If there’s one thing, other than cats and face-plants, that keeps people clicking on YouTube, it’s pranks. Some of the biggest internet personalities on the planet earn a living by playing horrible tricks on their nearest and dearest, much to the amusement of millions. Type “prank” into the video sharing platform and you’ll soon find yourself swept away on a tide of clown costumes, fake proposals and public humiliation. In most cases, pranks videos are harmless, if slightly uncomfortable examples of ritual embarrassment. But, every so often, someone oversteps the mark.
A new video has caused a stir this week, after diners in a Philadelphia ramen shop became unwitting participants in a gruesome fake-stabbing . In the clip, a man in a bloodied white T-shirt is seen staggering through the restaurant door and asking for help from the terrified clientele. A second figure then enters and appears to assault the man, knocking him to the floor with his open palm. The attacker turns to face the diners, screaming aggressively, before hastily leaving the restaurant, followed by his accomplice.
Although no one was actually injured in the video, which was originally posted to the Instagram account of user @FUNNIESTNPHILLY_, it’s clear that the diners did not see the funny side. Customers can be seen cowering underneath dining room tables, believing their lives to be in danger, as well as scrambling away from the brawling figures in the doorway. With tragedies such as the bar shooting at Thousand Oaks in California still fresh in the memory, it’s not hard to see why people would have this reaction.
The response from those inside the restaurant soon turned from terror to anger. Speaking to The Daily Pennsylvanian, senior year university student Lea Chen said that “It felt so real, I literally thought I was going to die,” adding, “The fact they thought it was funny, I thought that was ridiculous.” Fellow witness Ariel Epstein agreed, commenting, “I was super pissed off because these two people are trying to get a Youtube video and we all thought we were going to die.”
The original video, which has since been removed from Instagram, did not go unnoticed by law enforcement. 6ABC reported that “Police plan to charge the men with risking a catastrophe and false reporting”, while Lieutenant John Walker encouraged the participants to “Make yourself famous doing something different than putting fear in other people’s lives,” in an interview with CBS. It remains unclear at the time of writing whether the investigation has led to any arrests.
There is little doubt that the Pennsylvania prank represents the more extreme end of the genre. However, you don’t have to look hard in order to find dozens of similar videos, mocking acts of terror and serious violence. One such video features a man dressed in a traditional Arabic thawb and a fake beard, holding a “bomb” and running around a public street. It has more than three million views. Clips like these not only perpetuate negative stereotypes, but they make a mockery of the serious impacts violent events can have. Having a joke is all well and good. Just maybe not when it’s a matter of life and death.