In January of 1990, as everyone gathered around the TV, America gave the world permission to laugh hysterically at the failures of others.
America’s Funniest Home Videos became one of the highest rated shows of its time, and we were all captivated with it, as we laughed our asses off when people sustained injuries like getting hit in the balls with items.
This was not the beginning, by any means, of our nature to laugh at the pain and failure of others. Slapstick comedy has been around, since humans existed. Abbott and Costello, and the Three Stooges were all famous for sustaining punches, slaps, kicks, and falls.
But, WHY do we find it so damn funny?
TV and Social Media are now FLOODED with videos of car crashes, people falling off of things, broken bones, stuff falling on people, and yes, numerous people doubled over, after being hit in the balls.
Fail Army is another show, that we all laugh at, while people FAIL at attempts to jump over things on vehicles or on bikes, or people getting hurt while they attempt to succeed at a challenge. It is funny, but the question still remains:
We could literally waste every hour of every day watching people get hurt as they try experiences. We could laugh for weeks straight, as we watch people hurt themselves doing stupid tricks. The more epic the fail is, the harder we laugh. We laugh at little kids falling, adults wiping out, and seniors tripping. We even laugh at animals when they struggle trying to swim, or chasing their tail and face planting.
The other day, I was in a parking lot getting into my car with my hands full of take out coffees for my colleagues. As I was closing my door, after struggling to set the trays down in a safe place, I looked up and the lady who was getting into the car next to me, stumbled on the curb and fell.
I didn’t laugh. I opened my door to see if she needed help and ask her if she was okay. She looked embarrassed, with her black pants coated in muddy snow, and said, “That’s okay dear. I’m fine”. I reached out my hand to help her stand back up, and watched as she slid onto her carseat to make sure she was “really” okay. She sat for a few moments and stared into space, shaking off the scene. I watched her back out of the parking lot, as a tear slid down her cheek.
She wasn’t a senior, but she was an older, heavy set lady, and my heart broke for her, with her dirty pants, that she probably ironed and spent time choosing to match her blouse and boots to. Wherever she was going, I assumed she would make a stop at home first, to change pants. My heart ached for her.
However, when I watch Fail Army, and a senior stumbles and lands face first into her birthday cake, it’s funny as hell.
So, what is the difference?
I think we, as humans, become slightly skewed mentally, as we WATCH people on screens. I think our psyche must tell us that those aren’t really humans, and they are just people in the TV. It’s a concept that I feel needs excuses, for all of us. There has to be a reason WHY we love to see people fail, and why it provokes laughter.
Watching Fail Army the other night, a young boy and his friend were jumping off the roof of their house, onto a trampoline. Clearly someone was videoing their escapade, so, there are at minimum 3 people involved in this plan. The first child jumps and lands on his butt, bouncing high from the initial impact of physics and gravity, unscathed.
Then the second boy jumps. He doesn’t land on his butt, the way his cohort did, in fact, he lands with straight legs and pointed feet. There was no safety net around the trampoline, and the kid flew over the edge, and landed on his back on the lawn. My heart raced, as I imagined the pain that poor kid felt, and I wondered if he was okay. I saw my daughter in my mind as she played on her trampoline as a kid. The boy who jumped first, and the person behind the video, laughed hysterically at this poor little guy.
Then, the host of the show “played a game” with the viewers:
He stopped the video and said, “how do you think this video ends?”
a) an ambulance comes
b) he stands up but is injured
c) his dad laughs at him as he stands up
The answer was C. It was his father videoing the whole thing, the little guy stood up and shook it off, and his dad laughed his ass off.
What in the actual_______?
This is when I turned off the TV and felt slightly guilty and sad that this is what our world finds entertaining.
I am no Angel. I laugh too. But, when it comes to watching others fail, especially when they could be seriously hurt, or impacted for life, I don’t find it funny. I also don’t understand why people earn money by submitting their failures, so the world can watch.
I have gone to Movie theatres, pubs, and even malls, where they show Fail Army to entertain people who are just “sitting around”. At the pub where they show it, patrons are seated at tables sipping beers or beverages, and having meals, as they watch the TV screen and chuckle. It is a “time passer” for people arriving to the theatre, and for people who are tired of shopping and sit in the chairs in the mall, waiting for their partners to arrive with their bags.
Ironically, I would be willing to bet, if a child or adult wiped out in the mall hallway, SOMEONE would be by their side quickly, to ensure they are okay. Someone would call 911 if the person was injured. Someone would help them to their feet.
Shows like “Just for Laughs” set the stage at the expense of others, in hopes that they do something “stupid”. When there are accidents or fights, or other “happenings” in public areas, people stand around and video it all going down, rather than get involved, JUST so they can share it on their social media pages to get likes or laughter. It has become a multi-billion dollar industry and a way of life. It’s actually sick and twisted, that we, as humans find humour in other people’s mistakes.
But we DO, and that’s why AFV, Fail Army and JOSH.O are so successful.
Is it because the sight of someone failing makes us feel superior, that we laugh? Or is it because we are secretly relieved that the person on the screen is okay, and we laugh as a reflex? Or is it the sight if arms and legs flying around that make us giggle? Maybe it’s because we see the resiliency of what the human body is capable of enduring, and we find it entertaining? Maybe it’s nervous guilt for waiting for someone to fall, get hit, crash, or struggle and it’s the only reaction that fits the situation?
I am not sure what the mentality is behind the videos we watch, or why we laugh, as we watch others fail. I know at times, it’s damn funny, but in the “real world’ and not on screens, I would hope that compassion and empathy would be our default, knee-jerk reaction, and not laughter.
People are entertaining. We all love to laugh, we all love to be able to giggle and have fun in life. But, WHY is it so funny, watching other people fail? Why is it always at the expense of someone else’s pride or dignity?