Thursday, August 25, 2005

A low hi-jink threshold

For some reason, I'm obsessed with hidden-camera "prank" shows. Not so much "Punk'd" although I've watched it (my loathing for Ashton Kutcher and his shtick outweighs my interest in the pranks.) I was hooked on "Candid Camera" way back when (when I was a kid, they had the syndicated version with Jo Ann Pflug. Pflug. Pflug. I just love saying it. Flooooog. The Pfff is silent.) I loved Candid Camera for it's clunky, Reader's Digest squareness.

When we first got TiVo, one of my first "Season Passes" was set for "Scare Tactics", with the frightening Shannen Doherty (since replaced by the even more frightening Stephen Baldwin.) I don't know, something about dumb twenty-somethings screaming as Bigfoot runs around their RV - I found it squirm-inducing and yet hilarious.

(Another weird bit of synchronicity: Both Pflug and Baldwin are apparently born-again Christians. Could they be just too comfortable with perpetrating fraud? Just wondering.)

The best-slash-worst moment in "Scare Tactics" was the episode in which the appearance of a little person made up to look like a genetic rat-man mutation sent the flitty prank victim into a fit of the screaming meemies. He was the gayest gay who ever gayed, and it was fabulous. "Aiiiieeee!"

David put up with my "Scare Tactics" addiction, but there was plenty of eyerolling. My latest find in the prank-show department was the appropriately named "Hi-Jinks", in which "parents prank their kids!" Each episode features a celebrity - Richard Kind as the world's worst waiter, Susan Sarandon standing in for her own wax figure and scaring the bejeebus out of a student tour group.

We have debated whether or not "pranking your kids!" is a fun family activity, or the cruelest thing ever. I had to watch the show, though, just after having spotted my younger self in the promos. One of the pranks involved a stuffed bear; parents bring the ordinary bear home, and after a few weeks replace it with a bear who talks (a hidden actor, watching the kids and the bear on video, supplies the voice, talking with the kids.)

Some of the kids just giggled when the bear piped up. One delightful child decided to beat the bear senseless. "Ow! Ow! Ow!" But Tiny Crumblord just fell right into conversation with Mr. Bear.

Bear: "Hi."

Tiny Crumblord (not at all surprised, but happy to have a new friend): "Hello!"

Bear: "What's for dinner?"

T.C.: "Chicken nuggets."

Bear: "Is that with that honey dipping sauce? I like that."

Then later, Tiny Crumblord has to convince his in-on-the-joke parents. "But he was talking to me, Mama!"

OK. There's a lifetime of cynicism and suspicion just waiting to happen, once he finds out the his new friend, Magical Bear, is instead the Bear Operated By Friends of Your Parents Who Just Want To Mess With Your Head.

I kept expecting my stuffed rabbits to talk. I almost demanded it. But, no.

There's something about seeing people's reactions to a pre-planned and controlled situation which appeals to me - which explains why I'm in theater, I suppose. It's also why I was always the Dungeon Master in our games of D&D, and why I love rigging up a haunted house when Halloween rolls around.

When I was around nine or so (well, it could have been ten or eleven, who remembers?), I spent a summer with my grandparents in Florida; one of my many cousins was also there, and he and I, being close in age, hung out together a lot. I think we must have been reading fantasy novels or comic books - or possibly have even been exposed to the late 70s early version of D&D. Anyway, somehow we started spinning stories about a big black crow that kept hanging out in a hollow tree near our grandparents' house. Somehow this evolved into leaving notes for the bird - I don't remember why. And of course, those notes would demand an answer, which I of course wrote and snuck into the tree, so as to keep our fantasy game going and make it more interesting. It certainly did that: when my cousin figured out that it was me, he got very mad. I couldn't believe that he'd actually believed it was all real. I couldn't believe he'd be angry just because I wanted the game to have some mystery to it. My uncle, who is just five years older than I am, smugly said, "Well, what a tangled web we weave ..." I couldn't explain that it wasn't like that, I never thought it was a deception, just a game that got out of control. We all want to believe in some magic or some mystery.

We won't be making a habit of watching "Hi-Jinks" - it's cute, and it's always fun watching Susan Sarandon pretend she's made of wax, but it doesn't push those buttons for me. Or maybe, for the Tiny Crumblord who wonders why his blue bunny never says anything, it pushes them all too well.


Blogger Crash said...

For whatever reason, where you wrote 'Stephen Baldwin', my mind read 'Stephen Hawking'. And for a split second I was wondering a) how in the hell they got him to do Scare Tactics and b) how you could see him as frightening (other than the creepy computer voice).

It's been a very long day.

2:35 PM  
Blogger crumblord said...

Stephen Hawking rolls up: "We have altered the theory of quantum determinism, making the position of particles both fixed and undetermined. Let's use that to scare the shit out of these sorority girls."

3:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

For the record, I don't object to pranks, or even prank reality shows. I object to adults--supposedly responsible parents--playing jokes on their own kids, as if there is some parity to their stature. Well, actually, there is . . . I just wish it were from the children acting more mature rather than from the adults acting more juvenile.

3:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I so wish I could see that Susan Sarandon one. I don't think we get that show in Scotland.

4:52 PM  
Blogger crumblord said...

Pam, I'll summarize it for you.

Host: Wow, Susan Sarandon, you're a big star.

Susan Sarandon: You know, it's hard to stand really still. I'm wearing a big fake wig, so that it looks fake.

Host: And a whole lot of makeup!

(Susan Sarandon stands really still, until the kids go up to have their picture taken with her. Then she reaches her arms out.)

Kids: Aaaaaah!

Susan Sarandon: I got you!

One Kid: Wow, I was pranked by a celebrity. I feel special.

7:27 PM  

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