By Daniel Cummer
There has been an influx of “prankster” YouTube channels dominating the site with millions of views. These channels are some of the most popular on the site, and ordinary people are beginning to go out in public with video cameras to prank unsuspecting pedestrians in order to achieve YouTube fame. As a result of this new online trend, the competition for views and subscribers is growing, and people are pulling increasingly outrageous and outlandish pranks to gain attention.
Most of us can remember watching episodes of David Blaine: Street Magic and being baffled by his mysterious tricks and stunts. Part of the amusement of seeing Blaine conduct his magic was watching other people’s reactions to it. Most everyone who saw his tricks firsthand had pretty exuberant reactions. Who wouldn’t be shocked by something as fantastic as magic before your eyes? Unfortunately, through observing these reactions, the conception arose that black people tended to have the most entertaining reactions. African Americans have been pinpointed as a demographic that would heighten entertainment value because of their responses to things out of the ordinary.
It seems that YouTube pranksters have been taking this into account when creating concepts for their videos. Some have risen above the stereotype, striving to keep their content wholesome, but others see no wrong in exploiting a cultural group. A few are going to the extreme.
Many content creators are taking advantage of this phenomenon, but the one stirring up the most controversy is a channel called OckTV. The channel is run by two young white men who venture into inner-city neighbourhoods in New York and come out with spectacles of reckless activity caught on tape. A few examples of video titles featured on OckTV are Fight Me Now Prank, Pulling Up Sagging Pants Prank, and Stealing Strangers Money Prank, all of which have more than a million views. From the titles alone, you get a sense of how idiotic these stunts are, but if you haven’t seen any of these videos, you wouldn’t know that every one of the victims of these “pranks” is black.
A random stranger approaching someone from behind and reaching into their pockets elicits a wild, violent reaction, especially in low-income neighbourhoods where OckTV chooses to operate. The subjects are people who are fearful of gang violence, drug dealing, and other criminal activity, in areas where you’re never safe in the privacy of your own home, let alone on the street. So while the pranksters are punched, choked, and even threatened with knives and guns, they repeatedly cry out “it’s just a prank,” to justify their behaviour and stop the violent response.
The creators of OckTV are deservedly criticized for their actions, because they’re exploiting minorities for personal gain. What they are doing is blatantly racist, and of course they deny this notion. They acknowledge that they are more likely to get an aggressive reaction out of someone with black skin, but seem as outraged as their “prank” victims when they are accused of such a thing. OckTV’s subject matter is categorized as prank video, but I think this is a deeply inaccurate label. It is ignorant and cruel to downright harass someone, violate his or her personal space, and pass it off as a prank.
Many of the actions of OckTV are not only racist, but illegal as well. Guns being pointed at these young men do not seem to faze them, but perhaps a large fine or prison sentence would. The worst-case scenario seems to be more imminent with each new video, and when that scenario occurs, the men behind this offensive YouTube channel might realize that it’s more than just a prank.