What Are We Laughing About So Much?

Verónica Vega

Havana photo by Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — Next to no one is going to like this post, but I’ll take my chances.

I am worried about the direction humanity is heading in. I am not referring to rising violence or corruption rates or to environmental damage.

I say this on the basis of the ratings that a certain type of humor secures for foreign television series. I no longer understand what it is that makes people laugh.

Some time ago, I tried to watch Friends, the US sitcom that seems to have enthralled half the world and launched its protagonists to stardom. I laughed at some points, true, but, gradually, the story became trite, dull, improbable and stupid. It brought to mind a phrase I came upon in a review of the film Flashdance: “poison with sugar.”

The series features actors that fit the contemporary concept of beauty, people who increasingly resemble latex or rubber dolls or slick, computer-generated characters – slender, attractive figures, from a country where people consume high quantities of junk food and, consequently, has high obesity indices.

The stars are white, young natives of the “land of opportunity.” They are all middle-class, entirely devoid of any economic or social concerns. They don’t even experience the stress stemming from the pace of modern progress, only the eternal and innocuous problems of love (if we can call it that), sex, promiscuity and indolence.

It is a more than hackneyed formula used and re-used to make people laugh, or so it seems, and to make us forget about the millions of immigrants and lower-class people, the scores of non-white people, those people without athletic bodies and non-latex faces, who do not classify as “winners” in this absurd race against nature, truth and life.

Some days ago, I stumbled upon a “comedy” program, also from the United States, that didn’t even get one smile out of me. Not because the characters were deliberately ugly (a comedic strategy that can work), but because all of the jokes flirted with (or reaffirmed) cynical attitudes. I didn’t catch the beginning so I don’t know the name of the series. I’ll try to find out.

“This is where we’ve gotten to?” I asked myself when I overcame my bewilderment and managed to organize my thoughts. I thought about old Charlie Chaplin, how he made us roar with laughter with a simple, dramatic scene about poverty and desolation. I recalled how his vagabond, even in his wickedness (which also made us laugh), never failed to show compassion towards others. In the 80s and 90s, I also saw a number of unforgettable and hilarious films that new generations would find rewarding.

I’ve lost count of recent comedies I could not watch to the end because of gags that wallow in scatological and even morbid humor. I’ve also lost count of the number of TV series whose scripts were ruined by insisting on these issues in search of ratings.

When a child shoots other children at their school in a country like the United States, or a Canadian pedophile has his way in a country like Cuba because of poverty – and the indifference of others, including the parents of the victims – some of us still ask ourselves what is going on in our world.

Freedom is a two-edged sword, and it is slicing through everything around us. Very few people dare criticize certain things, fearing they will be dubbed conservative or moralistic.

Okay, don’t criticize. The result is increasingly inhuman, and it is devouring the whole world.

One need only take a stroll down Havana at night, listen in on the soap opera of the day playing inside people’s homes, uninterruptedly. The media have been dictating aesthetic and ethical norms for a very long time.

It’s a poison served with less and less sugar every day, because the high and frequent doses have made us immune to subtle (and not-so-subtle) forms of barbarism.

Veronica Vega

Veronica Vega: I believe that truth has power and the word can and should be an extension of the truth. I think that is also the role of Art and the media. I consider myself an artist, but above all, a seeker and defender of the Truth as an essential element of what sustains human existence and consciousness. I believe that Cuba can and must change and that websites like Havana Times contribute to that necessary change.

4 thoughts on “What Are We Laughing About So Much?

  • What you’re missing Moses is that two thirds of the U.S. population is overweight and half of them are obese meaning that they are more than 25% over their proper weight.
    The diet of the U.S. poor is high in calories and starch because that is the cheapest food . The state of Mississippi leads the country in both obesity and poverty and it is no coincidence
    The U.S. also leads in millionaires and billionaires while some 40 million U.S. children don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
    Your facts, as usual , are highly selective.
    emagicman is right on the money ( as usual) in pointing out that absent the obnoxious and ubiquitous laugh tracks, these situation comedies would not elicit a laugh from any person with an above-room temperature IQ
    It points out the herd mentality and the low-brow tripe that passes for entertainment in the U.S.
    Pick up a book ?
    Perish the thought.

  • Good analysis, Veronica! You know most of these series are lame when they require soundtracks of laughter as prompts. The comedy of cruelty and cynicism quickly becomes boring. Incidentally, does anyone view SOUTH PARK in Cuba yet? (On flash drives?)

  • The problem with the ‘Friends’ comedy series was that it took them 5 years and a mountain of protests before they introduced a black character in a recurring role. It is simply not believable that 6 regular people could hang out as much as these 6 people did in New York City and never come across any black folks. In general, comedy has always been society’s way to swallow the bitterness of reality, to mix it with a little sweet. As reality has darkened, so much the comedy we use to accept it become, as Griffin writes, barbaric, decadent and cruel. BTW, the US is not just fat folks. We also have the highest percentage of gymnasium attendance, the greatest percentage of people who run more than 50 miles per week, the largest percentage of ‘diet coke’ drinkers and we dominate the gold medal count in the Olympics.

  • Well… I like your essay.

    Modern culture, especially comedy, has become barbaric, decadent and if it’s not outright cruel, it’s puerile.

    Bang on, Veronica.

Comments are closed.