Oh How We Laughed
Stuck in a Starbucks late one evening, my daughter and I had the pleasure of watching, America's Funniest Videos. We couldn't hear any of the show, but I have seen enough of these kinds of program to know that people send in their home recordings in the hope that they will win substantial amounts of money by allowing the nation to laugh at them.
Some of the videos are funny, but a considerable number of them really aren't. The vast majority show people being physically hurt or humiliated in a way that will take a while to recover from. So why do we persist in finding these things funny?
We all know that humor is complex, and that not everyone laughs at the same things, but there is a very strong trend to find people falling over, running into things, having things drop on them etc as 'hilarious'.
My daughter is 9, and found far more of the videos funny than I did. I began to be perturbed at how easily she laughed at others' misfortunes, and I pointed out how some of them would have caused pain to the person involved. She did notice this, and definitely had a cut-off point where she winced and didn't laugh when people were hurt. But I did start to question why this show sat so uneasily with me.
There are some obvious points to raise: people are allowing themselves to be publicly humiliated in order to get some cash; people are often hurt but their misfortune is turned into a cheap trick; some of the videos appear very staged and faked, implying that it's OK to deceive the viewer if they get a good laugh; the mighty media industry is, once again, getting rich at the expense of the viewer.
I could go on, but there are a couple of aspects that I want to focus on.
First of all, we all laugh when something surprising happens, it is a defense reflex. But it's not OK to cash in on that and even encourage it. By laughing when people cycle into a fence, or fall off a wall, or whatever, we are actually becoming less aware of the feelings of others, and it feeds into the 'get over it' mentality that blames people for being oversensitive when in fact they are rightly voicing their pain or discomfort. I wonder how many of the 'willing victims' have not found the situation even remotely funny, but in fact felt coerced into entering the video in the name of showing that they have a sense of humor and are good sports? Of course, it would be selfish of them to retain their dignity in the face of their family or friends potentially winning $100,000 (and the prize money was mentioned often). Do we become so used to laughing at others that we become inured to violence and instead find it funny?
Most worrying, though, is that the vast majority of videos showed boys and men taking on a 'Jackass' role in the name of humor. Somehow we have accepted the 'truth' that boys will be physically rougher, more likely to get involved in 'horseplay' and taking risks for the sake of a thrill or a laugh.
Put these two points together and a very unhappy scenario unfolds: it is in the nature of men to be physically challenging, dangerous and violent even, and we laugh at the victim, not showing them any sympathy. These are not 'values' that I wish to see perpetuated within society. Normalizing violence, making it appear funny and an entertainment, is very risky. At what point do we stop laughing, and start to feel sympathy for the people who get hurt? Then making it OK to laugh at the victim, effectively finger pointing and catcalling, would seriously make some people wary of going against the flow. No matter how much they are hurt, there is immense pressure to see the funny side, be part of the team, not put up any resistance.
Now put those values into a real life scenario. It is OK for men to be a bit rough, and you shouldn't complain or you will be accused of not having a sense of humor, or fitting in with others. Heaven forbid that anyone would take your side and offer any support whilst others stare and laugh at you.
There are many reasons why people don't report domestic violence, and up there in the top ten are 'I felt ashamed'. Victim blaming is rife in our culture, and shows like this encourage it. There are plenty of amusing things in life without having to extort humor from the infliction of pain.
And for those of you who accuse me of trying to suck the joy out of everything, I have only one thing to say: get a sense of humor - a good one this time.