Laugh Tracks

Apparently, laugh tracks make audiences enjoy shows more. But also, laugh tracks are rightfully seen as a synthetic and somewhat repulsive attempt to control the impressions of the audience. Here’s an interesting paper on  ithttp://muse.jhu.edu/journals/the_velvet_light_trap/summary/v068/68.bore.html

From a philosophy perspective, this is fascinating. To me, it dramatizes the war that philosophers are always fighting which is to draw the line between the natural and the semantic, our animal nature our and our capacity for higher thought.

On the one hand, of course laugh tracks make us enjoy a show more. The whole purpose of humor, biologically speaking, is social nature. We don’t know the details, but its to help grease the skids a little so we can like each other and get along when we’re trying to live in a mate hierarchy in the jungle. Laughter is contagious, people know that from common senese. It’s on the many ways our very nature pushes us into a social order.

But we are not just monkeys anymore. We have an ability for higher interpretation of symbols. We have cognition and when we think about the laugh track from this perspective, it may seem trite, manipulative, or just insulting. Why allow network moguls to direct and subtly influence the meaning of the content presented before us? Of course they do this in thousands of ways, but even our humor? Really? But notice that this objection relies on concepts like “meaning” “interpretation,” and “media moguls” all of which do not exist in nature. These are human creations and so the laugh track interferes with them.

As philosophers, the goal should be to bring reconciliation or to say why we should side with one or the other. Utilitarians of some versions will side with laugh tracks. What matters is our mammalian feelings. We need food and warmth and happy feelings. Humor is just one way to get that, and if that means laugh tracks, then by god laugh tracks. Others will side with our cognitive side. Don’t take away interpretation, leave open the possibility to engage our cognitive architecture, they will shout. I don’t have a clear answer, I only want to point out where the battlefield is.


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