Congrats, internet: In what is possibly a new record, we didn’t even make it a week into 2016 before two more bizarre “social experiments” started making the viral rounds.
One was the “taboo-breaking” idea by a variety YouTube channel to round up some willing lesbians, and get them to touch a penis for presumably the first time. You know, the kind of fun recreational activity that their “crazy” preferences usually dictate them to avoid:
And the second, produced by a popular content site, involved lassoing some of their staff into taking shots of, welp, their own pee. And that’s it. That’s the whole concept.
And as you might expect, every clickbaity post that you might have seen covering these videos has lauded them as “Hilarious!” “The results may shock you!” “Really makes you think!”.
However, it might be because I just had a birthday and am therefore suddenly out of the target audience for these videos, but I’m not feeling it. In fact, I was really hoping we could start off this fresh new year with a complete absence of terrible sideshows masquerading as “experiments”. So before we move any further into 2016, allow me to break down why we shouldn’t bring any more social experiments along with us:
Most of them don’t mean anything.
If you’ve seen 127 Hours, and don’t pay any attention to Bear Grylls, then you know a truth universally acknowledged: drinking pee is vomit-inducingly gross.
Did we need a whole video to remind us of this? Were some of us making the new year’s resolution to “drink more of our own pee”? Or did we just put a handful of poor unsuspecting writers into a Jackass-esque situation just for the sake of mega-viral clicks?
Usually when conducting an “experiment”, there’s meant to be the intention of proving a hypothesis, coming to a conclusion, or just learning something. But more often than not, videos presented as “social experiments” are not just demonstrations of some of the most low-brow forms of entertainment, but they’re usually deliberately open-ended, putting that expectation of coming to a conclusion on the audience.
Whether or not you planned to turn your viewer’s reactions into the experiment is irrelevant; after watching the video everyone just forms their own opinions, and usually actually learn very little. Remember that video where some disembodied force asked 20 strangers to kiss for the first time?
Sure, we all watched the heck out of it; but what were we meant to learn from this? Is it humanity’s innate sensual connection to every other living being? Or that people will do anything if you put them in front of a camera? Or how frustratingly good these two look when making out? Well congrats, you proved at least two of those things.
Most of them reek of unchecked privilege.
There’s a fairly gross “pickup artist” YouTube channel, whose entire philosophy is “designed to prove that any guy can attract women”. You might be grateful that you haven’t heard of them before now, but you’ve definitely seen at least one of their pair of “fat suit Tinder date” videos.
The whole point of the video, in which a conventionally attractive woman dons a fat suit to meet her Tinder matches, was to demonstrate how shallow men can be (or “the price of false advertising”, if you’re one of their awful viewers). They also posted a less popular gender-swapped equivalent, which I suppose is saying something – but they could have saved themselves a lot of trouble if someone had just said “wait, what if we asked an actual plus-size person about their dating experience?”
Whether it’s donning a fat suit, a burqa, or another gender’s clothes, social experiments that involve putting on another person’s identity as a costume demonstrate a level of privilege that is as high as their awareness of the problem with their actions is low. Sadly, people find the shock value of pretending to be a marginalised person more valuable than actually asking real people about their real experiences. Big surprise.
Most of them are kinda fake.
If a social experiment isn’t chock-full of actors, it’s often edited to suit an agenda more than the raw footage might suggest. Remember this mega-viral video from 2014 of the woman walking around New York for a day?
The video had a really important message about the harassment and microaggressions that women face on a daily basis; but sadly this was undermined when it was pointed out that for some weird reason, the ad agency responsible for the video had edited out most of the white men.
Just weeks later, the “Drunk Girl In Public” video went viral: in which a young woman pretends to be wasted in order to see just how predatory the “strange men” she approached would react.
After a few days of success and follow-up thought-pieces, a number of the actors involved in the video came forward to say they’d been misled in its direction, and regretted the damage it had caused to their own lives. Welp.
Just a couple of months ago, we reported on the story of noted Australian YouTuber/prankster Adrian Gee confessing that his “Blind Man Honesty Test” social experiment had been staged – amongst a whole host of similar videos on his channel.
What makes a “social” experiment different from an “actual” experiment is that if the results don’t match your hypothesis, you can just fiddle with the data (or edit the video) until it matches what you wanted to prove, if anything. And if that doesn’t work, you can just fake it; much in the same way that the most low-brow YouTube prank channels do.
Which reminds me…
The line between “social experiment” and “sh*tty prank” is kinda blurry
Sorry to bring up Sam Pepper again, but hey! Remember that time he literally sexually harassed strange women on the street?
And remember how after the monumental backlash, he tried to reframe it as a “social experiment” by hurriedly filming a “male” version, and then berated the internet for not caring after it was deleted within half an hour?
As long as prank channels are given as much leeway as they currently are on YouTube, and as long as social experiments continue to toe the same line of awfulness, the two can seamlessly weave between each other into a blissful world of no consequence. This was made clear when in November, musical YouTuber Dodie Clark witnessed some public violence, which she was then urgently told was a “social experiment” to prevent her from calling the police:
When the video went live, it was of course on an unnamed prank channel. Nothing “experimental” about it, just some wacky pranksters pretending to beat up women to see how much they could get away with. When Dodie led the charge in having the video removed, the audience of the prank channel turned on her in angry harassment. If people like these guys and Sam Pepper are the ones adopting the name “social experiment” to get away with their inane and sometimes dangerous behaviour, we’re better off leaving it in 2015.
Overall, I don’t really expect this piece to dramatically change anything. As I said, people love watching these videos and forming their own opinions, regardless of what the video set out to achieve, and news outlets love staying in touch by reporting on the latest internet trends. So as long as instant viral success can be found in the creation of these, no matter how low-brow, people are gonna keep doing it. But I’ll be doing my part in 2016 to avoid supporting them with my views, and I would encourage others to do the same.
However, there is ONE exception to the “leaving social experiment videos in 2015” rule: Ladies of BuzzFeed getting drunk and then being surprised with puppies. Pls watch and enjoy.