WASHINGTON, DC, December 10, 2012 – Maybe it’s the ghost of Princess Di that is responsible for this bad luck.
If this had taken place on April Fools Day and no one had gotten hurt we’d still be laughing. Imagine the hilarity of it all as a couple of kids, who happen to be DJs for a hip Aussie radio station, pretend to be Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles.
They phone the London hospital where Prince William’s pregnant wife Kate is recovering from “serious morning sickness” and, still putting it over as queen and prince, brashly demand to know the condition of the duchess.
The nurse at King Edward VII’s Hospital, Jacintha Saldanha, 46, married with two kids, a woman obviously respectful of royalty and surely even intimidated, trusts the call to be genuine and connects the two jokers, Mel Greig, 30, and Michael Christian, 35, to the proper nursing hub – and next thing you know Kate Middleton’s condition is broadcast, for laughs, even in places where once upon a time “the sun never set on the British flag.”
As we all know by now, nurse Saldanha, who emigrated from India some 10 years earlier, is dead from an apparent suicide – and from an apparent overdose of humiliation.
Yet even now, we are tempted to shout even into the grave – IT WAS JUST A JOKE. This is what shock jocks do.
“It was just something that was fun and lighthearted,” Christian told Australia’s Channel 9, “and a tragic turn of events that I don’t think anyone expected.”
Both DJs say they are “shattered, gutted, heartbroken.”
Voices along the airwaves and blogosphere are still calling for blood.
The royals are being cool and blaming nobody, but among us commoners there is outrage. People want these two kids hanged, drawn and quartered.
As for me, I cannot find the righteous indignation to share that judgment.
How would we react if a call came in from the White House? Or the IRS? We might not be too quick to hang up.
On April 1, yes, April Fools Day, we demand practical jokes. We celebrate the trick that gets the biggest gotcha result – and we love the “ouch” moment when Uncle Fred wakes up and can’t find his car and nearly dies from a heart attack. Positively hilarious! Frat initiation is no picnic to anyone who’s endured the process, but this too is part of our culture.
I’d be more inclined to reproach Greig and Christian if we lived in a different world. But we live in places where we favor harmful scoffing over harmless wit.
So I can’t get high-minded when I consider Ashton Kutcher who gained fame for Punk’d, an MTV hit that was all about conniving the perfect prank. His low-brow deceptions made him rich, a household favorite, a TV and movie star, and got him a prize catch, the trusting and gullible Demi Moore, suitably punk’d from marriage to separation.
Sasha Baron Cohen in make-up and pretense as “Ali G” keeps us in stitches when he gets to “interview” luminaries who don’t get the joke until they’ve been publicly embarrassed, a list that includes former secretary of state James Baker III, Ralph Nader, Newt Gingrich and even Donald Trump, who you think would be wise to such stunts.
Ridicule is a guilty pleasure we all share and maybe it’s simply human nature – we love to watch “the other guy” slip on a banana peel and we love it especially when the joke is on persons in authority, like kings, queens, princesses and certainly presidents. Virtually every American president has been brought down to size by scathing mockery.
We don’t need to talk about Opie and Anthony and what they urged a Virginia couple to do in the shadows of Manhattan’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Some may remember Allen Funt’s Candid Camera as good-clean-fun. But still we laughed at unsuspecting people making fools of themselves.
Good-clean-fun…that’s what those kids had in mind, Mel Greig and Michael Christian. They never saw this coming.
Piling on is no answer to a tragedy nobody wante, and justice without mercy is not justice.
Jack Engelhard can be friended at Facebook
Jack Engelhard is a novelist for such moral dilemma bestsellers as The Bathsheba Deadline, The Girls of Cincinnati, and the classic Indecent Proposal, his memoir Escape From Mount Moriah, and Slot Attendant – A Novel About A Novelist is Engelhard’s partly autobiographical expose about the trials of making it as a writer, bring his words to the Communities page covering all topics, with special focus on the absurdity of human behavior, and reaches around the globe.
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