Pranks, sociopaths and senses of humour

It’s just a joke.

How could the consequences be foreseen?

Aren’t we getting things out of proportion?

It was just a joke: can’t you take a joke?

It’s been interesting watching reactions to the death of Jacintha Saldanha, following the “prank call” made by the Australian radio station 2Day FM to the King Edward VII Hospital last week. Jacintha’s death has come just at the wrong time for a media industry who have been bigging up their necessary, vital and non-negotiable importance to the flourishing, freedom and happiness of our society following the publication of the Leveson Report last month (the most egregious example of this bigging up comes today from Peter Preston in The Observer who seems to blame Lord Leveson for the persecution of journalists in Turkey: implement Leveson’s foolishness upon Fleet Street Preston says, and we may as well send our freedoms and journalists directly to a Midnight Express nightmare.) Even journalists, who begin their musing thinking that the actions of the 2Day FM might possibly have something in them to criticize, then veer off into criticising the mob mentality of Twitter: which seems to miss the point somehow. Just because a mob has formed, doesn’t mean necessarily that there was no one individual who created the mob and its mentality in the first place.

"'Ullo Mr Vimes" by ~Monkey19934

Reading about the humour of Australian radio, and looking at the “bottom half of the internet” (the comment section of the newspaper websites), I kept thinking about Terry Pratchett’s Night Watch (2003). The English language’s foremost satirist nailed the attitude behind the humour of cruelty which so disfigures our society in his description of psychopath criminal Carcer:

Vimes was used to the other kinds of nut jobs, the ones that acted quite normally right up to the  point where they hauled off and smashed someone with a poker for blowing their nose noisily. But Carcer was different. He was in two minds, but instead of them being in conflict, they were in competition. He had a demon on both shoulders, urging one another on.

And yet… he smiled all the time, in a cheerful chirpy sort of way, and he acted like the kind of rascal who made a dodgy living selling gold watches that go green after a week. And he appeared to be convinced, utterly convinced, that he never did anything really wrong. He’d stand there amid the carnage, blood on his hands and stolen jewellery in his pocket, and with an expression of injured innocence declare, ‘Me? What did I do?’

Bryan Appleyard, who despite being a journalist is also a moralist, answers the question “how did we come to this?” most pertinently in a blog post today:

The answer is casual cruelty perpetrated by a petty elite who regard such behaviour as an essential aspect of their own cool, hip, right-on personae.

So this is just to say: there’s a lot of it about, life is short, we’re all in the same boat and who the fuck do these people think they are? Who the fuck do we think we are?

We think we are the ones who can have a bit of fun, no matter what the consequences. We are the ones who think that consequences should have been legislated out of the modern world. We are the ones who buy these papers, forward these tweets, laugh at these jokes, and laud the continual incessant cruelty of the Carcers in our midst. And in the end, if we ever get confronted with our behaviour, we stand there in the middle of the carnage with injured innocence on our face and ask “What’s the matter? Can’t you take a joke?”

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