A prank call, tragedy, the blame game, and the power of forgiveness

Wow. What a gut punch. The nurse who took a prank call from an Australian radio station, where staff pretended to be the Queen, and Prince Charles, has, it appears, taken her own life.

There seems to be a pretty strong causal link between the call, and this outcome.

So the blame game begins.

Plenty of people have responded by condemning the Australian pair. I read someone suggesting they should be charged with manslaughter. That is, frankly, ridiculous.

Playing the blame game in a tragic situation like this is ridiculous.

Blame is not the appropriate response to tragedy. It just makes tragedy worse.

It’s a tragedy. A mother of two. A wife of one. And surely a friend to many… lost. It’s awful. Indescribably awful. There are no winners in this situation now. None. But there are people who are going to feel this loss, and their grief is going to be preyed upon by  a hungry and vicious British press, feeding a bunch of people who want to see blood. Everybody is voicing their shock on social media. Because it’s truly shocking.

But words have consequences. Even unintended consequences. The consequences become bigger as the words are given more importance – and in this case some relatively harmless words have become harmful because they’ve been amplified.

The futility of the blame game

It would be easy to point fingers at just about anybody in this situation, but establishing agency and causation is almost impossible. What follows is an exercise in futility. It’s particularly fruitless, because already, once the chain of events kicked off the way it did, there weren’t any winners, just victims – well, except the one group who wins either way…

The prank callers – sure, if they hadn’t called anybody then this wouldn’t have happened. They’re now under siege from all over the world, and people are saying horrible stuff about their responsibility for events. Give them a break. They couldn’t possibly know this was going to happen when they sat down and sketched out a pretty funny prank concept. But they were doing their job…

So we could blame the radio station – sure, for pushing comedy based programming, but people love prank calls, and this one was mostly harmless – and the callers were expecting to be hung up on immediately. The British press is having a field day dragging out stories about Kyle Sandilands. They sure do love controversy… but then so do their listeners…

So we could blame Australian culture – we listen to, and love, commercial radio comedians, and their audacious prank calls. But we’re a world away from the events in England.

We could blame the hospital – but the administration has been incredibly, and publicly, supportive of the nurses involved. They blame the callers. And blaming the hospital goes mighty close to blaming the victims… the nurses – one of whom has now become, tragically, the biggest victim.

We could blame the royals, for not immediately hosing down the event, and refusing to comment. But they’re under constant scrutiny, and even in this most private of moments are suffering from media attention. And suggesting what might have been – an immediate statement of forgiveness, laughing the whole thing off – would have produced better results is an exercise in the hypothetical. It may have resulted in thousands of copycats. Prince Charles seemed to think it was funny.

We could blame the culture clash – It’s, on the surface, an awful example of two cultures with a lot in common not quite sharing the same sense of humour. The prank was funny. Most of us are incredulous that it worked the way it did. That’s how pranks get laughs.  The British weren’t amused. Turns out a common love for irony, not shared by the Americans, doesn’t extend to a common love of taking the proverbial out of their royals.

The British press – they’re the only winners in this situation. They’ve got a controversy to inflame, victims to profile, royals to protect. They turned the prank into a “cruel international hoax,” and blew away any sense of proportion. So, now the story serves to demonstrate the power of a rabid and angry British media. The same British media that protects the royals when it suits them, and publish naked pictures of the same royals, taken with a telephoto lens, while they’re in a private place, on a holiday, when it suits them.

But blaming the press isn’t really all that worthwhile, you can’t blame them without blaming the people who consume their products – the audience dictates what the commercial press prints. So do the advertisers. So do the people who buy the advertisers products.

Essentially. We’re all to blame. And we’re all victims. Victims who have to live in a world where horrible stuff like this happens.

The power of forgiveness

Now, I don’t want to make mileage from this tragic set of circumstances. That’d be ghoulish. This really is awful. And as a guy, behind a keyboard, thousands of kilometres, and a cultural jump away, I’m feeling only a small amount of the grief that those closer in proximity will be feeling at this loss of life. Every time I think about that poor husband, and those poor kids, I want to yell at someone. Blame someone. And I’m pretty detached from the circumstances. The best I can do is pray for that family, and, given the above – pray for our world. The kind of world that creates the environment for this sort of thing…

But imagine a world, for a moment (channeling John Lennon), imagine a world where, say this prank call still happened – because it’s not a perfect imaginary world – imagine it happened, and the mistake was made in receiving it… imagine if the first victims acted in forgiveness immediately. Imagine if they had immediately spoken out to forgive not just the nurse, and the hospital, but the callers. That would have robbed the story of its sting. The press couldn’t be indignant about a story where there’s no victim, the nurse would have nothing to fear. The story would’ve fallen off the middle pages of the paper within days, if not hours.

Imagine if the press was forgiving. Imagine if, given the tragedy, we didn’t just band around the family of the nurse, which is good and right, but around the radio presenters who I can imagine, as humans, are now suffering incredibly deep feelings of remorse and regret, questioning their own agency in proceedings, and blaming themselves…

Imagine if there was a royal who, when persecuted, forgave the masses who perpetuated the persecution. The clamouring crowds, baying for blood. The feeding frenzy of a public who just want to see a spectacle – with no real regard for justice being served. Imagine a king who when misunderstood, who is suddenly the centre of attention, all eyes on him, as he is nailed to a cross – killed for simply being who he is – called out:

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Imagine a world where more of us, in more circumstances, followed that king. Imagine if, even when tragedy happened, we didn’t look for who to blame, but for who needs love and forgiveness – and we offered it, even if they were doing us wrong.

Imagine if we acknowledged that we were in the wrong – rather than looking to blame others – and we went after forgiveness, from the victims – but also from Jesus, the king, who was put in the above circumstance by us too – the crowd baying for blood 2,000 years ago, the crowd baying for blood (and cheap entertainment via the media) now – we’re part of both of them. We’re to blame. We need forgiveness. We’re participants in this culture that creates victims all over the place.

I guess that’s my biggest prayer, and the point where I can take the most action in response to these circumstances, and this world. I really want people to know Jesus because modelling that kind of forgiveness, and that kind of willingness to turn the other cheek, actually stops tragic events like this happening.

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.

6 thoughts on “A prank call, tragedy, the blame game, and the power of forgiveness”

  1. The article is inaccurate. The pranksters “did not know the outcome”…. does not imply that they are innocent. Every prank is done at the cost of someone and there is almost always an outcome. If the pranksters did not know this, they were ignorant and insensitive. At the least, the nurse could have lost her job. We used to do pranks in our primary school and when we were caught, we were disciplined and were taught that it was wrong. Plying into people’s private details when they are sick or pregnant is really insensitive, and the listeners who found this funny are equally despicable.

    1. Bose,

      I’m sorry if I gave the impression I thought they were innocent. My main point is that nobody is innocent in this case. We all participate in the media culture that creates circumstances like this. I think it’s pretty harsh to suggest, as some have, that the radio hosts have blood on their hands though…

    2. Bose, I an inclined to agree with both of you. No-one is innocent, and the culture of always needing to find someone to blame when something goes wrong is certainly unchristian and also unhelpful. But I have generally found prank calls that I have heard on the radio distasteful and not particularly funny – they are inevitably geared to make someone look like a goose in public. I don’t agree that everyone enjoys them. Certainly to make a prank call to a hospital, where staff are stressed, stretched for resources, urgently trying to save lives, and not attuned to having tricks played on them, really is crossing the line.

  2. I think we are seeing is a culture clash between a ‘shame based’ culture and our Western ‘guilt based’ culture.

    “Shame is the feeling of anxiety about one’s presentation, about being criticized or laughed at, for short, a feeling of embarrassment and fear for the eyes, ears, and opinions of others, while shame is ‘the response to disapproval of one’s own peers,’guilt is the ’self-condemnation resulting from the violation of internalized convictions of right and wrong. Guilt is a feeling and/or a condition occurring when one has broken or not kept a divine or human law, while shame is a feeling and/or a condition stemming from a shortcoming in one’s state of being either before God or peers” http://www.internetevangelismday.com/shame-cultures.php

    The amount of guilt felt is related to the extent of the transgression. The amount of shame felt is related to the outcome. Indian Culture has always been a shame based culture.

    I think the tabloids have played more of a role in this tradgedy than they realise

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