Professor Media Matters

I am a media professional with 6 years as a TV producer and reporter, and college professor in the field of Communications. I am also a Conservative with a passion for pop culture. This will be my attempt to put the "me" in media. It will be my take on movies, TV, books, magazines, newspapers, the Internet and all that is the worldwide media.

Friday, August 17, 2012


(This column was revised from a previous venue.)
I used to work for a well-advertised business in California. TV advertisements for this company run multiple times daily. In addition to the TV exposure, the business has a uniquely memorable phone number. So between the TV ads and the easy to remember phone number, the company gets a lot of business. And a lot of prank phone calls.

For a time it was my job to check the voicemail for messages. We usually got about 10-15 prank calls a day. And on the weekends, when the office was closed, we would get a ton of prank calls. (Real cowards!) I checked messages one evening, and of 42 messages, only 5 were legitimate business calls. That means we got 37 PRANK PHONE CALLS in less than 24 hours. That is pathetic.

Now you might think that most of the pranksters are youngsters. And many of them are. Their cheesy calls for pizza orders and attempts at humor are annoying, but not the end of the world. More of the young people calling, though, with a hankering for a prank these days are using violent and sexually suggestive language in their pranks. This is disturbing. When an 9 year old voice leaves a message either in person or on the machine that is of a distinctly sexual nature, something has gone terribly wrong in this child's life. I know kids, especially teenagers, need a chance to rebel. And prank phone calls are probably one of the safest ways for kids to do that. I understand. But when the prank phone call is stuff that I, as a 44 year old male, wouldn't even say in public, then I think there's a problem.

You might also think that all of the pranksters are young. You'd be wrong. I was repeatedly shocked at how many adult voices leave nonsense and derogatory messages on the voicemail. Sure, I got a few heavy breathers. But the business also got random death threats and extremely graphic descriptions of bedroom behavior. Don't these adults have better things to do with their lives then to leave anonymous nasty messages? I am embarrassed for them. Maybe they think they are being funny or clever. Trust me, when you leave a prank message as an adult, you are only being pathetic.

I wonder if anyone has ever done a scholarly study on the changing content of prank phone calls. I bet it would be a fascinating study. And I would guess that the content has become much more graphic over the years. It brings a whole new meaning to using the phone to reach out and touch someone.


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