After viewing the promo pages (now taken down) of those now-infamous Australian DJ’s who played a practical joke on a hapless British nurse who subsequently killed herself, they look like just the kind of people I like to despise: pseudo-creative types who are forever demonstrating their iconoclastic individualism with ‘out-on-the-edge’ rebellious behaviour. In reality, they are marginally talented, fashion conscious sheep whose best effort is to merely be a copy of a copy of a copy of Howard Stern: annoying but generally harmless cookie-cutter pests who our society produces too much of these days.
Having said that, they deserve very little of the bile now being directed at them by the public at large. No reasonable person would conclude that duping a hospital functionary
into giving out confidential but harmless medical information by pretending to be the Queen and Prince Charles would result in that person’s suicide. It would be reasonable to assume that she would be reprimanded, but not that she would take her own life.
For this reason, I assume that there was something else going on in the nurse’s life; perhaps she was taking medication with unpleasant psychological side effects, or she had some deep personal problems that her co-workers are scarcely aware of.
Unfortunately, the public dismisses such inconvenient details because it gets in the way of the natural human urge to find a scapegoat. However, natural or not, such desire indicates the uncharitable, hypocritical and vicious side of human nature.
The public’s reaction is ugly because the life of the nurse is not the only issue here. The careers of these Australian DJ’s also matter. It is safe to say that those are now completely over. While I am not averse to seeing them punished, I don’t think their intentions were malicious enough to justify destroy their careers. Remember, being shocking is what they were being paid to do, it is what their listeners expected from them, it is why they used to be popular, which is why the public condemnation now is so hypocritical. Telephone stunts have been the staple of shock jocks for years. On Toronto radio, I have listened to many such pranks, some more inspired than others, and all of these DJ’s have been celebrated and rewarded because of them.
But to me, what is worse than the unfair treatment those DJ’s are getting, is the idea being expressed by the public that people are so fragile that they can’t handle a bad joke. How did we in the West get so far that we consider our people to be so delicate that we believe pranksters should consider suicide to be a possible outcome of a crank call? In the old days, friends of the nurse would have admonished her to 'buck up' when they saw she was distraught by the incident.
Life isn’t fair and life isn’t always pleasant and safe, but that is not a reason to lower the speed limit to 20 miles and hour and mandate 10 feet of Styrofoam around every car. We should instead be inculcating a stiff-upper-lip stoicism in our citizenry.
Personally I am tired of shock jocks and their lame, unoriginal, obnoxious behaviour, but I am also afraid of the howling mob, demanding a sacrifice every time something bad happens, and am suspicious of nanny staters, who are always on the look-out for more reasons to ‘protect’ us.