While watching a TV comedy, have you ever sat beside someone — a friend or relative — who nudges you at every laugh line to make sure you understood how funny the joke was? Did you want to kill him? Did you refrain from doing so? Yes? Good for you.
I wrote the above lines before I booted up my computer to see if I needed to do some "laugh tracks" research. What I discovered is that the science or art of manufactured laughter is a huge one, going back several decades.
And it's a stormy history. I don't have room to mention all the details, but they're there on the Web waiting for you, if you care enough.
As of this moment, we live in a brainwashed society when it comes to TV humor. And the odds are heavily in favor of installing (and keeping) artificial laugh tracks on almost every show that has the smallest giggle or quip written into the dialogue. The reasons are several.
One is that most people like to laugh. Especially when the joke is on someone besides the viewer or listener. Laughter aimed at a common target helps the audience (you and me) feel superior to the actors or actresses who are performing.
It also makes the performers and TV advertisers performers feel good. How do we know? Simple: the crowd chuckled or guffawed, didn't they? You heard them, right? Well, not always.
What you almost certainly heard was electronically recorded laughter, carefully engineered by highly-trained technicians. Their primary goal: make the phony laughter sound exactly the way the show's sponsors wanted it to. God forbid that a genuine belly laugh should suddenly come out, instead of the titter or mild chuckle that the writers had been seeking.
That's the beauty of living in the 21st century, when almost any form of reality can be imitated.
That's enough on this topic. (Here insert enthusiastic reader applause.)
Of possibly more importance to viewers is something I learned just this week: it's possible to get rid of TV advertisements and other unasked-for and unwanted interruptions during your TV watching. The process is called "ad blocking." It is described in detail on the internet. I commend it to you.
I'm embarrassed that I've become aware of this just now, after my years of griping and sputtering about the influence of advertisers. I'm not opposed to them. After all, they're the folks who pay for most of the programs we watch.
What I object to is their freedom (in many cases) to run as many ads as they like in a row, to interrupt a program whenever they wish and to display the same exact ad for months at a time. (Feel free to insert your own advertising gripes here.)
We should keep in mind at least two positive aspects: (A) Some of the advertisements are clever, entertaining and helpful. (B) If I don't like an ad, I can always click a button and get rid of it. This is called "The Freedom to Squelch" and is protected by the U.S. Constitution (Section 57, Article 804, Amendment 13.)
However, the advertising industry has an even stronger principle, known as "The Golden Rule." It says "Them what has the gold, makes the rules." We see and hear it in action every time we turn on the tube.
An so it goes. Isn't life puzzling, and grand?