Pranksters bear responsibility for consequences
By: David Haas
| Posted: Wednesday, Jan 02, 2013 06:00 am
The final month last year began tragically. With a princess in hospital due to pregnancy problems, a couple of Australian broadcasters couldn’t resist a phone call to the hospital pretending they were Royal Family, and fishing for news on the princess’s condition. They scored. The recording of their call – the recording of course they hadn’t mentioned to awestruck nurses – went viral. And one of nurses hanged herself.
The day after the news broke the CBC ran a story, “Broadcast colleagues defend Australian pranksters.” One compassion-challenged Toronto radioman proclaimed, “Not only would I not blame those radio DJs but I wouldn’t even consider it to be a factor. If she was that fragile a human being she probably had many other issues in her life.”
Well, if so, so what? If you set out to deceive a person, you take your victims as you find them. The general reaction to the CBC’s query was to murmur comfortably that however unfortunate, the consequences were unpredictable. Sorry – such deceptions can have unforeseen, unpredictable consequences; and if your pretence lights the fuse, you are morally, and perhaps legally, stuck with the consequences of the explosion.
I have personal experience of pranks taking an unexpected course. In my final year at the old Royal Roads Military College another cadet and I fashioned a hoax. Cadets were appointed to an internal pyramid of command ranks to maintain discipline and attend to minor administrative chores. For the final month of the college year what was called the “honour slate” was appointed – the ranks went to the cadets deemed by the authorities to have performed best in the preceding eight months. The announcements of new slates were pinned up on a notice board outside the cadet dining hall.
We co-conspirators concocted a fake slate which I, owning a typewriter, did up in the usual format. Most of the 35 appointments we named to fill the coveted positions were plausible, but some were dubious and a few were completely ludicrous. The idea was to provoke astonishment and disbelieving chatter amongst our fellow cadets before the authorities made clear that the list was a hoax. But the carefully devised list was easily spotted as unreal. Our prank fell flat.
Or so we thought. Some years later I got the rest of the story from a college officer. Before the fake slate was taken down it was seen by the registrar. He thought it was genuine, and was greatly annoyed because the academic staff was supposed to approve the slate, and this had not been done. The registrar told the head of the faculty. The director of studies stormed into the office of the air force wing commander who was the No. 2 military man at the college, and began berating the old flyer for proceeding without the academic staff’s permission. The startled wing commander didn’t know what the academic head was yammering about.
Now, my prankster friend and I had anticipated that the military staff would quickly learn of our joke. The officer of the day dined with the cadets and would be likely to see the list up on the board. But the military at the college were good about cadet skylarks, as they were called. We feared no repercussion. However, I would not have wanted to be hauled up in front of the wing commander after his encounter with the director of studies, stammering out that I had never imagined such an outcome.
Writer David Haas is a long-term St. Albert resident.