When I was a kid I enjoyed watching “Candid Camera,” a fairly popular show in the 1960’s. Produced by a man named Allen Funt, it might be described as the first “reality show,” as it sought to capture on film the reactions of unsuspecting folks to all sorts of pranks or funny set-ups. When the joke had run its course and the gag finally revealed to the subject, he or she was prodded to look into the now disclosed camera and chirp “Smile! You’re on Candid Camera!” Some of the jokes were hilarious, others lame, and most somewhere in between, but the show did provide consistently interesting snapshots into human behavior. It also launched the career of one of its writers, a then-unknown budding filmmaker named Woody Allen.
I believe the central reason for its long-running popularity was its effect, surely intended, to cause viewers to ask themselves, “What would I have done in that situation?” (It’s no accident that a bevy of copy-cat shows have cropped up over the years; asking and answering this question has been sport for humans as long as we’ve existed). How do you think you respond, for example, if a police officer—ostensibly trapped in a porta-potty—asked you to move his patrol car for him? What would you do if a hand emerged from the bottom of a vending machine to take back the soft drink that had just been dispensed? What if you got an elevator and everyone on it was standing backwards? Would you conform or face the front, as you normally would? Yet for all the dime-store psychological insights the episodes provided, I don’t recall any of the episodes being too serious. Most poked gentle fun at the hapless “victims,” and they almost always took their unexpected, slightly embarrassing 15 minutes of fame in good-natured stride.
The amigos love messing around with our obsolete camcorder, and each has tried his or her hand at playing Mr. Funt. Daniel is the latest to take up this avocation, and he particularly enjoys videotaping what he’s watching on TV or on the computer. Why? I have no clue and currently don’t have the energy to try to plumb the depths of that particular mildly autistic boy’s grey matter. In any event, the camera has been his constant companion lately.
A couple of nights ago I put him to bed as he was watched replays of some stuff he’d recorded earlier in the day. I was exhausted from a hard day at work and a recent skirmish with Luke which morphed into a spat with Krista. “Daniel, you can watch for a few minutes,” I muttered, “but then turn it off and go to sleep. OK?” He nodded, so I left him and his brother and returned downstairs where Krista was doing some clean-up in the kitchen and preparing to fold some laundry.
I wanted to continue our spat—excuse me, our “principled discussion”—so I proceeded to deliver a few choice verbal body blows. To her credit, Krista (1) moved into the den and closed the door where the effect on the kids of our “principled discussion” might be, literally and figuratively, muted, and (2) in love, pointed out several inconvenient (for me) truths that needed to be acknowledged and addressed. In the middle rounds of our “principled discussion” we heard pitter—pattering outside the door and the CLUNK of an object meeting the hardwood floor in the kitchen. I opened the door, spotted Luke and Daniel scampering upstairs, and hollered at them to get in bed and to give us privacy. They complied. On the floor next to the entry to the den lay the camcorder, where Daniel had dropped it in an effort to beat a hasty getaway.
The next morning I spotted the camcorder on the kitchen table. Hmmmm. I picked it up and hit rewind for a few seconds. Nervously, I hit “Play.”
Oh. My. Goodness. The video showed a close-up of the door to the den and picked up the audio of a snarky semi-lunatic on the other side. Seconds later the video jerked down to ground level, the snarky lunatic opened the door, and screamed in a voice fit for Bedlam itself, “GO TO BED! NOWWWWW”!” Indeed, no amount of exclamation points or capitalized print really does justice to what I heard. And just so there’s no misunderstanding, the part of the snarky lunatic was played in academy award-winning fashion by your humble columnist.
I sat there a moment and considered the lessons to be learned. After 15 minutes of contemplation, prayer, and abject requests for forgiveness from the family, I returned to the camera. Appropriately chastened, I erased the damning footage. And thought of Allen Funt exclaiming, “Smile! You’re on Candid Camera!”
Timothy Swenson is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in these opinion pieces are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.