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Consequences of Pranks and Practical Jokes
Ridicule: an ungenerous temper
From Roman times, and perhaps before, one day on the calendar has been set aside for people to indulge in practical jokes and pranks. In the UK, U.S. and Canada, this day is April 1st. Other areas choose different times. Implicit in such pranks is the understanding that both parties view them as being good fun.
Is it fun to be an April fool?
The difficulty arises where parameters have not been defined by the terms of such friendships. This creates the potential for inflicting physical or emotional pain-at times, even danger. This spawns the question as to why, on April 1st, or any other day for that matter, anyone wishes to cause inconvenience, discomfort or chagrin to a fellow being.
My foray into this “fun”
I recall participating in one such prank, and now, after several decades, I still feel regret. Attending a boarding school, my friends and I often spent weekends at each other’s homes. This provided a chance to chat and laugh about school outside its sanctums. In addition, it offered a mini vacation from our familial homes.
At some point, around age 12, I went to a friend’s home for such a weekend. We arrived late on Friday afternoon. As Sunday evening approached, the idea of returning to school the next morning became ever more irksome. If only we could have one more day to enjoy, or at least cause a delay long enough to free us from the day’s over-all rigors.
The alarm clock was innocent
Holding back time
In the darkness, with both her parents asleep, our wish began to shift into a plan. She mentioned she knew how to unset the alarm on the alarm clock in her parents’ bedroom. A few years before, she had done so on April fool’s Day. Though her mom and dad had been mildly annoyed, it had been a Saturday, so did not cause undue aggravation. This clock, she said, stood on a small table just inside her parents’ bedroom door. Hence, she could tiptoe in, do the deed, then, in all likelihood, slip out, undetected. We decided to chance it.
Remorse in the morning
I woke to find her mother shaking my friend by her shoulder. When she asked if we had unset the alarm. My friend kept repeating my name; I feel sure I said hers. As with many Co-conspirators caught, we each strove to place the blame on each other, both feeling guilt-ridden.
Jolted by fear and danger
In this second example Police officer Marvin Bow (invented character) given to practical jokes as a boy, relates the shame and terror which jarred him out of this habit.
During his early teens, he had heard via schoolyard chat that a motorcar’s engine could not start if the exhaust fumes could not escape. This stoppage could be achieved by pushing a potato inside the outer end of a car’s exhaust pipe.
Thus, filching a potato from his parents’ larder, Bow shoved it into the open end of his father’s car exhaust pipe. During dinner that evening, his mother spoke of a headache which she hoped would not prevent her from going to work the next morning. Later that night, this headache became as intense as to require transportation to a hospital’s emergency room. There was no time to wait for an ambulance to arrive.
Terrified, Bow rushed out to the car, retrieved the potato, and then hurried back into the house. Given the over-all uproar, this went unnoticed.
As things turned out, his mother was diagnosed with extreme migraines, which could be controlled by medication and rest. Still, although his prank caused no harm, Bow has felt a lifelong guilt. Had an imminent brain hemorrhage been at the root of her pain, crucial seconds could have been stolen. Once his mother was safe and at home, Bow vowed to himself that never again would he subject anyone to any type of jeopardy.
The child thinks when I will; the adult thinks why I wont
Reasoning like a child
Good values can take some years to evolve. Nearly all children tend to perceive “grown-ups” as authority figures, controllers and foes. As such, sabotaging their dominance often feels both worthwhile and well-justified. Later, as we grow towards their sphere, we recognize these adults as, in truth, little more than older, larger versions of us, just as vulnerable to pain and chagrin as we ourselves are.
Why was that funny?
Every prank or practical joke, from the most basic to the intricate, requires some planning and preparation. Often, when hearing of such a jest, I would like to ask the prankster, and then gain some sense as to where the humor could have been either anticipated or found.
During my college days, one professor, when serving a beverage to students attending a seminar in her large office, put soap around the rim of each glass. Given this professor’s prestige, none of us ever dared to complain. We each felt the need to pretend not to notice. Still, I experienced for myself, and sensed the unspoken question from others, “What made you do that?”
One of the most offensive aspects of a practical joke is the expectation/demand that the recipient pretends to find it hilarious. Failure to do so might result in being as someone who can’t take a joke-thereby becoming a further butt, as a pariah.
Thus, one young man, paying a large part of his college tuition via working on building sites, found himself the target of a joke by his work mates. Lunching with several of them at a fish and chip shop, he left the table just long enough to get a forgotten serving of sauce. Still, during that time, one of his “comrades” loosened the top of the salt cellar, and then set it back where it had been before.
When the young man, having returned to his seat, tried to pour a few grains of salt onto his chips, the onslaught spoiled his lunch. Unable to pay for a second order, his only choice was to laugh with his “friends”, as he shoved his plate away. Though hungry for the rest of the day, he could not admit to it without becoming viewed as unmanly.
Hot but not funny
Spoiled by excessive spice
A further example of this type of prank was practiced by Diane Sawyer, an eminent anchorperson on CBS 60 minutes, one of America’s most renowned news programs. Ms. Sawyer invited her colleagues to her home for a delectable luncheon, centered upon her specialty, chili.
After one eager spoonful, followed by a few more tentative tastes, even her most hearty guests became overpowered. Meanwhile, Ms. Sawyer sat smiling as she delighted in her savory meal. At some point, she felt forced to admit that she had, reserving a plate for herself containing the ideal mixture, placed a large amount of chili powder in the rest of the pot for her guests to divide.
Call me a killjoy and spoilsport, but if, invited to someone’s home as a guest, then served distasteful food as a prank, whoever my host/hostess might be, I would reach for the nearest phone and order a top scale pizza.
He didn't find it funny
Betrayal and tricks
A fairly large number of practical jokers find joy in exploiting the wishes and dreams of those whose trust they have gained. Deceit, especially when practiced upon someone young, can damage developing trust in the world of adulthood. Dr. Glenn Hermes, a specialist in adolescent psychology, dates his interest in the field to one hurtful incident.
During his early teens, Glenn and his thirty one year old uncle shared an absorption in well-crafted mysteries. Uncle and nephew formed a bond based on chats about plots in the books of Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, Agatha Christie, Rex Stout and others.
One Christmas, Glenn’s uncle gave him a book in the suspense genre, written by an author whose work he told Glenn he found compelling. For several nights, Glenn reveled in its twists interweaving with one another to the edge of seeming almost infinite. Then, as he reached the end of the book, he found the final two pages had been torn out.
That New Year’s Day, when his uncle came by for a visit, Glenn walked up to him, handed him back his book, then left the room, saying nothing.
Despite their forced politeness at family events and festivities, the shadow of that early betrayal will never be completely erased. Following this disappointment, Glenn began checking the back of whatever book he acquired, in order to ascertain its completeness. While at first this stemmed from a sense of inner revenge on his uncle, through the years, the habit became so entrenched that now, though Dr. Hermes is middle-aged, it remains a reflex.
Hope can be a cruel thing
The pleasure of treachery
It has been long understood that some prison guards find bizarre gratification in adding to the misery of those already trapped by the gloom of confinement. This is exemplified in Warren Fellows’ account of his twelve years spent in a Bangkok prison.
At one point, a guard told him to gather his things and ready himself, as he would be released in an hour. Despite his surprise, the twists of the prison system were such as to render this feasible. Thus, having gathered his scanty possessions, Fellows sat waiting at the agreed-upon time.
The hour passed then the next, and the hour after. Gradually, as he sat on, surrounded by silence, he began to accept that he had been duped. Luckily for his emotional balance, he had felt some skepticism as to the guard’s words. Still, this guard had sparked Fellows’ dim sense of hope, only to smother it.
The dark side of a friendly face
Ravages of the rich
In some cases, those who already possess a great deal of power become insatiable to obtain even more. This trait can be manifested in cruel and/or menacing acts. Film director Alfred Hitchcock could be as twisted in his private dealings as any of his most horrific characters. At one point, he induced a member of his camera crew to spend a night tied to a camera, by offering a significant sum of money.
After the man agreed, Hitchcock gave him an alcoholic drink which he claimed would help pass the night more quickly by easing him into sleep. Next morning, the man was found in tears of both humiliation and rage. Hitchcock had mixed a strong laxative into the drink, which had proved effective.
James Bond was not amused
In another anecdote from the movie world, Sir Roger Moore, perhaps best-known for his role as James Bond, indicates his ability to behave off-screen with a subtle, Bond-like ferocity.
In his autobiography, "My Word is My Bond", he describes a “joke” exchange between himself and fellow actor Richard Harris during the making of the 1978 film "Wild Geese".
One evening, while on location in South Africa, hearing nearby laughter from the home of Richard Harris and his wife, he suspected they were planning something malevolent. Soon, Moore found a snake at the foot of his bed. Inside his bed was a tarantula. Though both were made of rubber, Moore was not amused by this humor. Next day, he pretended not to have noticed or cared. Later, Moore, having put real live snakes into the boots belonging to Richard Harris was not surprised to hear screams emanating from the Harris’ house. There was a power play here. Moore ends this vignette by explaining his intention to show Harris that messing with him, was not a worthwhile endeavor.
A billionaire’s gamble
When referred to as a millionaire in a magazine feature, magnet Howard Hughes wrote a heated objection: he was a billionaire. Still, his billions could not succeed in gratifying his every caprice. Among Hughes’ many inamoratas was film actress Ava Gardner. During their turbulent liaison, Hughes persisted in asking Ms. Gardner to marry him. Her refusals proved adamant.
When a Cadillac he had given her began to show signs of wear, he urged her to have it repaired at his aircraft shop, on the basis that the workmanship would be superior to that of the dealership. Accepting his advice, once the work was completed, Ms. Gardner was driving the car towards her home through Coldwater Canyon when the engine block fell through the chassis.
Despite their domestic battles, sometimes involving fisticuffs on both sides, this potentially deadly incident comprised Ms. Gardner’s ultimate insight into Hughes' ferocity.
This video might make you laugh, but also think twice about a walk or a bicycle-ride in the countryside
The penultimate outcome
Few pranks have such an impact as that described by Lorenzo Carcaterra in his book, Sleepers. Later made into a film, this memoir describes an incident which, innocuous in intent, undoubtedly scarred the lives of both perpetrators and victims.
During the late 1960s, Carcaterra and three friends engaged in a series of pranks, escalating in their power to harm. In one of these, they arranged a pile of books in such a way that they fell on a librarian, knocking her to the floor.
A wrenching consequence
One afternoon, a hot dog-vendor became the boys’ focal point. Their plan was for one of them to steal a hot dog roll from his cart, in order to impel him to chase him. Once this vendor had abandoned his cart, the other three friends grabbed it and began running towards the underground subway. Although their sole intention had been to frighten the vendor, they inadvertently wheeled the cart too close to the top step of the station. As the cart inched over its edge, these boys did their utmost to prevent its falling over.
Still, its weight soon overpowered their strength. Inching over the edge of this step, the cart began to roll, via its own momentum, down step after step, until reaching the final step, its force all but killed a man.
Middle-aged husband and father, James Caldwell, had stopped at a subway kiosk to buy a newspaper when he saw and heard this cart hurtling toward him. Reaching forward to halt its progress, he was run over, most of his body crushed by its weight. Although Caldwell did not die, his injuries altered forever his own life and that of those closest to him.
Regret and remorse
The four perpetrators followed the cart and saw Caldwell fall under its wheels. Compelled to observe the impact of their actions awakened each of them, in individual ways, to the truth of the chance they had taken.
As the book, Sleepers, is Mr. Carcaterra’s account, he cannot be faulted for recounting it from his own perspective. The four boys were sent to a reformatory, where they were subjected to torments by guards who delighted in inflicting both physical suffering and emotional humiliation.
As adults, the four friends took deadly and well-deserved revenge on the most demoniac of these torturers. Still, as a reader and film viewer, I found myself questioning the later lives of their victims, after their injuries.
The hot dog-vendor had immigrated to America, anticipating a finer life for himself and his family. The destruction of his hot dog cart could have meant the loss of his livelihood. Seeing it at the top of the steps of the subway almost certainly panicked him.
As to James Caldwell, he had a wife and four children. Indeed, he was on his way to visit a newly married daughter on the day he was maimed.
While these comrades did not intend any genuine harm, their library escapade should have alerted them as to the danger their pranks might create. After that, bringing the hot dog cart to the top step of the subway involved the risk of its tilting over the edge, as in fact it did.
Have you had a prank played upon you that hurt you emotionally or physically?
In order for any prank to succeed, two people must be involved: the perpetrator and target. The question, perhaps never to be answered completely, is the basis of this type of joke. The utmost motive seems to be power, abused and exploited. We can only hope that enhanced freedom to communicate thoughts and feelings in an honest and forthright way will curtail the urge to inflict these seemingly pointless cruelties.
© 2014 Colleen Swan