Jimmy Kimmel has sent me into a tailspin of doubt. On Monday, Kimmel’s Lie Witness News asked people if they’d voted (no polls were open that day in L.A.), and they emphatically answered yes. In other words, they lied.
The video clip is funny, but it’s also disturbing: If strangers on the street can lie to another stranger on the street, when there are no consequences for telling the truth, how can I be sure that my students weren’t lying when they told me they had to be late or absent from class on Tuesday so they could go to their polling centers?
Look, as a college professor, I don’t have to hear stupid crazy stories like “the dog ate my homework,” but I do sometimes get excuses when students don’t have their work. I have heard about everything from car accidents to roommate emergencies to cartridges running out of ink. It’s hard to distinguish truth from lies.
My students knew how much the election meant to me. Telling me they needed time to go vote when they didn’t would be an obvious and easy ploy.
My doubt also comes from the impression I had that my students were far too confident that Obama was going to win. When I would talk about being nervous about the outcome, they often shrugged, and said things like, “everyone I know is voting for Obama.” I had to remind them that their perspective is skewed, both from being on a college campus and from living in Philadelphia. They seemed so confident Obama was going to win that they felt they didn’t need to vote—a few said as much.
Assumptions based on perspective can be so strong, they can make a person feel like they’re not even lying. Earlier in this election campaign, Kimmel played a similar prank on the men and women on the streets of L.A.; people were asked who they thought won the debate the night before. The thing was, there was no debate the night before.
This clip is even more fascinating to watch than the “did you vote yet?” stunt, solely because of the conviction with which the people speak. They are comfortable and confident as they declare the winner. When the “reporter” pushes for more details, rather than retreat and stutter, the people gain confidence as they get specific.
It doesn’t even matter if the question asked makes no sense. Apparently, if you have a microphone and a camera, you are legitimized, and therefore your questions must be legitimate. People on the street were more than willing to discuss who won the “First Lady debate” even though, of course, such a debate logically doesn’t exist.
Funny, yes. Disturbing? Absolutely.
Kimmel’s pranks disturb me; they stay with me longer than even he intends. They make me doubt my students, myself, and human nature as a whole. I still can’t figure out why all of those parents thought it was so funny to steal their kids Halloween candy like Kimmel instructed them to last year. I heard he did it again this year, but I wouldn’t look. I’m still trying to come to terms with those parents who continued to video their kids while they had complete meltdowns over their stolen Reese’s Cups in 2011. It’s hard to know who to trust.