Skull and Dagger pranks need to have limits

Depending on who you ask, last Wednesday’s Skull and Dagger prank was either hilarious or mean-spirited and tasteless. According to a Daily Trojan online poll, students are essentially divided over whether the prank was upsetting or commendable — 35 percent of voters thought the prank was great, and 17 percent disapprove.

Cindy Lee | Daily Trojan

A Facebook event created last week advertised that Undergraduate Student Government’s Program Board would be giving away 10 Coachella tickets to students dressed in the best costumes Wednesday. At 1 p.m. Wednesday, about 50 people in ostentatious and ridiculous costumes crowded around Tommy Trojan, hoping to win the free Coachella tickets.

Their reward, after a few nervous moments of anticipation, was the sight of a banner with a skull plastered across it being unfolded from the top of the Student Union.

The graduating seniors of Skull and Dagger, a semi-secret honors society on campus, traditionally play a prank on the unsuspecting USC population. Past pranks have included wrapping bicycles (and a student) to the racks in heavy cellophane, hosting a fake “College Fear Factor,” and having security guards walking around accosting students for wearing sunglasses “in violation of dress code.”

These pranks might actually have been humorous — watching students desperately run to class upon discovering their bikes taped up, for example, seems like it would be amusing. But this year’s Skull and Dagger prank crossed a line when it involved Program Board.

Not only did the prank damage Program Board’s credibility, but it also reflects poorly on the Skull and Dagger members who hold leadership positions in USG.

Whether or not the prank was funny is arbitrary. Skull and Dagger needs to realize that its fun might come at the expense of trusted and respected USC programs.

Last year, Skull and Dagger announced a fake “Student Appreciation Day” with claims of free food at The Lot. When expectant students showed up, the announcement was revealed to be a hoax. This negatively impacted business and service at USC Hospitality Kris Klinger, director of USC Hospitality, told the Daily Trojan last year.

Some say the people upset with Skull and Dagger pranks are too uptight or lack a sense of humor. But the issue at stake is not whether the Coachella prank was juvenile and objectionable or brilliant and priceless, but it is a question of the unintended consequences of the prank.

Throughout the year, Program Board has hosted a number of interesting and fun events around campus.

And often, Program Board has publicized events on Facebook, so Facebook has become a reasonably reliable method of keeping up with all the latest fundraisers, giveaways, music festivals, movie showings, etc.

How else would we know when there is free CoolHaus at Tommy Trojan for USG Elections, free In-N-Out, DimSum on campus or another movie playing in McCarthy Quad?

It would be a gross exaggeration to say that Skull and Dagger’s prank completely undermines student trust in Program Board and USG.

Damage has been done, however. It was unnecessary to take advantage of student trust in Program Board and USG for the sake of a prank.

Pranks are never comfortable for the victims — that is the point.

But when these pranks begin to damage the trustworthiness and credibility of respected campus services, perhaps we should reconsider if this is truly “funny” anymore.


Rebecca Gao is a freshman majoring in global health and biological sciences. Her column, “Trojan Grounds,” runs Mondays.

10 replies
  1. Miachel
    Miachel says:

    How are people evenly split on this Rebecca? I thought USC students were smart enough to realize 35% is nearly double that of 17%.

  2. William Buttrey
    William Buttrey says:

    These future movers and shakers are learning well what it means to wield such power when a default position of trust exists (they break it without consequence). Collateral damage is immaterial mostly because it is happening to someone else. Whether it was funny or if anyone was harmed is clearly less important to them than if the prank actually involves some legal liability or fails to get the visibility “semi-secret” societies seem to crave. I gather the overall purpose is to instill and reinforce the time honored notion that it’s not enough to win, but that someone else must lose.

    I think the author brought up many valid points. My view is that the concept of “not cr4pping where you eat” applies. Targeting students by pretending the origin was from a legitimate university entity with an otherwise credible false claim meant to cause them some level of distress means all of the Trojan family loses to some extent.

    You want to ferret out the gullible? Offer a one-way moon excursion ticket (return trip only).

    You want to misrepresent an offer so you can make someone else feel bad? Claim to provide some trivial incentive or reward for doing some volunteer community service task, and instead of the incentive being some trifle, make it unbelievably substantial. That way everyone who was considering helping out but failed to act on it would feel really crummy.

    Now *that’s* funny!! – though the concept of a “win-win” scenario might just be far too grim for Skull and Boners to contemplate as it would deny the very essence of their worldview (a world comprised of predator and prey).

    What is sad is that an organization from whose ranks are culled the future power elite seemingly have no more vision of said future than business as usual. Why, it’s as if rather than put their minds to some sort of effort and focus for the common good (an essential aspect of true leadership), their real concern is merely in continuation of a status quo that quite often has elitism bestowed based on things other than merit.

  3. Ras
    Ras says:

    Free food, free tickets…my problem with these S&D pranks is that they are so tepid and lame. How about really making a prank show you mama boys have some cajones? How about a something like a bunch of uniformed officers looking to profile and stop all Muslim or black students? When people start to really become to the boilijg point you can say it was “only” a joke. S&D just needs to get over themselves in a big way

  4. Timmer
    Timmer says:

    How much time do you spend each week trying to come up with this pointless stuff? I don’t blame Rebecca anymore, I blame the DT for allowing her work to be published without sufficient adult supervision. If you want to talk about something damaging a reputation or image, start with how these opinion columns look in the DT. Come on. USC is too good for this stuff.

  5. Proud Senior
    Proud Senior says:

    Rebecca Gao, you are a freshman… you are so naive. Even in your first paragraph you commented on the stats that show approval of the prank. What is the basis then for your argument? get over it

  6. Mel
    Mel says:

    No one was hurt, nothing was damaged, lots of people were fooled (including all but a few members of Program Board and USG – who are Skull and Dagger members)

    What does this mean? It was probably the best prank USC has seen in ages, and shows how creative our school can be. (Even the costumes were creative) Why can’t people appreciate that instead of complain?

    Good job to everyone involved!

  7. really?
    really? says:

    “How else would we know when there is free CoolHaus at Tommy Trojan for USG Elections, free In-N-Out, DimSum on campus or another movie playing in McCarthy Quad?”

    Well for one, you could read any of the 5+ different e-mail listservs that send out updates on Program Board and USG events…or you could check their websites. Or you could read any of the hundreds of flyers and advertisements Program Board and USG print and post all over campus every single week…or you could read the DT…or you could talk to any of the students related to USG or PB…or you could check their Twitter…shall I continue? Don’t be stupid.

    And how was PB’s reputation “damaged”? It was a prank. Everyone knows it now. No one blames PB or USG. Because it was a prank. And most of the student body isn’t stupid enough to blame Program Board for a Skull & Dagger prank….

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