Thursday, December 20, 2012

The End is Your Friend

This is the end, my friend. It's a line we all know, and it brings with it a certain sense of doom, but the end of the world may actually be a good thing.

First of all, it's not happening. Experts have weighed in on the Mayan Calendar debate and their consensus is that the end of a long cycle does not mean the end of the world. It's pretty likely we will all be around, at least for a little while longer.

Second of all, it's good to think about the world on a larger scale and to think of our lives in a realistic manner. We are not going to live forever. We should not live like we are going to live forever. Thinking about ourselves as mortal beings with a limited time on earth should force us to think about the harder questions: what does our life mean? What do we want out of it? How do we want to be remembered? Who do we love?

Most of us are consumed with a routine lifestyle where our ambitions don't take us much beyond what we want to have for lunch that day. We worry about inconsequential and material things like the size of our tv or whether or not it's a good time to buy a car. We put off the things that we desire the most, sometime shelving our dreams for another day that never comes. We put off being with the people that we value the most or telling them just how important they are, assuming that they either already know, or that we will have plenty of time to tell them later. We take everything important for granted.

And then something happens that temporarily jolts us out of this mindframe. A doomsday prophecy, a natural disaster, or something horrific like a shooting. Sometimes the incidents are closer to home, as we survive accidents, fires, or other dangerous times. Those are the times that we have to face our mortality and ourselves.

It's a good time to take a moment and ask ourselves those questions we generally try to avoid. What do we truly want? What is holding us back? What are we afraid of? Are any of our fears real or do they belong to someone else? What is the worst that can happen? We're all on the clock; our time is coming at some point. What do we need to do to make that time worthwhile?

If asking these questions makes you feel uncomfortable or unsettled, that's also a good thing. Fear is not always your enemy; sometimes, it's your friend.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

It's just a joke

With the controversy still raging over the tragic consequences of a prank pulled by two Australian DJs personating the Queen for information on Kate Middleton's pregnancy, it's probably time to re-visit the ethics of pranking in general. It doesn't appear to be a matter of just a joke anymore.

First, consider that pranking is a very popular reality television model which people generally enjoy. From classic Just for Laughs Gags in Canada to Punk'd celebrity prank moments, pranking for entertainment purposes is a huge trend, with the internet and social media just making it easier. Pranks are also getting more elaborate, and let's face it, mean and crazy. Sometimes, they're even dangerous, putting unsuspecting people into potentially life-threatening situations, scaring the hell out of them- and then having a good laugh at them later.

The good clean fun of Just for Laughs Gags don't spark the same amount of controversy because they're usually obvious. Dogs driving the mail truck, or guys in gorilla suits in trees throwing bananas at unsuspecting people in the park- these are good for a giggle. The pranks that are borderline are the ones meant to illicit strong reactions from them, either by scaring or angering them or putting them in an awkward position. Even if that position or those emotions are staged, the effect it has on people are generally real.

Aside from embarassment, the potential to inflict real harm on people through pranks in a very public forum has increased. It's hard to justify how this form of media has become so popular in an age where people are increasingly sensitive to issues like bullying and political correctedness. We are contradicting ourselves when we say that we want to protect people from being socially polarized when we do exactly that by exploiting their fears and emotions for entertainment.

In fairness, it is not possible to fully understand the potential consequences of our actions. What some of us consider to be a harmless prank, others consider to be something more serious- provocation, for example, or intent to harm. We need to be mindful of these things when we set people up.

And perhaps we should re-think these shows and their so-called entertainment value. While some people think it's hysterical to scare the living daylights out of people by temporarily disabling elevators or putting spiders on them, it can be traumatic for prank victims. And as always, we only hear prank reprimands when they're already gone too far or if they have dire, unexpected outcomes. We should not only think before we act, we should think before we laugh.