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In response to popular pranks filmed recently at Utah Valley University, revulsion has gone viral.
A Huffington Post tease poses the question, "Worst Idea For A Prank Ever?" Gawker writes, "Internet Pranks Are Getting Rapey-er Every Day." And Slate headlines, "Creepy Guys Prank Women by Kissing Them on the Mouth. Women Giggle. Everyone Loses."
"Mainstream media may not be receiving it well, but the community is," responds Edge, a 24-year-old who points to the ratio of thumbs up (more than 12,000 as of Wednesday evening) to thumbs down (fewer than 300) as evidence that there is only a problem if you go looking for an "edge."
Holly Mullen, executive director of the Rape Recovery Center, says she enjoys comedy and "youthful irony," but these videos illustrate the faulty socializations of the men and women portrayed.
Hales and Edge exhibit an all-too-common sense of entitlement, Mullen says, with an attitude of "It doesn't matter whether she wants to do it or not, I'm a man." Also troubling to Mullen is the lack of assertiveness of the women, who have "almost a universal reaction. First there's a startle a surprise reflex then a nervous giggle and a recoil."
One woman objects that she's married, insinuating that it's inappropriate not because she doesn't want her personal space intruded upon but because she belongs to somebody else, Mullen said.
In an introduction to the kissing video, the duo explains that, in other cultures, it is common for people to greet by kissing although they don't specify any place it's a norm to kiss people you've never met, without their consent.
"The safety of our students is top priority," said UVU spokeswoman Whitney Wilkinson in a statement. "While the individuals may have assumed their actions were innocent, it's extremely inappropriate, offensive and out of line to infringe on the personal space of others, especially in an environment, such as UVU, where students are accustomed to feeling safe and comfortable."
Edge says all but one person they attempted to kiss agreed to have the footage in the video. They tried to kiss eight or nine others, but they weren't included due to artistic concerns, like a blurry shot, and not their objections. And there's a careful process to determining who will be receptive to a surprise kiss, says Edge, who was also behind the "Mistletoe Kissing Prank" at Brigham Young University in December that garnered 22 million views. He feels that after his past videos, he can judge by participants' body language whether they will take issue.
"We're not about making people's day worse," he said. "If we sense that people won't take it well, we won't do it."
Shannon Mussett, chairwoman of the UVU philosophy department, says that while she doesn't think Edge and Hales are "bad guys," they may not be as perceptive as they think.
"Anyone can watch that and see that when a woman backs up and puts her hands up, that's a nonverbal cue to get out of my space," Mussett said.
Deputy Utah County Attorney Craig Johnson said that kissing people without their consent could qualify as class B misdemeanor assault but would more likely merit a disorderly conduct charge provided somebody complained. UVU said that no official complaints have been registered with campus police or the judicial affairs office.
Edge who says he is a UVU student but is not registered there, according to the university concedes that his pranks lack serious academic value. After getting denied by a woman walking with a group of friends, Edge says, "I'm not a creep, we're doing" when one of the woman's friends cuts him off. "Doing a social experiment?" she asks, and he laughs.
He got into the viral video business nine months ago, after working for Honey Bucket cleaning portable restrooms along Interstate 15 stockpiling ideas while listening to the radio.
Hales' other work includes borrowing cellphones and walking off as though meaning to steal them, holding people's hands and shadowboxing with students on the University of Utah campus. Hales, who did not return a request for comment, is currently a UVU student, according to the university.
On Edge's Facebook page, he teases to a video called "Stealing Cars," coming next week, with a clip showing an actor apparently driving off with a man's car while he objects.