There’s a reality TV series that has aired on ABC for sixteen seasons called What Would You Do?
I thought it had long been cancelled more than a decade ago, but the hidden camera experiment has apparently survived all this time.
If you haven’t seen it, actors in social settings present hypothetical dilemmas to real people; many of them testing morals by acting out something illegal or dangerous like peer pressure to take drugs. Or a customer is rude – often racist – to an employee.
The list of scenarios goes on, but the draw comes from the reactions of the unsuspecting people who chose to stay quiet or intervene.
Host John Quiñones steps in before situations escalate to dissect people’s responses with interviews and revelations that what just occurred was fake.
I remember it being an interesting watch, but I also recall reading about situations that arose because of that show. People in real-life situations – no actors or hidden cameras in-sight – thought what they were witnessing was a setup; prompting some to actually get hurt when they intervened.
Worse yet, others were inspired to do right because of What Would You Do?, but found themselves looking to intervene in any minuscule hint of conflict in order to be the hero who saved the day; even when their help wasn’t at all called for.
People couldn’t tell what was real, what was fake, and what was a necessary scenario to step into and give aid.
Today, we can’t escape the armies of people wanting to do good… or do something… anything… to stand up for whatever they determine is unjust.
Cell phone videos of truly earth-shattering moments such as the killing of George Floyd have sparked change and outrage. Would we have gotten the same outcome in court if not for the video taken of Derek Chauvin kneeling on his back? I highly doubt it.
But moments like that are the exception to the rule, even though there are some people who roam the streets searching for the next big moment to spark social change – phone at the ready.
Many are just simply on extra high alert.
I was at the doctor’s office the other day, and I heard a commotion from outside. While waiting for the doc to come into the examination room, I pressed my face against the window and saw a woman being handcuffed and brought into a police cruiser.
There were illicit drugs strewn about the sidewalk. She was screaming at the top of her lungs and resisting arrest.
Several feet away was a pedestrian who had stopped to film the entire escapade with her phone.
Why? What was she going to do with that video?
The officers were calm and far from using excessive force. But still, this woman felt she needed to document the situation. Perhaps to file it away in case a world-alerting court case sprung up and needed video footage.
Maybe she was going to stumble on it at a party months down the road and gather her friends to watch the commotion unfold as if it were some peice of entertainment?
Yes, you could make a whole 16-season program featuring cell phone clips of negative encounters between pro and anti-mask people. It would be a hit. Watching those interactions has, I think, become a guilty pleasure of many. We get a rise out of it as if it were a safe battle of surrogates representing some vicarious battle between political views.
And yes, recent situations like harassment have had positive outcomes becomes someone, who felt threatened, recorded their harasser.
But the more I look around, the more I see through people’s intentions; public documentation for the purpose or justice falls behind public documentation for vengeance and heroism.
Not that I’m ungrateful for messages I get from you, I do get so many emails from people wishing to “expose” businesses because of a less than pleasant interaction. There are those who wish to rat out a neighbour they had a disagreement with.
Why is the community newspaper the first place you go instead of the Better Business Bureau, local government, or, I don’t know, the police?
I believe it’s done to publicly shame someone and publicly exonerate another. Much can be said about the social justice movement. Maybe people who intervene in everything are going around, expecting a hidden camera around every corner?
I’ve got to tell you Langley, a small Canadian town may not be perfect, but the balance is off. Not everything – in fact, very few things – are a noble and just cause to push back and fight.
Live life without expecting to be a superhero. Rise to the occasion when a hero is needed.
Ryan Uytdewilligen is a reporter/editor for Black Press Media.