Scientology Wins!  Pop Culture Defeats Psychology on the Subject of Humor

Scientology Wins! Pop Culture Defeats Psychology on the Subject of Humor

You were just smiling, weren’t you? This was not a benign incident.  A real person, someone you care about, experienced real pain and might have caused some serious damage.  As a decent person, you were concerned, but be honest, you … Continued

You were just smiling, weren’t you?

This was not a benign incident.  A real person, someone you care about, experienced real pain and might have caused some serious damage.  As a decent person, you were concerned, but be honest, you were holding in laughter even as you helped pick your friend off the ground.  You still think it’s funny today.  You’re not a sick bastard (not for this, anyway), you’re just human.

So, Dr. McGraw, it’s time to reassess.  While the Three Stooges and Jimmy Dean sausage may suggest that we’re looking for the benign in our comedy, a quick look at pop culture reveals that you may have some more studying to do.

That’s funny cause it’s true.

PS: Do a Google image search for “benign.”  Now do one for “Jimmy Dean.”   Some creepy similarities there.

14 Comments on “Scientology Wins! Pop Culture Defeats Psychology on the Subject of Humor”

  1. mlawski OTI Staff #

    I was going to say that It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia proves that humor does not have to be benign to be funny. However, on second thought, the show is benign, in a sense, because I always know that whatever evil things the characters do, they will always fail in the end. So no one is really going to suffer for that long on the show, except for the “heroes,” who are awful, awful people and thus deserve their comeuppance.


    • stokes #

      Well, them and Rickety Cricket.


      • mlawski OTI Staff #

        Ah, true. I guess there’s a point where someone’s life gets so ridiculously sad that you just have to start laughing at them.


  2. Tom Houseman #

    America’s Funniest Home Videos is funny because the injuries are generally mild, and we assume there will be little long term damage. Similarly, if I see my friend trip down the steps, my first thought is “oh crap! I hope they’re okay!” Once I realize they’re okay, then I’m able to laugh at them for falling down the steps like an idiot. If they broke their leg and had to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance I wouldn’t be laughing at them.
    We find the pain of others funny as long as it is benign and we know that there was no serious damage. When Coyote falls off a cliff, we laugh only because we know that Coyote is fine. When we see a squirrel get run over by a car in real life, we don’t laugh because, dude, that squirrel just died.
    When we watch a little kid hit his dad in the balls on AFV, we laugh, because getting hit in the balls isn’t a serious injury. In addition, we have a level of distance from the person we’re seeing; we don’t know this person, and thus have no emotional investment in their well being. However, if we were watching a little kid cutting his dad’s hand off with a hack saw, and there was blood everywhere and the dad was screaming and crying, we wouldn’t laugh, because it would feel to real.


    • Sillyweasel #

      I am currently laughing at your example of a child with a hacksaw. I am imagining it in vivid detail. The more realistically I envision this scene the more absurd it feels and the funnier I find it.
      Also I have added in a stuffed bunny, who has no limbs.

      People find different things funny.


  3. Valatan #

    This theory also does nothing to explain something like Dr. Strangelove–that was funny precisely because it was not benign. The scenario presented there was all too real at the height of the cold war. The humor came from exposing how absurd and silly reality was, and how little control the Very Serious people who were making decisions for us actually had over anything.


  4. Kimbo Jones #

    I guess I’m weird, because I find AFHV kind of disturbing and the concept of Jackass so disturbing that based on description alone I have avoided it like the plague. That video, though, where the dog is asleep and attacking it’s own encroaching leg? Effing hilarious.


  5. Adrian #

    The premise of Dr. Strangelove IS benign, as a fictional alternative to actual nuclear annihilation. It’s basically Larry and Moe’s slapstick again, taken to to a nuclear level.

    As for watching people get hurt on TV, we are conditioned not to think of them as real people. Doubly so actually, since 1) they are on TV, and 2) they are very far away from us and we will probably never meet them. So that ends up being benign too, at least in our minds, regardless of how long the actual victim spent in traction.

    Finally, I think the study works as a basic guide, but the violence/upset being necessarily benign depends greatly on whether the individual laughing is a bad person.


    • Valatan #

      All of the logic used by the characters in that movie was real logic used by real generals and politicans, though (aside from the bodily fluids guy, but part of the point was the effect one crazy guy could have). That film was a statement about where society was then. The absurdism served a very different function than the absurdism in slapstick.

      Slapstick is about ‘see, isn’t this crazy and unexpected and funny’? The absurdism makes the story less real, and more clearly fluff entertainment.

      Something like ‘Dr. Strangelove’ or ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’ uses absurdist humor in order to say ‘hey, things are really, really messed up. The only way I have to communicate the reality of things is by giving you an exaggerated version of reality, and then asking you to connect the dots.’ Here, the absurdism makes the story MORE real–it brings contradictions and problems to a head. We laugh at the doomsday bomb because it scares us about what Kruschev or Gen. Westmoreland may be doing.

      I don’t see how a contemporary could watch that movie and not immediately have their worry about Kruschev-Johnson-Nixon Kissinger cold war logic increased.


      • Adrian #

        Still talking about two different things. You can get upset at the real life implications of a thing, but laugh at the movie, which is NOT REAL. We can also recognize Strangelove as being benign because it’s PURPOSE is to raise the awareness you’re talking about. So it is a good thing. But attempts at humor that seem mean-spirited and destructive are less likely to be laughed at by a group of people who are offended by the subject matter. Those who aren’t offended will probably still laugh, because they therefore see it as benign.

        Was Hedwig supposed to be funny? Made me feel like bawling.


  6. Timothy J Swann #

    Hey, as a fan of psychology and of pop culture, I say one duff study doesn’t defeat us… I imagine a more sophisticated review would have a more complicated and comprehensive answer. Good thoughts, though I think it is a matter of taste. There’s a threshold of pain or embarrassment that destroys humour that is different for different people. I don’t really like Peep Show. My grandfather can’t stand Fawlty Towers. Everyone has their pain-as-comedy threshold.


  7. petrlesy #

    i would agree with the original theory. all that matters is level of empathy, cynicism and corresponding definition of benign accident.

    most people don’t laugh at holocaust or 9/11 jokes, on the other hand i can’t really laugh watching movies like Dr.Strangelove, instead i find them depressing (and great).


  8. Robbie #

    Laughter can be cathartic. When we see a friend hurt, we care for them until we see that they are okay. The laughter, in this sense, serves to release the tension that we may subconsciously feel towards being injured ourselves, as well as to comfort our compadre that their injury is not so serious


    • Robbie #

      it always feels awkward to laugh at a recent misfortune


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