This morning I cried. I wept for the nurse who died. Jacintha Saldanha was the victim of a prank call; her death was reported as suspected suicide. After the swell of grief came the waves of anger. I am not the only person writing about this today, I hope my voice will join with millions of others to say No! No, prank calls are not harmless fun. No, they are not amusing. No, radio stations should not promote them. And NO, NO, NO, prank callers cannot justify their humiliating antics by saying they are entertaining. Let’s just call them what they are, prank calls are a bullying behaviour.
Imagine for a moment this tragedy being played out in the playground. What would be reported? How would parents, teachers and students react? The immediate response of other DJs (the peers) was to applaud the stunt. They even congratulated Mel Grig & Michael Christian for being hilariously funny and clever in their deceit.
Again, imagine this occurring in a school yard. Can you see why it may be difficult for teenagers to learn the difference between compassionate behaviour and cruel trickery? What hope have our children got when the people they listen to on the radio deliberately embarrass and harass a fellow human being, simply to improve their own social status? Of course Grig and Christian did not intend the tragic consequences However, they did intend to lie, cheat and profit from embarrassing hospital staff. Why? Perhaps they thought it would be funny and wanted to see if they could get away with it. Maybe, Grig and Christian wanted to match their wit against another’s because they thought their audience would be amused. Sound familiar? Is this the message we want our kids to hear? Why are prank calls legitimised in the name of entertainment?
I have always greeted the radio prank call with disdain. I turn the dial and let music from another station soothe away the anger words such as ‘prank call’ inspire. Now before you go questioning my sense of humour, ask yourself this;
“Would you find it acceptable if teenagers made prank calls?”
If you answered, “it depends on who they call and what they say”, ask yourself a second question;
“Who decides who can be deceived and what degree of humiliation is acceptable?”
While your thinking, consider this; “how much suffering does a victim have to go through, and who measures it” – because it seems to me, asking a victim or their family about degree of pain, after they have already experienced it, is too little too late.
Finally, a more pertinent question relating to teenagers who are still forming values and preparing to live in a cohesive society;
“How can our children learn limits when pranking is seen as acceptable on radio and TV?”
Yes, there is public outcry when a stunt goes too far, but that happens after the fact, when the damage has been done. If adults in the public eye model poor judgement, what hope have teenagers got?
Perhaps you would like to imagine another scenario, one where a student hides a classmate’s pencil case (containing a mobile phone, USB and other treasures). The student hiding the pencil case claims ‘it is all in good fun’. But who decided it was ‘funny’? What about the victim? What message does it convey to them? The perpetrator has the group beside them. They pick a victim to humiliate and the group laughs. But what happens to the owner of the pencil case? They are singled out; separated. They are not ‘in’ on the joke (which in itself can be soul destroying). Added to the disconnection, are the feelings of anguish they are forced to endure. If the victim becomes angry or upset, the group, led by the perpetrator, derides them for not ‘taking a joke’. The victim withdraws, often vowing to regain power by playing the same prank upon another. This is bullying at its most insidious and, as The Big Bang Theory, The Spekerman Recurrence (season 5 episode 11) highlights, often the person doing the bullying is not aware they are a bully. The bully simply believes they have committed a harmless prank. Why, because pranking is often legitimised in our culture.
Clearly some members of the community believe deliberately causing emotional pain, sending out cruel taunts thinly veiled as innocent questions, is hilarious. However, if we are serious about helping our kids and preventing bullying, we must stop condoning this type of behaviour. What message are prank calling DJ’s sharing; are they saying it is ok to play a joke on someone? Is it ok to deceive, humiliate and shame, simply so ‘friends’ may laugh? It is little wonder our kids are confused.
Is This MyStory and MyQuest teach critical, emotional and creative literacy. We help teenagers identify the harm caused by deceitful behaviour. We believe our students can become critical thinkers who possess the courage and compassion to turn the dial and shout out against bully behaviours. Please join us, and say NO to prank calls.
Welcome to a World of Expression
As you may have guessed I am passionate in my desire to address this problem. My book, Is This MyStory includes a short story which explores the damage caused by prank calls. You can read the extract here.
Remember support is available for anyone who may be distressed this issue. Lifeline 13 11 14, Kids Helpline 1800 551 800.