Yesterday morning I learned of a new video that’s making the rounds on social media, a hidden-camera exercise comparing people’s reactions to two individuals on crutches who “fall” on a city street.
Of course I watched it, thinking that I’d be outraged and share it so I could rail against the callousness of my fellow man. Ah, not so fast.
The video: Mr. Crutches A is a well-dressed young man who falls numerous times and is, of course, immediately helped to his feet by passersby each time.
Mr. Crutches B is made up to look “homeless” (don’t all homeless look alike?) — hood over the head, oversized coat, carrying a rumpled sleeping bag, etc. — and of course, falls and is ignored time and again. Some people even take pains to walk around him at a “safe” distance.
As effective and as well-intentioned as it is, the video was an unfair experiment.
The well-dressed man fell relatively gently, quietly to the pavement. There was nothing “threatening” about him. His face showed distress, and he looked truly helpless, a victim.
The “homeless” person, however, fell violently to the pavement, his possessions scattering every which way. On some falls, he appears to be writhing in pain, whereas the businessman did not. But here’s crucial failing: in most cases, you can’t see the “homeless” person’s face.
Passersby couldn’t determine the person’s emotional state at that moment, and therefore their instinct told them it wasn’t safe to intervene. One person did help the “homeless” faller, but if you watch the video, you’ll see that it’s a setup.
It’s fine to appeal to people’s emotions, to test their capacity for kindness, but please, play it fair and square. As it is, the video risks a negative backlash. It just may reinforce people’s aversion to helping someone who looks “homeless” or different in any respect. (Believe it or not, there are a lot of “homeless prank” videos on YouTube.)
I’m not sure I would rush to the aid of someone whose face I couldn’t see — and gender or race have absolutely nothing to do with it. I’d like to think I would make sure the “homeless” person was OK, even if that meant calling 911 and waiting until help arrived.
So how about a do-over on the video? Hire a real homeless person, or at least someone whose face can be seen, and who falls exactly the same as the “control subject” in the experiment.
I commend the folks at Model Pranksters for creating this video. In a little over a month, it has gotten more than 5 1/2 million views on YouTube. It’s safe to say it has made some viewers stop and think about what they would have done.
A footnote: As a much more skilled writer than I says on occasion, “I’m just Gaelic enough” to believe in a higher power that sends us a cosmic sign now and then.
Yesterday, several hours after watching the “crutches” video, I was walking back to my downtown office after an interview. I saw a well-dressed man crossing the street, stumble — and do a face plant. Hard. Right in the middle of the crosswalk, with no one near him. I cannot make this stuff up.
He wore a stylish full-length coat and a fine fedora, and before he could pick himself right back up — which he did — I started looking for the hidden cameras. I yelled across the street, “Are you OK?” He brushed off the front of his coat, uttered an embarrassed “Whoa!” and went on his way.
I took it as a sign. Of what, who knows …