Sunday, May 21, 2006

Stella Says…We are paying a high price for a good laugh

by Stella Ramsaroop

(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 21 May 2006)

I like a good laugh just as much as the next person. Although the slapstick humor of the Three Stooges has never been my forte, I have been known to laugh to the point of tears while watching John Lithgow on "3rd Rock from the Sun."

I also like a bit of sarcasm in my comedies. Those are the types I find the funniest. Who can resist a wry smile and a punchy line delivered with just the right timing?

However, I'm finding it more and more difficult to find comedy that is actually funny without being offensive. I'm not talking about the kind of offence that simply makes a head shake in disbelief of the material's poor taste. I'm talking about offences that have shock jock value - or worse.

These comedies make fun of sensitive ideas and values to get a laugh. I've seen it on "South Park" when the show poked fun at Jennifer Lopez with stereotypical racial remarks that would send chills up the spine of any Hispanic.

I've seen stand-up comedians who berate groups of people because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, geographical location, financial status and intellectual capacity - all of which are qualities that define each of us as an individual.

I have even seen this rude and unseemly behaviour on kids' cartoons. "Johnny Bravo" can make U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas look like a choirboy.

There are many adults today who moan about the unruly condition of today's classroom due to a lack of respect from the students. Parents say it is getting more difficult to get children to use the manners they are taught at home. There is certainly no doubt that our youth are ruder than ever.

We don't have to look far to find the mentor of the hard-to-handle attitude and crude language. It's the good old "boob tube," as my mom use to call it.

The shock value of today's entertainment world has definitely moved into every venue of comedy. I don't usually care about this type of stuff. Hey, if someone wants to eat scorpions on some reality show just to be on television, what business is it of mine?

However, it was when I saw something that made my skin curl and my heart drop right to the floor that I started wondering how far is too far in today’s crass world. It was a commercial on Comedy Central with a boy in a wheelchair next to a man who asked, "Are pathetic, disgusting-looking sick people ruining your favourite telethon?"

The man then gave the wheelchair a good shove and said, "Not any more," as the boy went crashing off camera. Without missing a beat, the man nonchalantly continued with the purpose of the commercial.

Although I had seen the commercial twice in one hour, I never did discover the point of the commercial. I was so deeply offended by this horrid act that my mind just could not move on.

Even though I knew it wasn't real, all I could think about was jumping into the screen to help the boy. See, in my head, that boy was my own brother. I had a brother who was a wheelchair-user due to Muscular Dystrophy from the age of 5 until he died at 15 from the disease. He was five years older than me, so I had never known him without a wheelchair.

My entire childhood was spent helping my single mother take care of my brother. He couldn't dress himself, go to the bathroom by himself or play with the neighbourhood kids when we gathered in the alley to play kickball.

The disease eventually took all of his mobility, and toward the end of his life, he couldn't even feed himself. He couldn't even turn over in bed if he wanted.

So when I saw that commercial, my natural reaction was that of compassion. I needed to help the boy. Then reality hit and I was furious. This time they had gone too far. This was not the least bit funny. In fact, it was nothing but putrid manure in my eyes.

What does this type of behaviour say about our society? When did we decide it was comical to make fun of someone with a disability? Are we really so starved for entertainment that we stoop to deriding the disabled just to get a laugh?

We like to think ourselves so enlightened and so intellectually progressive, but this trend in shock entertainment clearly shows that there are still areas where we are no more evolved than any other animal on earth - perhaps even less so.

In a society where capitalism rules and money speaks loudly, the ratings of any show are what drive these acts of inhumane behaviour. In other words, barbarism and cruelty equals money in the pocket. We have been reduced to animal-like savagery so some corporate media executive can buy a new private jet.

I'm not suggesting we become puritanical, but can't we at least be decent? Can't we at least show some form of human goodwill and morality? Have we sold our souls just to have a good laugh? That is a high price just to get a laugh.

Can't we demonstrate at least some of the qualities that separate us from the rest of the animal world, like the capacity to reason and show compassion?

Maybe as a society it's time to dig deep and find a conscience again. Perhaps it's time to start putting the feelings of people before money. One thing is for sure, it is high time to stop gobbling up everything we are fed by the media and start thinking for ourselves again.

In other words, we just need to start being human again.

Email: StellaSays[at]

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