Much to my delight Scare Tactics has been posted on Hulu. I had all but forgotten about the show that originally aired a few years ago — with host Shannon Doughtery when recently I saw an ad for an updated version with host Tracy Morgan. The problem with my being able to watch the show didn’t, however, so much lie in the choice of host (though I think Morgan is a bit appetizing to the palate) but in trying to figure out air-times. I’ve never been very good at remembering when a show is on and rarely do I tune my dial to the SciFi channel when there isn’t a marathon of some show that has been cancelled for several decades. Hence I’m glad that Hulu posted it and I get to enjoy the antics and pranks at my own leisure, creating a little mini-marathon for myself this morning.

If you haven’t seen the show its similar in format to the old “Candid Cameraâ€? or new “Punktâ€? format where an unwitting participant is duped into believing a bizarre scenario while the audience laughs at their stupidity. The twist with Scare Tactics is that instead of the premise being bizarrely funny in order to shock the participant it is based upon a paranormal event set in the fantasy or Sci Fi realm. The effect is to scare the ba-Jesus out of the person. For example one scene has a participant who is hired for an odd-job on a farm who’s owner (an actor) is very a very testing and demanding, border-line paranoid. The dupe along with his “co-workersâ€? (also actors) are unclear about the whereabouts of the “owner’sâ€? brother. They set about their work loading branches into a chipper when one of the co-workers disappears. The participant along while finishing the chipping work see a stream of (fake) blood shoot through the machine and upon discovering the half-mangled body of their deceased co-worker the owner returns and starts screaming about how they “didn’t see anything.â€? Of course, the actors are just portraying characters. The dupe, however, is shitting his pants more scared than he has ever been in his life until he it is all revealed as a prank.

One of the beauties of the show is not simply the premise — that scaring people is funny but in a lot of ways mirrors the popularity of folk-lore. That is, the skits concocted are slightly based in reality and are acted out real enough that placed into the situation the participant can’t tell that the over-acting and silly postulation are fake. By blending reality with fantasy the show achieves a sort of hyper-reality making true what cannot be. For the individual involved the reality of the sketch is de-facto reality.

There is some sort of giddy fantasy I get out of imagining myself in these sorts of altered reality. A lot like the thrill of riding a roller-coaster or theme park attraction. Where the senses are so fully confused and purposefully deceived that our minds leave our normal understandings of who we are and what is possible and suspend disbelief for the sake of thrill, enjoyment or fear. For the five or so minutes of a Scare Tactics sketch the devil is real, a man can blow up another’s head with thought and pie is a mind-altering food. It’s like stepping into the Twilight Zone for real.

The point of these shows — perhaps even accidentally is to prove that alternate ways of perceiving reality are possible and the line between belief and actuality can be easily blurred given the right circumstances. It seems to prove that horribly, hippie notion that we are the creators of our own reality and our control of perception changes our power over our reality. It’s also sometimes funny just to see someone jump out of their skin sometimes.

p.s. this marks the first and LAST time I will use the acronym FTW.

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