TODAY   |  December 08, 2012

Have celebrity pranks gone too far?

While celebrities have teams of people set up to deal with media firestorms, those thrust into a sudden spotlight are sometimes not as well-equipped. “You’re only one viral video away from being famous,” said TODAY contributor Lola Ogunnaike.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> to the duchess's private hospital is only the latest in a high profile series of pranks, most of them aimed towards celebrities. last year, celebs like kim kardashian have been ambushed on the red carpet . a new trend has emerged, where police have emerged as swat teams descending on celeb homes like justin bieber and ashton kutcher . so has it all crossed the line from fun to dangerous? robert thompson is a professor of television and popular culture at syracuse university . lola is a "today" contributor. good morning to both of you. thanks for being here. we've all heard the term the joke's on you. you can go way back and see prank-type broadcasts. the candid camera, of course, is the most memorable. it seems today's pranks are more humiliating in their variety. is that a fair take?

>> i think so. i would go beyond humiliating to downright bullying, mean spirited, and all the rest of it. and it's one thing when you're doing this with a celebrity. celebrities have kind of signed on to a certain culture of constant scrutiny and all the rest of it. this idea, though, of calling regular people and by guerrilla tactics bringing them into these kinds of media pranks is i think a very different story.

>> i want to share with both of you -- i thought "the new york times" had framed it very well. they wrote the episode was a sobering reminder of the harm that comes in a media landscape with the boundaries between news and entertainment are blurred, where host and programs find increasingly outrageous ways of attracting attention often without considering who might be hurt along the way, and where anything out of the ordinary, an embarrassing video, a bit of foolish behavior tends to spread quickly via the internet and seems to never go away. lola, celebrities have known this all too well. but let's talk about the average person being thrown into this limelight. it's as if people don't realize that they read this stuff.

>> it's true. celebrities have teams that are there to help them handle a crisis. the average person who's making $25,000 a year and is suddenly thrust into the limelight, they don't have a team of handlers there. and people forget that these are actually real people , even celebrities, they actually have things called feelings. so when you're tweeting nasty comments about them, when you're saying awful things about them on facebook, they hear that and they feel that. and guess what, those things never go away.

>> and i'm wondering if part of this is because of our obsession with reality tv programming, which we see not really celebrities, but real people suddenly become celebrities on the backside. does that make it more -- make them more fair game ?

>> absolutely. you're only one viral video away from being famous. so the average person who's sitting at home right now may up load something and all of a sudden just in the case of justin bieber, you become an international superstar .

>> are the rest of us complicit in the fablgt that we find humor and we gather around the computer and click on these sorts of things?

>> well, we are. it takes three elements to make this work. you've got to have people that will do this kind of stuff. you've got to have people who will broadcast it or put it on the air and distribute it. and then you have to have people who will be amused by it. i have to confess, i am amused by this kind of thing as well. i'm not proud of that. but these kinds of pranks can be funny. but the difference between a reality tv show where you've got some agency when you go on " american idol " and sing badly, you know what you were getting into. this idea of a reality tv show suddenly breaking out around you when you had no decision to be on it, is an entirely different thing.

>> we all shake our heads and talk about what a sad episode this was, but do you think it changes anything?

>> no, absolutely not. as long as companies are -- you know, deejays are going after ratings, they'll do anything. in fact, it will probably get worse before it gets better.