Conditioning with a Laugh Track

Armodoxy for Today: Conditioning with a Laugh Track

At what point did we stop believing in the power of love? When did we lose faith in love’s power to melt or crush a heart of stone? Those were the questions with which we left yesterday. When did we give up on love?

Perhaps some may point to an event, or to a person who pushed things a bit too far, and through betrayal and hurt, the power of love was diminished, or in the worst case, was rendered absurd. For the most part, however, it is a matter of conditioning. We have lost faith in Love because we’ve been conditioned by life experiences to not believe in its power.

Sitcoms, or situation comedies, have had a life even before television, with radio broadcasts of plays and book readings. Early radio had live audiences where you could hear the reaction to actors and their dialogue. People laughed at humor, wowed at amazement, sighed at surprises and whimpered at sadness. Early television took place in front of studio audiences and, likewise, the gamut of expression in between a smile and a tear could be heard.

As the boundaries of the sitcom expanded, studio sets were used to stage houses, schools, hospitals, banks and stores. Canned laughter became a means of bringing the audience into show without the need for large auditoriums.

For the last 70 years, at least, sitcoms have brought entertainment into our homes and along a synthetic audience that was manipulated by the producers of the show. The reaction and laughter of an audience was and is strategically placed in the dialogue at points deemed funny. In other words, someone decides what subject is funny, and the degree to which it’s funny.

The father says he left his keys in the car and the child says, “Dad you’re getting old and forgetful.” And the audience laughs. The student opts to sneak out on a date and doesn’t study for her exam, so at school, she yells out “Puerto Rico” in answer to “What is the Capital of the United States?”  And the audience laughs. Perhaps hysterically. The laughter, placed strategically in these spots, tells us that mocking senior forgetfulness or idiotic answers during tests are funny, rather than sad or pathetic.

Try this experiment, watch a sitcom and when you hear the canned laughter and ask yourself, was that really funny? Probably not. But multiply half-an-hour, over the period of a season, over the life of the show, and times all the shows that you’ve watched with canned laughter, and… you get the idea. You start, if not believing, at least accepting that mocking senior forgetfulness or idiotic answers are funny! It’s called conditioning. Intentionally planned or not, we are conditioned by so many different influences. By the way, you’ll find that the shows that are truly funny are filmed before a “live studio audience” although even there, much of the laughter is stimulated with signs or augmented with add canned expressions.

Back to our question: When did we stop trusting love? When did we stop believing that love is a better answer to evil than evil? The answer is easy. Look at the centuries of conditioning we’ve been subjected to, not by laugh tracks but by political realities, by talkers who have never looked beyond themselves and thought of the necessity for peace. From the Trojan War to the Peloponnesian War, to World War II to Ukraine, we have been conditioned to fight fire with fire, even though we all, without exception all, know that you fight fire with water. The conditioning has been so intense that we have not given love a chance and we’ve shelved Jesus’ command to love, even our enemies, in the category of impractical idealism.

We have never tried love as a solution to evil. It is just as ridiculous as Puerto Rico being the capital of the United States and we assign it an obligatory laugh track.

We end today with a meditation by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The words flow from the lips of our Lord and Master: “Ye have heard it said of old that thou shall love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, love your enemies. Bless them that curse you. Do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.”

These are great words, words lifted to cosmic proportions. And over the centuries men have argued that the actual practice of this command just isn’t possible. …Far from being the impractical idealist, Jesus is the practical realist, and the words of this text stand before us with new urgency. And far from being the pious injunction of a utopian dreamer, this command is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization. Yes, love is the key to the solution of the problems of our world, love even for enemies.*

*Excerpt from a sermon delivered by Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Detroit Council of Churches’ Lenten Service, March 7, 1961

Cover photo: Envato Elements

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