH (full SciAm article available here). When someone’s put in a stressful situation, their mental fight-or-flight response kicks in, causing irregular heartbeats, a spike in blood pressure and  an increase in adrenaline production, all of which can be fatal. Even if these don’t result in deaths, these incidents can trigger deep-rooted fears and phobias, causing IRREPAIRABLE MENTAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL DAMAGE (full article on available here). What sane person would knowingly put someone in such danger?

For all you wannabe pranksters out there; wouldn’t it be nice if there were a checklist to see which category your intended prank would fall into? Well, here’s a list that should be a good starting point; please make sure you go through this before pulling a fast one on someone.

  • Will it physically harm someone?
  • Will it play on people’s fears or phobias?
  • Does it have even a remote chance of someone dying?
  • Will it traumatize someone (possibly for life)?
  • Is it intended to turn someone into a laughing stock?
  • Will it cause damage to someone else’s property?
  • Can it trigger self-doubt and low self-esteem in someone?

If the answer to any of the questions above is ‘Yes’, you should postpone the execution of your prank, quote, INDEFINITELY, unquote. A video I saw showed a prank gone horribly wrong, where a panic-stricken girl, after being terrorized by friends in disguise, dashes out of her house, only to be run over by an oncoming vehicle on her street. Let my words be a public service message; fame isn’t worth it when it is at someone’s expense.

A mean prank isn’t fun when you’re on the receiving end of it and can leave emotional/psychological scars for life. I request all my friends to neither attempt such shenanigans nor propagate such videos; every like/share helps motivate these pranksters to come up with more sinister ideas to terrorize, traumatize and humiliate innocent folk. Is this really a society we want our kids to grow up in?

NOTE: Please share this post as much as you can; it may stop somebody from doing something stupid that they would regret for the rest of their lives. 


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