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“Only joking!”

Deceiving an unsuspecting person isn’t funny

I was sheltering in place watching old reruns of Candid Camera and was struck by how immoral that prototype reality TV show was. It had escaped me 60 years ago. Oh some of the scenes are just funny and harmless. Like the spoon in the diner that patrons try to pick up and it keeps moving around on the table (a guy with a magnet is under the counter).

Or even the elevator stunt is OK, where a businessman repeatedly tries to get to the second floor, only to find when the doors part open and he steps out that he’s either still on level one or on the third floor (a stage crew quickly switches the signs and potted plants, while others shake the outside of the cab to simulate authentic elevator motion).

But how about the episode where every time a golfer goes to tee off, a guy sneezes right next to him? Or the man in the bank where there’s a queue at all three tellers, and no matter which queue he moves to, it becomes the slowest line and everyone entering after him gets served before him?

Jesus says to pray, “lead me not into temptation.” God neither tempts nor approves of those who do: “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13). He has so little tolerance for moral trickery of children that he paints a punishment all but the most perverse will flee from (Mark 9:42).

My takeaway is greater alertness to the annoyances that are the stuff of life.

Andrée, lighten up, Candid Camera is just for fun.

Heaven doesn’t see the humor in it: “Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death, is the man who deceives his neighbor and says, ‘I am only joking’” (Proverbs 26:18-19).

Temptation is Candid Camera’s stock in trade. The audience voyeur watches in amusement as unsuspecting citizens go from perplexed to frustrated to cursing. Then Allen Funt jumps out from the bushes and says, “Smile, you’re on Candid Camera,” and everything’s supposed to be OK, and the victim is expected to be a good sport (and I’m surprised how often these people do manage a smile, a reaction that I attribute to the strong cultural noblesse oblige of the times). 

So it was a waste of an evening—but not entirely! My takeaway is greater alertness to the annoyances that are the stuff of life—the expensive buffet where under every silver dome cover you lift there’s only rice; the restaurant where you’re already sampling the bread basket and discover that all the menu entrées have duck in them.

Mr. Funt has rendered the favor of preparing me for WWJD moments. Training in self-control and slowness to anger are the marks of a mature Christian (Hebrews 5:14), and I choose to benefit from even the vicarious embarrassment of others losing their cool. It is not Mr. Funt’s eye but Another’s that I fear.

One of the oddities of human nature revealed by Candid Camera is how compliant people turn out to be in situations where they’re asked to do things that don’t make any sense, or that even seem wrong, so long as they believe everyone else is doing it, or that an authority has decreed it. If there’s a sign in a town that says “No walking on the cracks in the sidewalk, under penalty of fine,” people will by and large observe the regulation. 

In a British Candid Camera episode, the whole office of the Justice of the Peace is in on the gag:

They pretend a couple wanting to get married need a witness, and they drag poor Joe Bloke off the street and ask if he will render the perfunctory service. The officiant of the ceremony then gets the names mixed up and has Mr. Bloke—perplexed but compliant—repeating after him the scripted promise to be faithful (to this perfect stranger) till death do them part.

No harm done, mate. They were only joking.


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  • RC
    Posted: Sun, 05/31/2020 03:08 pm

    Total agree with the lesson we learn. Do not need Alan Funt to pull our leg, real life does that already too much. I expect Alan Funt got some bad responses, and that film was left on the editing room floor.