For years now when ever I have heard a prank call on the radio I have changed stations. I hate them. They are not funny, they are about shaming people. Listening to them hurts me. I feel for the person, and I feel my own shame and humiliation at being party to their shame. So I turn them off.

I am pretty thick skinned, rarely does any comment about me hurt me. I do believe in taking the piss out of myself. I have the right to say I am having a ‘blonde’ moment (frequent). But what gives me the right to do this to others, even in jest? And how have we managed to create a culture that gets its kicks from shaming and humiliating others? (Prank calls, reality TV, bullying)

So much has been written of late about the culture of bullying. Prank calls are a form of bullying. There is an attempt to create a perverted experience of fun at the expense of another. There are no winners…. only a sick sense of power over.

It is ironic and perfect that our currently culture is simultaneously also too sensitive. Our political correctness is nauseating. We have to be so so careful that we don’t offend. Race, size, weight, colour, it goes on. People do need to grow a backbone. And they need to get the fine and yet significant distinction between truth and attack.

My life’s work has been about speaking truth and how to do that in a way that serves and supports, versus tears down. Humanity is seriously in need of speaking the truth. We become silent in the face of lies and deception a hundred times a day. From our politicians, media, friends….not to mention our own lies to ourselves. I believe fervently that we are crying out for truth. To turn on the TV and hear our ‘leader’s’ of politics and industry speak the truth. To be held to our own truth.

There is a difference between naming a truth, even a sock-it-to-me truth, and shaming/humiliating another. And there is a different response for people on the receiving end, when a truth is named, and when someone shames.

When a truth is named I may not like it. I may be angry as the receiver. However, if the delivery is clean…aka…there is no attack at all, the delivery is free from any form of overt or covert demand/threat/manipulation, and if the delivery is done from a genuine place of service to me, then I am going to be more likely able to receive it. I know this because I have seen this thousands of times.

If the delivery is designed to make fun, belittle, reduce me, manipulate, humiliate, shame, or guilt me out, then it is unclean. The person making the delivery has an agenda, and that agenda is to pull down, reduce, belittle, shame, attack. It may only be extremely subtle.

Just as a bully only ever picks someone who is open to bullying, someone who is needy, gullible, lacking self authorship; so a prank call is built around targeting someone who is gullible, needy, or both. They want so much to do right, to be seen as right, nice, good…..

What is the intent of a prank call on radio? At its core? Often it is to push the boundaries so hard, to ‘shock’ enough, but not too much, all in the end to get increased ratings. That is what it is all about isn’t it? Increased ratings? Or in the case of the delivering people, to be provokable and funny enough to keep their jobs, by getting increased ratings. All via a vehicle of laughter, even if it is squirmy laughter. Where is the art, the skill, the inspiration…in this?

However, truth is ratings are determined by the audience…the listening audience. That is you and me folks. We vote with our choices to listen. Period. Turn it off, and the game of pranking/shaming is over.

Am I the fun police? Or the new age sensitivity monitor? No. Fun and laughter are wonderful. But not when others are shamed and humiliated.

The very best comedians are so excellent because they don’t need to resort to party tricks to win fans. The best of comedy is always about speaking truth to the unspeakable. But there is a level of detachment involved. There is no attack. No cutting down, no reducing. We know this because the audience listens without feeling their own shame. Squirmy humor is shaming humor.

When we prank someone, there is an act of belittling the other. And that is about shaming.

Years ago, when I went to my first International Coach Federation Conference in the USA, I was brought into the ‘inner’ circle of the best coaches in the world at that time. It was a small club, as it was the very beginning of the coaching profession. I met these people for the very first time when I was invited into a game. The game was a trick game, and it ended up that I was the trick. I felt so shamed and small because I didn’t know the answer to the trick question in front of all these ‘rock stars’ of industry. I fled the room, mortified. I felt stupid and incompetent. It was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life.

Needless to say this group of coaches also realised their culpability in a mean game, played indeed with innocence, and no ill intent, but having a nasty consequence, no less. I wonder at what point someone realised that the game was shaming me? How far before I fled the room?

I am not sure intent is enough. Our best of intentions still can be thoughtless and mean. Did the two radio announcers from Sydney have ill intent? I am certain they did not. They were doing what hundreds of their colleagues do every day, for fun, and ratings. Indeed, it is standard practice. And, as young presenters, they did not have the hard won experience of the  of their actions.

While we love to shame, we also love to blame. (While being super sensitive!)

We are such a vengeful society that we will not rest until there is one or two people to blame. It is so reductionistic it is also sickening. We want it to be one person’s fault. We want this so we don’t have to look at our own culpability.

And we are all culpable in some way.

If you have ever listened to a prank call and found it entertaining, then you have a hand in what happened this last week when two naive radio announcers pranked a nurse in London. If you partake in reading gossipy nasty media about other people, then you are culpable. If you enjoy watching other people squirm, you are culpable. If, like me, you have not spoken up about how wrong it is to shame others, to belittle them, then you (and I) are culpable.

As a homework assignment I would get you to question what part of you enjoys watching another person squirm in shame? And why? Because if we didn’t have people, millions of people, who find prank calls entertainment, then they wouldn’t exist. And if you do not like to shame others, then why is it OK for you (and me) to stand by and be silent when it happens?

Share This