Blog by Mason Johnson

Having just watched Blake Grigsby’s “Mistletoe Kissing Contraption” video, in which Grigsby walks around Daley Plaza soliciting kisses from people visiting the Christkindl Market, let me be the first to ruin the holiday cheer by acting like a Grinch.

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I don’t like Blake Grigsby.

… Or rather, I don’t like Grigsby’s video (I don’t know him personally).

Even though we’re strangers, I feel like I know Grigsby well. As lanky, goofy, pale dudes, Grigsby and I have learned to use awkward moments, self deprecation and our quick wits to our often comedic advantage.

But not knowing the truth of Grigsby’s moral mettle, I can’t tell where the ethics fall in his “Mistletoe Kissing Contraption” video. What’s beyond the clever contraption — mistletoe floatng just in front of Grigsby — and wholesome responses to it, the young women running up to Grigsby and kissing him full on the lips and the older women taking goofy delight in Grigsby’s demeanor?

There’s no doubt that it’s a good video in many ways. Grigsby’s great in front of a camera, the sound and video quality is superb and so is the editing.

But what’s between the edited scenes? What’s the ratio of edited-out cringes to on-camera smiles? How many people found Grigsby’s intruding mistletoe obnoxious?

And that’s part of the comedy, isn’t it? Taking a mundane, public space and shaking up the natural order of things. But in the case of Grigsby, pranksters have been shaking up the natural order of public spaces by making people — women especially — uncomfortable for decades, if not all of eternity. Even if I forgive the undertones that support sexist actions in our society in Grigsby’s videos, there’s still the fact that this video relies on very old jokes that have been beat into the ground, so what is Grigsby’s video actually offering us?

No, in the grand scheme of things, this Junior at DePaul isn’t some sort of evil super-villain in disguise. But he’s still on a spectrum of public pranksters — a spectrum that takes advantage of the public’s curiousity, playfullness, and worst of all, pressure to play along (go ahead and say “no” to this prank, let’s see how the YouTube comments section will treat you) — who need to get a new schtick.

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Compared to the worst YouTubers on this spectrum, the ones who ask to touch women’s breasts or run up and kiss women without their permission (not going to link to their videos), Grigsby’s an absolute darling. But still, those abusive YouTubers and Grigsby use similar techniques to illicit laughs.

Imagine this scene: A man runs up to a woman on the street and tells her to kiss him. What would she say?

Some would probably walking past as if he didn’t exist, wondering why another man feels like he’s entitled to enter their personal space. Others might offer up an expletive or two. Too many might fear the repercussions of responding negatively to him (see: Man Punches Woman After Asking for Her Number on CTA: Prosecutors). None would find this particularly endearing, let alone funny.

But in Grigsby’s world, if he can think of a clever ruse, then it’s okay to harass. In another one of his videos, he has a woman by his side as he walks up to his marks. Camera in hand, he asks, “Can I get a picture of us kissing?”

Often, the mark steps forward, just to find out that Grigsby doesn’t want a photo of himself and the woman he’s brought with him, but that he wants to kiss them. Through his pranks, Grigsby has found “charming” ways around the few defenses women walking down the street have. He’s manipulated situations that would otherwise be harassment to get past the icy stares, earbuds and exclamations of “go to hell” other men would otherwise receive.

In another video, Grigsby walks up to women on a beach asking, “Do you need sunscreen? … cause I’m really good at putting it on.”

The women are often polite, some awkwardly laugh, few seem actually pleased by his question.

But again, Grigsby’s comedy is not new. It’s been going on forever and will continue to go on forever because we look at dudes like Grigsby and laugh as if they’re wholesome. And if Grigsby is the standard for fun and acceptable pranks, what does that make the people who react badly to these pranks? This creates a gray area for exploitive and potentially abusive men to wedge themselves into, and anytime someone else calls them out on their BS, they can use comedy as a scapegoat, and suddenly the victim is the evil one.

If Grigsby really wants a prank that shakes up the natural order of things, why doesn’t he try breaking the expectations for women that have been established by men and the audiences (sometimes invisible, sometimes on YouTube) they perform for? Right now, he’s part of long tradition of spreading sexist habits in what seem like innocent ways. If Grigsby wants to prove how truly clever he is, he’ll take a closer look at the rituals in our society that continue to prop up sexism and tear them apart.

Or is that too hard for this YouTube star?

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Mason Johnson is a Web Content Producer for CBS Chicago. You can find him on Twitter.