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What’s so funny about that?

Food For Thought

I find myself watching more television lately than I have in the past. Not that I’ve become addicted to certain programs and hate to miss them, but because I’m getting older and find I need to just sit and relax once in a while during the day. The TV set is there, so I grab the remote and flip through the channels to see if there’s anything interesting going on. I’ve never been good at remembering on which channel or at what time certain programs appear, so it’s always a hit or miss matter when it comes to what I end up watching. And that’s often decided, not by what I prefer to watch, but by what choices are the least objectionable.
Of all the programs that have been around for a while, I think my last choice would be the one featuring home videos sent in by viewers. The forerunners of this program go back into the dim past when there were always news, cartoons, and what they called “selected short subjects” before the featured film at the local movie theater. One of the more frequent short subjects was called Candid Camera, and was the brainchild of Alan Funt, who took great delight in elaborate practical jokes.
The movie audience was allowed to be in on the prank, and the plan would be explained before the victim appeared on the scene. The joke was always something with the potential to either embarrass or bewilder the innocent victim, and the audience got their laughs from knowing the joke and anticipating the victim’s reaction. Once the poor sucker was milked for all the possible laughs, he would be told to, “Smile. You’re on Candid Camera!” The entertainment value of those films was in the fact the audience was a participant, not just a witness. And while it was claimed the victims were ordinary, innocent, regular people, it often seemed their reactions were rehearsed, and we wondered if they might be actors and the whole thing was scripted. Not that it mattered. We enjoyed participating in the joke.
In the early days of television, Alan Funt produced a television version of Candid Camera, using the same idea and supposedly unsuspecting victims, with the audience “in on” the joke, as in the movie version. I don’t know how long that program remained on the air because I didn’t watch television on a regular basis at that time, and later somebody else was in charge of the programming at our house, so I was reduced to watching what someone else chose to watch.
For several years, the program of supposedly funny home videos consisted mostly of kids throwing temper tantrums, pets committing social misdemeanors, and adults falling down. I’ve never understood what is supposed to be so funny about all that. And, while I can swallow the idea the tantrums are real, and even believe the animal antics are spontaneous, many of the adult pratfalls seem to have been set up– —even rehearsed. The camera angle seems too perfect to have been unplanned, and it all seems too predictable. But the real problem I have with these home videos is the fact people think someone getting hurt is funny.
A child throwing a tantrum is extremely stressed, and so are the parents or other people around him at the time. The videos of that nature that I’ve seen seem to go on for quite a long time, encouraged by the person filming the episode or by someone off-camera who is definitely making the situation worse. The fact the child is being recorded during one of his more unpleasant moods has the potential for real embarrassment and hurt feelings a few years later. (Much worse than the naked-on-the-bearskin-rug baby picture.) I concede it could be a good thing, if that child subsequently learns to laugh at himself and not to take himself too seriously. But, in either case, showing it on national television is going a little far.
I admit to sometimes enjoying the antics of cats and dogs. They seem to observe the humans they live with and try to imitate them, which can be genuinely funny. I don’t think destructive behavior is very funny, however. And I doubt the person who has to clean up the mess will be laughing very heartily, either.
I suppose if the adults who star in those pratfall videos give their permission to be broadcast to the nation, the potential for embarrassment is their choice. But, with all the scrapes and cuts, bumps and bruises that go along with it, I have a hard time believing they thought it was funny at the time. At any rate, when you get to be 82, just the thought of falling down is no laughing matter.