Pranks: All fun and games until you get sued, fired, and sent to jail!

I love pranks.

Growing up with three younger sisters, pranks were a way of life. Whether we were tying each other's doors together with jump ropes, smearing hair gel on toilet seats, or creating fake wounds to terrify our parents, the one constant in the Watson household was that we were almost always behaving in a manner that was utterly barbaric.

This early education came in handy when I went to high school and college, where little practical jokes were a necessary form of entertainment and a great way to show my buddies that I cared. I still remember the first time I bought a box of Ex-lax. While I never ended up using it to bake a cake, simply the fact that I could do so gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling.
In retrospect, I'm glad that I held off. Recently, three students at the Brooklyn School for Global Studies were suspended, barred from graduation ceremonies, and charged with felony assault when they served a laxative-laced cake to some of their teachers. While I would like to fully support the students, I'm not sure if I can, as three of the teachers were hospitalized with breathing problems and other symptoms that were consistent with insecticide poisoning. That having been said, there's a lot to be said for intent, and it's pretty clear that the students had no intention of poisoning their teachers.

In another prank story, two graduates of the American University in Manhattan filed a $1.5 million defamation of character suit against their alma mater late last year. According to the plaintiffs, the University published an inaccurate article in its newsletter alleging that they were "life partners" and co-leaders of the "Gay Rights Brigade." Although both men were quick to note that "there's nothing wrong with being gay," they alleged that the mistake had greatly harmed them.

Reading through the newspaper, I regularly see articles about pranks going awry, feelings getting hurt, and lawsuits getting filed. Having been on the receiving end of more than a few pranks, I understand that they can be embarrassing and a little stressful. On the other hand, I have to admit that I still have good memories of some of the pranks that were played against me. After all, even if I was the butt of the joke, there's a lot to be said for a game well played.

However, as litigation has become America's de facto way of handling all its interpersonal problems, perhaps the age of the prank has passed. Whereas a paper-clip chain, birdseed-strewn desk, or shaving creamed file cabinet might once have been the perfect technique for developing office esprit de corps, it now seems to be a quick ticket to unemployment, poverty, or prison. In the case of the Brooklyn youths, I'd say their mistake was using Dulcolax tablets instead of the classic, safer Ex-lax. However, when a laxative cake gone wrong can be classified as "assault," and can carry a possible 7-year prison term, I'd have to argue that we might have to forego all pranks and similarly barbaric jokes. While the world will undoubtedly be safer, I'm afraid that it's also going to be a lot more boring.

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. Tonight, he's going to buy some Ex-lax, as a tribute, a reminder, and a vote for a better tomorrow.
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