Heckles

I hate pranks. There, I said it.

I know this statement makes me sound like I’m an old fogey who despises puppies and sunshine, but I think it needs to be said.

Of course, I’m not really talking about the jovial practical jokes that go on between friends and family.

I’m talking about the “professional” pranking culture that exists on YouTube, which is increasingly blurring the lines between good old-fashioned fun and criminal harassment.

Now that people are actually making money by pulling off practical jokes, it has created a fiercely competitive atmosphere where these “professional” pranksters are being forced to up the ante in order to maintain their subscriber base. Squirt bottles and whoopee cushions just aren’t cutting it anymore. Lately, it’s all about offending people by invading their personal space.

For example, the soaring popularity of horror-themed pranks on YouTube makes me a tad uncomfortable.

Sure, from an outside perspective it’s always fun to laugh at an unsuspecting bystander being chased by a guy in a killer clown outfit or some old ladies getting trapped in a dark elevator with a kid in ghost makeup. But when you exercise even the smallest bit of empathy and put yourself in the shoes of the terrified prankees, the whole operation becomes a lot less funny. This is especially true considering the fact that being scared to death is a real thing that happens to people with serious heart conditions (which, statistically speaking, is a significant portion of the population).

Another despicable trend in YouTube pranking is the videos featuring douchey frat boys who confront random women with surprise gropes or kisses. Outside of the fact that touching someone without their permission is a big invitation to get a face full of pepper spray, it seems like these guys are using the guise of a prank as a get-out-of-jail-free card for sexual harassment and assault. A couple of months back, YouTube personality Sam Pepper got busted for pulling off this kind of distasteful prank and he was quick to pull out this card, claiming that his video was a “social experiment.”

But the grand champion of stupid and offensive YouTube pranks has to be the deluge of “hood” pranks that are clogging up the Internet. These videos usually involve nerdy white dudes talking to the most “thuggish” black people they can find, and forcing them into a violent confrontation through kindergarten-level trickery or wordplay. Not only do these videos reinforce a lot of shitty ethnic stereotypes, but there’s also some classism at play here, since these videos almost always feature preppy rich assholes using the poorest areas of the country as their Internet playground.

I’m not ready to suggest that all prank videos should be banned from YouTube. But moving forward, could we at least agree that online practical jokes would be improved if they didn’t strive to assault women, reinforce reductive stereotypes, or give senior citizens heart attacks?

Is that too much to ask?