Thursday, October 10, 2013

Trust and Reality

There has been something going on for some time that has both amused and disturbed me. It has to do with the idea of playing with people's reality, fooling them into believing something is happening that isn't, usually for the amusement of others.

For example, one of the earliest instances of this was the famed radio broadcast War of the Worlds. While it was very well done, I love the show, and they regularly announced that it was all a drama, it still undermined some people's trust of the newscasters and the media.

Generally these sorts of pranks were done on the first of April, and were what I would call relatively harmless.

Lately, though, they seem to be proliferating at an alarming rate, and they are becoming more and more intrusive on people's reality. For example, if you were listening to the War of the Worlds, you could pretty much look outside and see that what they were reporting wasn't what was really happening. Today, though, it isn't quite that simple.

Check out this video in which one family in a restaurant was subjected to prejudicial and harassing behaviour by a waitress. The problem, though, is that it was all staged. The family and the waitress were all actors putting on a show to see how others would react, and some of them reacted very nobly.

While I agree that it was interesting to see the reactions from the other patrons, and witness the heroic actions of those who stood up to the waitress, and that it illustrates a very real problem, it could have another unintended affect. I imagine myself eating there and feeling truly sickened by the actions of the waitress. In fact, my stomach is still a bit upset after having seen it again. But I can imagine myself there and know that I would do something very similar, but probably not as tactful as the man in the video. And while I would feel justified in coming to the defense of those being persecuted, I know that I would suffer the ill feelings for quite some time afterwards. That type of justified confrontation, while I still do it, has a very real toll on me. It truly makes me ill for some time.

But then, after the whole thing is done, to be approached and told that it was all a hoax, a test, would make it even worse. It would make me question the reality of it if I saw something similar at a later time. I can truly see myself witnessing another similar, but this time real, scenario, and hesitating, to the detriment of all.

Now, like I said, I understand why they are doing it here, but I think they are missing a very real consequence of it.

As you can probably guess, I saw this video a while ago. It disturbed me at the time, especially to learn that there are a whole pile of similar videos and situations that they did for this "reality" show. It wasn't just the once. It was over and over again. It was as if they decided to see how bad they could make a situation just to see how others would react, without really thinking about the long-term consequences of it.

I mean, how many times do you have to see the staged versions of these things before you become immune to them and end up ignoring a real situation? I'm just wondering.

But now, we, as a culture, seem to be going even further. If you watch this promo for an upcoming movie, you'll see what I mean.

Again, I think it's a real cool effect that they have done, but is this the right place to be doing such a stunt? What impact does it have on those who witness such things? Have we overstepped some boundary that should be there? Does this somehow fall into a similar category as shouting "fire" in a crowded theatre? Have we allowed ourselves to become the "playthings of the ignorant", mere tools for the people dreaming up these stunts? When do we say enough is enough and claim our reality back as our own?


  1. You ask good questions here, Mead! All reality shows make me sick too!

  2. It is kind of echoed with article “Trust and Trustworthiness. One Baha’i's Perspective.” by Wendi Momen published in UK Baha’i Review: