Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Why we need to call time on these cruel pranksters Tragic death: Jacintha Saldanha

While it's a bit early to say definitively why nurse Jacintha Saldanha committed suicide, the tragedy has once again underlined the complete stupidity and nastiness of the 'practical joke'. (A description which must be some kind of ironic oxymoron.)

Practical jokes are always based on deception, humiliation and ridicule. The 'humour' is often a tissue-thin disguise for bullying. What exactly is so clever at telling somebody a lie?

Practical jokes play on our essentially decent nature - we don't wish to tell people to clear off just in case their outlandish statements are actually true. We prefer to be fools than rude boors.

And then the big reveal: that thing we told you was true wasn't. Gotcha! Aren't you the eejit for believing a single word we said! Humour for the dangerously simple-minded.

Of course, most practical jokes aren't intended to cause permanent damage, but the basic paradigm remains unaltered: you need a victim.

That's why it's the lowest form of humour and, by comparison, makes even the cheapest sarcasm a life-enhancing experience.

No wonder it's the staple of DJs. Radio can be a liberating medium, shorn of the need for large budgets. Just a human voice talking to other humans. But in the hands of the less talented? All you need is a phone and couple of funny voices and - hey presto! - merriment by the yard. If you're not the victim, that is.

People snipe about the behaviour of newspapers but it's worth noting this latest tragedy is merely the latest in this sort of radio 'fun' - remember Brand and Ross's abusive phone call to Andrew Sachs?

Maybe Jacintha Saldanha's death will not be in vain if it helps remove such vindictive 'entertainments' from the airwaves. Maybe practitioners of the practical joke will start to fill the broadcasting day with wit and charm ... but let's not hold our breath.

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