This January, I was in Toronto with a friend, walking down Yonge street at 1 a.m. We wanted to explore the city and get some fresh air, but instead our calm stroll became an uncomfortable run-in with a wannabe prank YouTuber. He was a tall, stocky man, early-to mid-twenties, with a slight, possibly drunken swagger to his step, crossing the street towards us.
“Hey,” he said, smiling, “where are you girls headed?”
As soon as the walk signal on the street-light began flashing, I was ready to bolt, but my friend was too polite for her own good. She replied, “We’re just exploring the city.” I attempted to drag her arm towards the crosswalk but the mysterious man continued talking to us.
I don’t remember what his exact words were, but it ran something along the lines of “I just broke up with my girlfriend, I’m so sad, blah blah blah.” I tugged on her jacket a bit harder, but the light had already betrayed me and the cars now blocked my escape route. The guy could sense my apprehension and will to leave, but attempted to keep the pity party going.
“I have a sexual disease. My life is so hard, I just need a hug.”
No. Why would I ever want to hug a strange man, probably drunk, detailing the intimacies of his life? My sweet, naive friend, hesitantly hugged him. Unlike her, I tried to be as cold as possible, replying to his inquiries with, “No, sorry, I have a boyfriend, I’m not interested, we should go now.” But he persisted, and I gave him a handshake as a compromise, which he tried to turn into a hug. I caved since it was easier to cooperate than make him angry.
In that moment, I actually felt like we were in danger. I wanted to run, but I couldn’t.
“Wait, could you please just, have a moment for me? Pray for me, please.”
The more prank channels keep popping up, the more unregulated harassment becomes the norm.
My friend was too kind to reject him, and I couldn’t leave her, so there we stood, the three of us holding hands in a circle on the corner of Yonge and Dundas, shivering in the brisk winter air as he made us repeat a prayer for him.
“Dear God, please help [blank], he is conflicted with sexual disease, and a broken heart, and just wants a hug from two beautiful young ladies.” I wanted to vomit from saying those words, but I hoped once this odd prayer circle was finished he would let us go.
“Okay, bye.” I said, rushing to leave, when he says, “Wait, I’m a YouTuber, I want to know if I can use you guys in my video! See, across the street, those are my friends they were filming the whole time!”
What did he just say? I wanted to punch him. I had legitimately thought our lives were in jeopardy, and it turns out it was all one big prank.
“Uhm, I don’t know about that. . .” I replied, tugging on my friend, who I noticed was also uncomfortable with the idea of using us in his video. In the end, we obliged, and promptly left.
The point is, regardless of that YouTuber’s popularity or status, I don’t want to be a part of another prank video, I don’t want to be approached randomly by strangers on the street, and I definitely don’t want to feel like my life’s in danger in an unfamiliar city.
We keep feeding the egos of these prank YouTubers, and in turn we create more of a thirst for fame. The more prank channels keep popping up, the more unregulated harassment becomes the norm under the guise of a fun YouTube video. Please stop supporting these pranksters who coerce their victims into letting them use their footage.
Pranks cease to be pranks when no one is laughing.