Text: From “around the ages 6 to 9,” BD and her friends would pull a prank in which they would go into the girls’ bathroom at school and, while people were in the stalls, turn off all the lights and run away.
Minor Genre: Prank / Practical Joke
Context: BD is a 21 year old student at USC from Santa Monica, California. She told me that she thinks this prank is “pretty classic,” in that a lot of girls her age did this both at her school and at other schools. She said that everyone, including her, would always scream when the lights would go out like that. She remembers the feeling very well, and says that the prank still follows her through life. Even though she doesn’t scream out loud anymore, she told me that she feels the same sense of initial fear that tied into the general childhood fear of darkness, mirrors, and all the things that children do in bathrooms to scare one another.
Analysis: I agree with BD that this is a common prank. It is interesting to analyze why so many children across cities, states, and even nations share this urge to engage in fearful activities in the bathroom. I think that part of allure of practical jokes is the aspect of mischief which, especially for children learning the thrill of being naughty, adds to the humorous outcome. Many trains of thought assert that humor comes from incongruity, and this definitely applies to this situation. While kids are being taught how to behave and to be entities in the world, the incongruity of mischief is exactly the type of exciting humor that brings them joy. Pulling any prank is mischievous, but pulling a prank in the bathroom – a space that is newly meant to be taboo because of its shared nature in schools – adds to that feeling exponentially.