Pranking Shows Dehumanize People

I was unhappy to see this tweet yesterday:


By an iconoclast ( [CC-BY-2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Really,  Disney? Thanksgiving means playing pranks? (Or badly scripting fake ones, even?) The only connection here is the rhyming between prank and thank. The idea that Disney would start airing shows aimed at our children that glorify this pranking trend is disturbing.

There are a slew of shows and video channels dedicated to playing pranks on people. MTV has Punk’d, TruTV has Prank Wars, and there are plenty of people who like pulling pranks on others all over YouTube. Most people probably see this as just harmless fun, but with the prevalence of it being fueled by the ability to upload your own videos, I believe it’s having a dehumanizing effect.

We already see a whole generation of people who see success as the largest number possible of “Likes” and “Shares” online. They’re a part of #TeamFollowBack, doing all they can to have as many online followers as possible. They gauge their day’s success by how their stats look on their Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter feeds. Did I get more hits on my blog today than yesterday? Did I get more than that loser with only 15 followers?

Nameless, faceless interaction with strangers has become more meaningful than face-to-face conversations with others. And the world is now viewed through the lens of your smartphone rather than straight-on viewing with your eyes. It’s less engaging that way, safer.


TOP: AP photographer Luca Bruno, 2005 when Pope Benedict XVI was introduced

BOTTOM: AP photographer Michael Sohn, 2013 at the election of Pope Francis.

This disconnect has given us a generation of kids who, when they see someone being beaten in the school hallway, their first reaction is not to get help, or jump in and try to stop it, but to pull out their phones and start recording, uploading it to YouTube as fast as they can to be “FIRST!” and get more hits than anyone else.

What all of this is doing is dehumanizing others in our eyes. We’ve long been on a downhill slide in which we see people only as objects or tools to use towards our goals. Socialists see human beings as valuable only as long as they can produce for the state, and capitalists see human beings as valuable only as long as they can produce for business and society. Unborn babies are valuable as long as they’re wanted by the woman carrying them. On the other end of the spectrum, the elderly and the ill are only valuable as long as they’re not a “burden” on their children and grandchildren.

Other people are valuable as long as you can use them in some way: make a video of them being tricked and you’ll gain internet popularity for the act. If they’re being bullied or beaten, use the footage to gain something for yourself – a spot on the news, a popular YouTube video – instead of helping.

This pranking trend – and the idea that we’re teaching our kids to do it for fun – is just one more symptom of a culture that’s forgotten how to treat each other like human beings. We’ve forgotten how to love and respect each other.

Yesterday, Elizabeth Scalia pointed out that perhaps we’re a bit afraid of doing this, and even being the object of that love, because it’s frightening to think that we’re worthy of such a love as God has for us:

Vinicio Riva has been marginalized for much of his life, because of his appearance; now he is celebrated and made known. In one of those great paradoxes of faith, the very malady that had pushed him to the edges of society was the thing that brought him into contact with the great, unnerving, liberating mystery that is love unnarrowed and unleashed, and all in the sight of the whole world.

Rather than instinctively looking away from Vinicio Riva; we now can’t take our eyes off of him, so fascinated are we by the revelation of love’s awe-full beauty, and the way it renders adorable what had previously seemed unlovable. Though we are afraid, we want it, too.

Pondering of all of this in the light of our broken, disfigured souls, we may literally tremble. I know I do. As physically unattractive as I am, it is my interior ugliness that often makes me feel repellent — to myself, to God, to the world — and it is the greater weight I drag as I wander the peripheries and wonder how much love I dare lay claim to.

Jesus healing the sick by Gustave Dore, 19th century

Jesus healing the sick

by Gustave Dore, 19th century

Not only do we tremble at laying claim to the Love that waits for us, but we tremble at what it means when we do. What happens then is that we’re expected to love the same way. And that’s truly frightening; we can’t just receive a Love like that and remain unchanged. Such a Love, when received, will overflow and spill out. It goes out from us to everyone we meet.

But we have to be ready and willing to receive God’s perfect Love first. As long as we see others as things to use, to have, to dispose of, we are not ready to receive that Love perfectly. We must love others, and then God’s Love grows in us, which enables us to love others more. It’s a cycle, with one action feeding the other.

Let us work towards loving each other, so we’re more disposed to receiving the Perfect Love that awaits us all. And let us pray that this Perfect Love will overflow from us into everyone we meet.

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