This isn’t my usual style or topic for blogging, but I have a few things to say about a particular issue.
First, I love YouTube. It’s great. For the first time ever, people who don’t have access to a major movie studio, multimillion-dollar budgets, and expensive equipment can compete against the big dogs…and win. YouTube has turned everyday consumers into superstars who have more followers, fans, and social influence than many A-list celebrities. It’s shaken up the way we consume video content to such a degree that mega brands have restructured how they produce content just to keep up with that YouTube “nobody” who’s crushing it online.
Now, if you spend any time on social media, you’ve probably seen the controversial viral video making its rounds. I’m not going to link to it, but if you type in “Killing Best Friend Prank” anywhere, I’m sure you’ll find it.
For those of you who don’t know, a successful YouTube prankster named Sam Pepper decided it’d be a great idea to “prank” a friend by kidnapping him and forcing him to watch his best friend get shot.
In Pepper’s own words: “Let’s see how he reacts to his best friend of five years being killed in front of him!”
He literally threw Sam Golbach in the back of a car, then tied him to a chair on a rooftop, and had him watch a masked man “shoot” his best friend in the head. The video is full of Golbach screaming, crying, and pleading. The production quality is so high that they even cut the sound and added an emotional musical score while Golbach cries over his friend’s body. You know, to tug at our heart strings. All fantastic elements to a dramatic Law & Order episode. Except that it wasn’t a scripted episode. At least not to the one who was pranked. Those were real tears of horror. All in the name of a good prank, right?
My first response was WTF?
My second was, at what point were we supposed to laugh during this prank? Aren’t pranks supposed to be funny?
People around the internet are calling him sadistic and disgusting. Some are even asking him to be banned from YouTube. All understandable responses to a truly upsetting video.
But my main question is why? Why make that video?
And I think I figured it out (although you are free to still call him sadistic and leave it at that). I like to call it the YouTube Success Syndrome. When you make it big on YouTube, you start to see it as your career. In fact, it becomes your career. There’s a lot of pressure and expectation to produce amazing videos each time you post. Not only that, you want to stay relevant and on top. So you keep trying to one-up yourself. You can’t put out crappy content, or your career will be over as quickly as it started. So what can Sam Pepper do? Well, he can put out a video that’s going to be so controversial or ridiculous or funny or disgusting or amazing that it will send him straight to the top. Until he has to one-up himself again. And the cycle repeats.
Let’s take it a step further. When the cycle keeps repeating, eventually someone is going to cross the line, right? But where is the line? What makes YouTube great, in most cases, is that there is no line. Or, rather, the creators and fans define it. In traditional television, everything you see on your TV is approved by the network. They draw the line. What’s too gruesome? What’s too risqué? What’s too offensive? Certain things are censored before they reach your television set. With YouTube, what the creator makes goes straight to the viewer. No tape, no censorship.
So when someone arguably crosses the line, the internet enforces itself. We as fans or viewers become the moral compass. And if you just take a look at any Twitter feed, it’s clear that people love being the moral compass in controversy.
Here’s my main problem with prank videos as a whole: I’m not a big fan of success at the expense of others. The pranksters are making a profit off someone else’s pain/anger/embarrassment and, in this case, horror and suffering. Fun, innocent pranks? Great, no problem. But we’re clearly not talking about that here. This video was full of real emotion and pain…unless, of course, this whole video is a huge prank on the internet, and they were all in on the joke.
Another big problem with many YouTubers (and any brand on the internet) is their obsession with views, stats, likes, and monetization. When that’s your motivation, you’re no longer making videos you truly want to make. You’re making videos so they go viral. So they get attention. So you can become more important and successful in the public eye. That doesn’t always translate to the best (or smartest) video.
I think that was definitely the case here. If it weren’t for Pepper’s thirst to be successful on YouTube, would he ever prank-kidnap and kill his friends? I don’t think so. There would be no point. This was done purely for shock value. Sam wanted the outrage. He wanted the attention. He lost focus of what a prank is while trying to make the craziest, most viral video possible. I’d say he succeeded. As of this writing, the video has 4 million views. I’m risking giving him more attention by writing about him, but then again, I only have 36 subscribers on YouTube, so who am I? You might think Sam Pepper is a (insert your descriptive insult here), but he’s a (insert your descriptive insult here) that everyone is talking about.
The lure of success can grab us all. So before posting that CRAZY, CONTROVERSIAL, OMG video that’s going to blow up the internet, use some common sense.
Common sense for posting on YouTube:
- Be aware of what world events are going on around you. Do you really think a filmed, bag-over-the-head-style execution prank is a smart thing to post in light of current events?
- Is the content you’re posting actually what you say it is? Aren’t pranks supposed to be funny?
- Are you posting it for the right reasons? No, money, attention and controversy should never be your primary motivation.
- Respect your friends, family, and community. The best way to show you love your friend is not by agreeing to fake-kidnap him.