Sunday, October 30, 2011

Game for a Laugh?

I hate all practical jokes.

Okay, perhaps there might once have been one somewhere that was mildly amusing but I have never found it. I think practical jokes are unfunny, and cruel, and all about the enjoyment of the people planning them. I hate them.

There used to be a television programme Game for a Laugh? where practical jokes were played on members of the public. Some of them were very elaborate - - someone came home from work to find that, apparently, someone had set fire to their car - - whereas in fact their car had been taken away and the one going up in flames was one that looked just like it!

Hilarious, eh?

At the end of the programme the presenter would reveal himself, explain that it was all a jolly jape and the poor victim would then be expected to show that he had taken it all in good part - - because he was "game for a laugh". Of course, if the victim then picked up the presenter, punched him in the face and threw him into the embers of the blazing car, that was considered really bad form - didn't he have a sense of humour, for goodness' sake?

I know myself well enough to know I would never be "game for a laugh" in such circumstances. I'd be a weeping, furious heap, totally out of my own control.

A few years ago, I was involved in planning a surprise birthday party for a close friend. The "surprise" bit was not my idea and in fact I found it very hard to take, and very hard not to tell him - because to me, any kind of "surprise" like that is equivalent to a practical joke - - and I hate practical jokes.

This week Derren Brown's latest show set out to demonstrate how an audience can quickly take on the characteristics of a mob. The audience thought they were watching a new gameshow where - anonymously and wearing masks - they had to choose repeatedly between a couple of alternatives of what would happen to an unsuspecting "victim" - would he win a prize or be accused of shoplifting, for example? Whatever the audience decided, then happened to the victim, with the other roles played by actors.

We saw an interview with Chris, the victim, at the start, where he was set up for us not to like him much - - he cheated on girlfriends, he played lots of practical jokes on others. He had been interviewed for Derren Brown's show but then told he hadn't been chosen - - but oh yes, he had.

The audience thought the show was about Chris - but it wasn't. It was about them. Derren Brown constantly validated their decisions: and their decisions became more and more cruel. "Excellent!" he said, again and again, laughing and encouraging them. Each was pressing a button anonymously, of course, so they didn't think there would ever be any comeback.

Of course, knowledge of this mob behaviour is not new and neither is the fact that, when encouraged by someone in authority, people will go much further than they think they ever would. Even so, it was fascinating - in a very disturbing way - to see.

Only a very shocking ending - which I won't describe in case anyone hasn't yet seen the show - finally brought the audience to their senses. They removed their masks and looked genuinely shocked and bewildered. One woman fled the auditorium.

I'm not even going to get into the morals of showing all this - I'm not really sure what I think about it. Perhaps, disturbing as it was, it might have made a lot of people aware of how easily a group can become a mob, and that might be a good thing.

And then, I find myself wondering - - if I had been in that audience, what would I have done?

Because I hate any kind of practical joke so much, I think I would have left in the early stages, when we were voting on whether Chris should be falsely accused of pinching a girl's bottom. I found it disturbing enough to watch from my living-room - I'm not sure I could have stood it from being in the audience.

Stephen, however, suggested that I might have stayed and pressed the "nice" option each time, just to try and counteract the majority vote for the "nasty" option.

Possibly. That would, perhaps, have been more brave. I think I would have fled.

I cannot honestly think that I would have stayed, pressed the "nasty" button and laughed along with it all.

But, d'you know what, I bet there were some people in that audience who would have said the same, and yet were swept along with it. I'm hoping I would not have been one of them.


Blogger Jan Blawat said...

I can sympathize with your compulsion to run away in a disturbing, mean situation. It's one reason why I have difficulty watching TV (and haven't owned one for 15 years), I'm just not comfortable being part of a mob.

7:03 pm  
Blogger Jennytc said...

No, I've never understood the appeal of watching others make a fool of themselves - don't we have enough of that with politicians and so-called celebrities?

11:32 am  
Blogger Yorkshire Pudding said...

It sounds like a Nazi rally to me with everyone being swept along by the theatre of it all. I find it hard to imagine you in jackboots.

1:29 pm  

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