Chances are we’ve all experienced a prank in one form or another, be it by being the perpetrator or through being on the receiving end. Most tend to follow a familiar pattern, with an immediate sense of embarrassment leading to laughter and, often, a tacit understanding that the victim will now be looking to respond in kind. Re-programming a friend’s alarm for a 3:00am wake-up, for instance, may startle the prank target at first, but packs a relatively harmless, fun punch.
Not all pranks end in as good-humored a manner, mind you. With YouTube and social media inviting the possibility of a seemingly limitless audience and the tantalizing prospect of widespread recognition, pranksters are pushing the envelope in increasingly brazen, risky ways. Fun is fun, but it’s hard to fathom any kind of prank that goes so far as to result in any serious damage. And yet, that’s precisely the tragic end that these thoughtless, ill-advised pranks lead to.
The funny thing about pranks is that they often carry no malice and, in fact, represent an effort to bring a person into a group rather than drive them away. Sure, they may be designed to bring their recipients down a peg, but they typically carry a well-meaning type of unifying, bringing someone into the fold through an established and shared tradition. Hazing and initiation pranks carry a rightful stigma on account of extreme antics that can serve to abuse and degrade their targets, but traditional college pranking has been a long-entrenched way of welcoming new students into a storied fraternity, sorority or esteemed program.