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.