I sat down on the couch after a visit to the dentist yesterday. I hate the dentist, not him personally, just the procedures involved in a bi-annual dental cleaning. The sounds, the sensations, the smells, the tastes are all cringe-inducing. It was made extra fun by taking my four year-old with me for her own cleaning. As I do with most of my free time, because I’m from that generation, I flipped through my Facebook feed after I came home, my mouth still vibrating from all the poking and prodding. I quickly found a video titled “Brothers Convince Little Sister of Zombie Apocalypse”. After being subjected to torture in the name of dental health, I clicked on the link looking for a lighthearted laugh. It was funny but it wasn’t.
The video starts with footage of Millicent (little sister) walking into the dentist’s office to have her wisdom teeth removed, fades to black with an explanation that her older brothers are going to convince her the zombie apocalypse has begun, and then a fade in to Millicent in the front seat of a car, facing a Go-Pro style camera mounted to the dashboard and her cheeks stuffed with cotton. It’s then that the joke starts. An emergency message comes across the radio warning of a virus that leads to cannibalism, her mother calls her cell phone and demands that she and her brothers get home immediately. The brothers feed into her growing anxiety that they are under threat of zombies by asking her to make decisions about where to go, what to bring, and if they can rely on her high school level Spanish.. Her responses are hilarious, especially about choosing the cat over the dog, because she’s still high as a kite from the anesthesia and seems to answer without any filter. After a few more minutes of video, who knows how long this really went on in real life, the brothers finally crack and tell her it was all a joke and she can go inside the house and sleep off her pain.
I love practical jokes, even elaborate ones. I married a man who is skilled in them…never leave him unsupervised in your home. But the more I thought about the joke Millicent’s brothers played on her the more I was pissed off on her behalf. This idea was deliberate and premeditated by the brothers. They made a recording to sound like an emergency broadcast, they involved their mother to play along, and they had set up a camera to capture it all, all while Millicent is not of sound mind because she’s high after having her teeth literally ripped from her head.
Yesterday, I read a piece written by my friend Allison about how her dating life has provided a lot of fodder for her blog and amusing anecdotes that bring enjoyment for her friends, most of whom are in stable relationships, but not much in the way of a solid relationship. Her friends have said things like “at least it’s good blog material!” as if that is the reward or compensation for having to suffer through an experience that at best is uncomfortable and at worst is dangerous. Some have expressed that she stay single forever so they continue to enjoy your special brand of dating story hilarity. Sure it’s all in jest but at who’s expense?
Millicent’s and Allison’s experience highlight the disconnect between people and social media. When we laugh at the videos of hilarious pranks and horrible dating stories, we forget that there are people living these things. I wonder whether Millicent consented to having this video uploaded or if her brothers posted it to YouTube while she was in a narcotic soaked sleep. Sure her behavior was funny but was this the real Millicent or would she have not been as “funny” if she had been sober and of sound mind? What Allison’s friends seem to forget that she’s not dating just for the sake of filling up her free nights and pumping out blog content. She’s looking for a relationship, a real one, a quality one…something that many of her friends already have. And sure, a laugh about a poor date once and a while is fun, but to wish for her continued failure in this endeavor seems cruel. Just as it is cruel to make Millicent the butt of the joke, because while her brothers are being credited with being “clever” and “comedic geniuses”, Millicent will need to bear the brunt of the mockery that this video is for a long time…because the internet does not forget.
At the heart of the disconnect people experience with the internet is the desire for more. We want more laughs, more shocking stories, or more validation that our lives aren’t nearly as bad as someone else’s. We think “It’s on social media so it’s funny!” We don’t think much about the people subject to the scares or inane situations that cause the reaction that we’re laughing at. There’s a difference between a spur of the moment video capturing the cute and authentic rant of a little boy after visiting the dentist and a contrived, plotted scheme to freak one’s sister out and catch it all on video in the hopes of going viral. The demand for more funny and more shock will only lead to more people being the butt of jokes that are in a poor spirit and that isn’t funny.