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Show called "Harassment"
June 13, 2002 2:04 PM   Subscribe

Show called "Harassment" results in, well, harassment! MTV and their co-conspirator, the Hard Rock Hotel, are being sued for "invasion of privacy, infliction of emotional distress and fraud, among other things."
posted by ilsa (32 comments total)

 
Doesn't this boil down to "Does one have a legal right to perform pranks on other people?"
posted by rushmc at 2:08 PM on June 13, 2002


rushmc, I think this is more complicated than that. Your approach leads to a black-or-white, pranks-or-not result. This is much more, I think, about the acceptable bounds of pranks and whatnot.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 2:15 PM on June 13, 2002


This goes beyond one person playing a prank on another, though. The question here is more like: "Does a corporation have a legal right to detain, terrify and terrorise people in order to make money?"

If they hadn't forced the couple to stay in the room, they may have gotten away with this, but refusing to allow them to leave while they carried out the prank script raises my eyebrows. They inflicted emotional harm upon this couple for a television program -- it is hard to put a dollar figure on that, but it's certainly very real and can have long lasting repercussions. I wonder if anyone would even blink over a lawsuit if one of the victims had fallen over with a heart attack from the stress of the situation?
posted by Dreama at 2:17 PM on June 13, 2002


Wouldn't the security guards confining the couple to their room qualify as assault?
That's where this crossed beyond the pale to me.
posted by darukaru at 2:18 PM on June 13, 2002


Your approach leads to a black-or-white, pranks-or-not result.

It's not my approach; merely a question. I do think one has to establish the legal right to perform pranks before one can address the question of which pranks may be acceptable and which are not.

(One such distinction might be made when pranks are performed by corporations seeking to make a profit from it vs. a prank an individual performs on a friend just for funsies.)

I'm not sure that society has really addressed these issues, except in certain specific cases such as hazing. Pretty much, I think, it has been left to the "it's okay until a law is broken," level. And that may be sufficient. But I think we will see more laws being implemented as people become more aware of/concerned with privacy issues, their commercial rights and options re: their images, and their legal opportunities.
posted by rushmc at 2:33 PM on June 13, 2002


That's not a prank, thats... thats... ugh. I hope the couple wins.
posted by MJoachim at 2:38 PM on June 13, 2002


I think we will see more laws being implemented as people become more aware of/concerned with privacy issues, their commercial rights and options re: their images, and their legal opportunities.

Laws exist, but they promote a film-first-and-get-permission later approach. Even the criminals on COPS have to sign a release. So do drunken spring break college girls who have just flashed a camera for Girls Gone Wild. (Never mind that temporary disability - i.e. intoxication - renders a contract unenforceable.) So you can film 100 public humiliation scenes in the hope that 5 victims are amused enough to sign the release. They won't give a shit about the others. I hope this is a huge monetary payoff, and I hope, HOPE, this leads to the end of ambush TV.

"Harassment" is not the first reality show to land MTV in legal trouble. Two teenage girls sued the network in April, 2001 after they were sprayed with human excrement by performers billed as the "Shower Rangers" during the taping of a program called "Dude, This Sucks."

What else can I say but, dude, that sucks.
posted by PrinceValium at 2:45 PM on June 13, 2002


this is a good case for punitive damages. :)
posted by paulschreiber at 2:49 PM on June 13, 2002


I would sue...I would SO sue. And I'm not by nature litigious. But, I would think that forcing them to stay in the room would constitute assault and possibly false imprisonment...but I'm not sure if you have to be a government official for that to stick. Certainly it constitutes emotional hardship, emotional distress, and all of the other things they are suing under.

Depending on the quality of the corpse, i.e., if it were good enough to look real, it could trigger post traumatic stress, sleeping disorders and nightmares.

The hotel is just as liable as MTV for allowing hidden cameras, corpse placement and not providing security to a guest.

Under no considerations, ever, does a corporation have the right to subject someone to torture..be it physical or emotional, just to make a buck. It's sick, it's wrong and I hope these people win and win big.

And I hope whomever the morons were in charge of this stunt are SO fired.
posted by dejah420 at 2:53 PM on June 13, 2002


Unless, I'm missing something, Hard Rock is the worst offender here. This is against every principle of what a hotel should be.
posted by Wood at 2:58 PM on June 13, 2002


I do think one has to establish the legal right to perform pranks before one can address the question of which pranks may be acceptable and which are not.

Why? We do not have to be given a legal right to do something before we can, but that doesn't mean we may not violate someone's rights in the process.

It would be hard to argue that many minor pranks do anyone any harm. But a fake corpse - a fake brutally murdered corpse - in a hotel room?

I hope they get every cent and then some.

(on preview: what dejah420 said)
posted by tirade at 3:07 PM on June 13, 2002


It would be hard to argue that many minor pranks do anyone any harm. But a fake corpse - a fake brutally murdered corpse - in a hotel room?

Actually, this seems less harmful than some more "minor" pranks, to me. So you show someone a fake corpse (or a real one). Ooh, scary. Where it crosses the line for me is in forcibly detaining the people, as others have said here.
posted by rushmc at 3:49 PM on June 13, 2002


Doesn't MTV have lawyers that appraise them of legal no-nos when they come up with their zany and madcap ideas? I'm flabbergasted by the stupidity and poor judgement all around. MTV just keeps getting better and better. I'm surprised that Tom Green and the Jackass guys weren't in on this.
posted by iconomy at 4:16 PM on June 13, 2002


Tom Green's schtick was all about annoying the hell out of people, but the Jackass guys are only beating the crap out of each other. Johnny Knoxville getting shot in the crotch with a paintball gun = all the punishment he'll ever need.
posted by darukaru at 4:35 PM on June 13, 2002


Dejah420: Under English common law (which forms the basis for tort law in most states, Louisiana being the chief exception), this incident does indeed meet the definition of false imprisonment - see section IV. This is very basic first year law school material, and someone involved with the show should have known it.

PrinceValium: The question of whether the women featured in those Girls Gone Wild need to sign releases is unsettled. Legal theory suggests no such release is needed as the women are being filmed in public in front of large crowds where they have no expectation of privacy. One woman recently won a lawsuit against the producers of the series, but it was a default judgement; for whatever reason the defendants did not show up to oppose the suit, and so no legal issues were actually addressed.

Regarding this and similar pranks: Am I alone in wondering just what exactly is funny with comedy that seems to revolve around annoying the hell out of strangers as they try to do their jobs or otherwise just get through their day? Am I the only one who ends up wanting to see the victim(s) beat the prankster so hard that they forget the middle of the alphabet?
posted by John Smallberries at 5:17 PM on June 13, 2002


So you show someone a fake corpse (or a real one). Ooh, scary.

And what if they have a mortal fear of corpses? What if they are adherents to one of the two major world religions which forbid being in the presence of a corpse unnecessarily? Besides, I don't think it was "Oh, a corpse, it was so scary, I'm suing" as mich as it was "It was a fake corpse covered in blood, made to look like the victim of a horrific murder, and we weren't allowed to leave, and we didn't know if we were going to be accused of killing this person, and we didn't know how this happened in our room, and we didn't know who the killer was... that was terrifying while it was happening."

Doesn't MTV have lawyers that appraise them of legal no-nos when they come up with their zany and madcap ideas?

One of my cousins is on legal staff for the LA based side of MTV, though I believe that she only works in association with their WWE related wrestling kinds of shows. I'm rather horrified at the idea that she may have had something to do with greenlighting this project -- I'd call and ask her, but I'm sure with the lawsuit she won't have anything to say.
posted by Dreama at 6:37 PM on June 13, 2002


John S.: Prank phone calls may be verbal harrassment, but the people on the other end don't HAVE to take it. They can just hang up, or get the caller's ID (assuming it's not blocked). I hardly equate the act of bugging someone on the phone with forcing someone to stay in a hotel room to endure your prank.

As for MTV... well... mission accomplished, I guess.
posted by Down10 at 6:51 PM on June 13, 2002


I met a new friend tonight and, upon discovering he was in his 30s, I said, "Wow, so you're old enough to remember when MTV actually played M, eh?"
posted by bradlands at 11:33 PM on June 13, 2002


Leaving a fake corpse in a hotel room and leading others to it is a freedom of speech/expression issue. I would hate to see some reactionary backlash over MTVs stupid stunt cost the rest of us the right to do express ourselves in public. I have no problem with the merits of this lawsuit, but some of the posts about pranks in general are ridiculous.

And what if they have a mortal fear of corpses?

So what? The issue here is really detainment and violating another persons civil rights. People have all sorts of phobias, considering necrophobia isn't common it shouldn't be a real consideration at all. MTV shouldn't be above apologizing and they should have never created a situation where one is a forced participant.

MTV has a history with these kinds of shows and the earliest one I remember was "Buzzkill," which at one time faked a man being killed by a voodoo doctor in public which, as cheesy as it sounds, looked like it fooled a lot of people to the point of one person poking the 'corpse' with a stick. Fooling others is perfectly acceptable and the candid camera idea is certainly nothing new. What's new is MTVs disdain for the common man.

Dreama's ultra-sensitive attitude is simply horseshit. If you were to restrict rights in this situation then it would have far reaching effects in the worlds of comedy, public expression, performance art, etc. Detainment bad. Expression good. Dig?
posted by skallas at 12:27 AM on June 14, 2002


Oh horseshit yourself, skallas. I'm not being ultra-sensitive, I'm simply being aware that these people may have been significantly traumatised by this particular incident. We don't know what their personal feelings regarding corpses are. They may have significant and sufficient reasons for being emotionally damaged from this incident as a whole -- not just the corpse, not just the detainment, but the entire debacle.
posted by Dreama at 12:37 AM on June 14, 2002


We don't know what their personal feelings regarding corpses are.

There are people out there who are afraid of cats, maybe ALW should have written Cats so the actors don't actually come into the ultra-phobic audience! They might be frightened and sue. How about clown-phobia? Perhaps we should get rid of all public clown appearances.

Necrophobia? You've got to be kidding me. Life has risks Dreama, we can't lay down legislation to protect every single little thing that might happen to someone. There are two different issues here one is of expression, which you seem to have a problem with, and the other execution of the prank which involved detention. The latter is a no brainer, but I can't see how you can condemn the former because someone, somewhere might have some rare phobia. You are being ultra-sensitive. I still call horseshit on thee!
posted by skallas at 1:07 AM on June 14, 2002


Ok, so MTV overstepped the line in what they thought was a harmless prank. Let's say the couple deserve compensation. $10 million? Get real. This couple are just trying it on, trying to get rich quick without actually doing anything to deserve it. America's legal lottery strikes again, folks! $500 would be a far more sensible payout.
posted by salmacis at 1:21 AM on June 14, 2002


So you show someone a fake corpse (or a real one). Ooh, scary.

rushmc -- speaking as someone that really did find a corpse about three weeks ago -- IT FREAKS YOU OUT. Had that incident turned out as some kind of fake-out, with my 'comedic' reaction the joke, I would be suing too. It is not a harmless joke, it is beyond bad taste, and it is an emotionally distressing circumstance, and my wife and I both are only mostly over the distress now. It's not every day you find a man hanging at the end of a noose, and I hope it never happens again.
posted by LuxFX at 6:33 AM on June 14, 2002


Dreama's ultra-sensitive attitude is simply horseshit.

I'm glad to see that now that the air's been cleared, we're all working to keep things from becoming personal and sticking to the issues.
posted by rushmc at 7:09 AM on June 14, 2002


It's not every day you find a man hanging at the end of a noose

I'm sure it's not a "fun" event, but unless it was someone one knew (which was not the case in the MTV incident), I don't see why it should be so traumatic. Too many people deny the reality of death in our society--we all hide from it, unlike previous generations who had to deal with it on a regular basis as a normal part of life. Given that lack of exposure, I can see how it would be a shock to a lot of people, but a deeply-disturbing emotional incident? Seems unreasonable. Granted, different people react differently to things.
posted by rushmc at 7:13 AM on June 14, 2002


rushmc, believe me, a month ago I would have been more or less in agreement with you. in fact, I was very surprised with my reaction to what happened. with that in mind, I'm tellin' ya....if it hasn't happened to you, you just don't know what you're talking about. If you're a doctor, paramedic, coroner, policeman, solider, etc. then fine. People can adjust, they can get used to it. For a normal person, though, you're right -- it's just so far from the norm as to be totally disorienting. It's not like I've never been to a funeral, I've seen dead people before. But it's COMPLETELY different to FIND one... The whole time I'm thinking, "it's just a dead guy, it's just a dead guy, it's no big deal." But it was. And it was a week before I could close my eyes and see nothing again.
posted by LuxFX at 7:29 AM on June 14, 2002


salmacis took the words right out of my mouth. While I agree with rushmc/skallas about the forced detainment, it frustrates me to see the justice system so tied to greed. So many cases are motivated not by the desire for justice, but by the whiff of dollar bills. (Interestingly, the oft-cited McDonalds coffee case doesn't seem to be a good example of this.) Yes, these people were detained; yes, they were freaked out. But ten million dollars!? They were freaked out to the degree that it's deserving of the equivalent of 250X the average Canadian family income?!

I can grok the value of giving MTV a slap on the wrist that will actually mean something to them. But does anyone here really believe that this suit is about a family who want to be fairly compensated for some emotional damage?
posted by Marquis at 8:02 AM on June 14, 2002


instead of thinking of the $10million as a reward for the couple, think of it as a punishment for the corporation. $500 is nothing to MTV. perhaps $10million will make them think twice about detaining people to play a horrible prank, and if you're punishing MTV with a huge judgement, where else should the money go?
posted by tolkhan at 9:33 AM on June 14, 2002


Yeah, Tolkhan - that's what I was getting at when I talked about "giving MTV a slap on the wrist that will actually mean something to them"... But shouldn't we call a bone a bone, and agree that this isn't really about MTV, but rather about a (perhaps understandably) opportunistic couple?

Couldn't there be a solution where the *court* chooses and directs damages? ("MTV must pay Ed and Judy $100,000 and pay a further $10 million to The Children's Hospital Pyschiatric Care Ward".)
posted by Marquis at 9:59 AM on June 14, 2002


but think about what it will cost the couple to take MTV to court, as opposed to a normal individual? Suddenly $10 Million seems to be in perspective. Sure, it won't cost near the entire amount, but it's proportional.

There is also a much greater responsibility for a corporation to respect a person's rights instead of an individual, and the reward/punishment should reflect that as well.
posted by LuxFX at 10:19 AM on June 14, 2002


There is also a much greater responsibility for a corporation to respect a person's rights instead of an individual

There is? How do you figure?
posted by rushmc at 10:48 AM on June 14, 2002


And obviously those found guilty would have to pay the plaintiff's legal fees.
posted by Marquis at 10:52 AM on June 14, 2002


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