You rush down the cold, hard stairs into the basement. Your eyes dart around the room. Looking for shadows, breaths short and shallow. Pulse pounding in your ears. The lights will be on soon. You know exactly where you want to hide this time, sprinting on tipped-toes into the corner behind the couch. The lights flash on, but you’re still in shadow. You hear your younger brothers weight creak the top step of the stairs…
Just in writing the premise for this prank, it’s easy to recall the giddy excitement that accompanied the preparation to scare a brother. It’s a universal feeling for anyone who’s had a sibling, or friends. It’s not even the specific memory of a prank. Just a vivid memory of the euphoric anticipation of the prank.
We all know what comes next: the tentative walk down the stairs, sometimes in tandem with the pleading to just leave them alone. What’s going happen always comes, it’s always successful: the jump-scare.
These days, pranks tend to be some Youtuber who documents a week-long plan to stage a breakup with his girlfriend.
This is a scheme.
A scheme has a nefarious undertone to it that always makes the act of deception sad and hurtful. A scheme – especially in the age of the internet – is made with an audience in mind. The idea is for the deceiver to share in the joy of the act with the audience, rather than the deceived. This is inherently un-prank-like.
The jump-scare prank genesis of pranking is the first kind of prank learned as a kid, and it’s spontaneous. There’s no plan to spend a whole day skulking around, hiding behind a door for when your mom comes home from getting groceries. The audience and the target are the same.
In schemes, the target of your deception becomes objectified by your cause: they are reduced to an object of amusement. This dehumanizes them, and keeps them from having the fun you and the audience are having.
Jump-scare pranks are strangely inclusive. Most of the time the audience is very small. It’s only the target; in a standard, run-of-the-mill child’s jump-scare prank, there is only you and your target.
While you get the experience of scaring them, they unknowingly get the horror movie exhilaration that comes with being scared. After you scare someone, what’s usually the first thing they say?
“You got me!”
There’s a connection between the two people, an understanding of an interplay that both parties are a part of.
In a scheme the YouTuber turns to the camera and says, “we got her.”‘
The collective has shifted to being the pranker and the audience, leaving the duped girlfriend to be the objectified, and confused – an upset loser of the game.
Schemes and the like (cons, tricks, etc) deal in pain as the source of amusement, rather than fear.
If someone were to trick you by pulling your chair out from under you as you went to sit down, or punched you in the testicles, they would be amused by the pain you received. When the girlfriend is fake-dumped, the audience’s amusement is from the emotional pain they watch her needlessly experience. There is no way for the prankee to feel like they had an equal stake in the game. They have been played, rather than participated in the playing.
Jump-scare pranks don’t have this nasty undercurrent.
They manage to be the scariest as well as the most harmless – a difficult balance to strike.
These pranks are scary in the moment. That split-second, incomprehensible moment of fear; the unavoidable response to being shocked out of the blue. While this might be one of the scariest things to happen to your body, the scare only lasts for that moment. Once the jump-scare prank happens, you laugh at them, they laugh at themselves, and then you sit down and play Hot Wheelz.
This is why jump-scare pranks are undeniably the best form of deception. They’re simple, wholesome, and terrifying: the OG prank.
I’d much rather pee my pants than be psychologically tormented. I can get a new pair of pants.