It comes from the strategically inserted laugh track, a sound byte of laughter that serves as non-verbal communication. And it’s always an instruction. If translated into words it would say something like, “In case you didn’t think this funny, you need to know others are laughing at it, so get with the program.” In a way, it's also an explicit admission of failure. Those who insert the laugh track are essentially saying, “We know the material itself isn’t that funny, so we add this in. If we can’t get people to laugh at the material, we'll get them to laugh at other people laughing. What’s it matter as long as they feel good about it in the end?”
It works out to be a form of psychological conditioning which makes for reaction without reason. It's like that day in jr. high when you found yourself at the lunch table with the cool kids. Smirk when they smirk. Laugh when they laugh. It doesn't matter if you know why. They're the cool kids.
In thinking about this it dawned on me that we live in a laugh track culture. For the most part, our leaders are elected, our laws are passed, and our sense of right and wrong is formed, all by reactions without reasons.
In politics and ethics the laugh track's job is done by buzz words--emotionally charged, but undefined words that go off like fireworks; they’re really impressive at first, but they have no content, and so dissolve into darkness after a brief explosion. Some contemporary favorites are words like "rights," "equality," and "freedom." Just as sitcom writers insert the laugh track into the weak points of their script, the cool kids in our government, and some other popular dilettantes of morality, insert buzz words into the weak points of their arguments, or in place of arguments altogether.
The purpose of the laugh track is to make you laugh without knowing why. The purpose of buzz words is to make you agree without knowing why.
But the thing to remember is that laugh tracks are only effective when we're not aware of them. Once we’re conscious, they lose all their power. The next time you hear a laugh track, if you’re not genuinely laughing at the show, stop and identify the weakness it tries to compensate for. Your TV viewing will be interrupted by sporadic judgments--“Ah, that was so predictable.” “How is that funny?” “What a tired stereotype.”
And the next time you hear some politician or news anchor or celebrity give an impassioned speech, do the same. You'll find your attention to the speech interrupted by sporadic judgments--"Marriage equality? Wait a minute. He's talking about men sodomizing each other!" "Women's rights? Hold up. They're talking about women killing their own children in the womb."
Let's make it clear to them that the jig is up. Laugh tracks don't make us laugh and buzz words don't make us agree. Let's resort back to the antiquated approach that values truth more than appearance, reveres truth more than feelings, and seeks truth through discernment. Such an approach lacks fireworks pizazz, and it will definitely put us at odds with the cool kids, but it will also leave us something to stand on after the glittering flares have all turned dark.