If Life Had A Laff Track

Lets have a moment of silence for Charles Douglass, the man who invented the Laff Box. Hey, quit giggling! He died on April 8th after almost 50 years of adding laughter, titters, chortles, guffaws, and other unreal audience reactions to TV shows that its creators thought were being watched by people so stupid they wouldn't know when to laugh unless prompted. Of course it's also possible they've been adding them because they know how absent the humor is and figure that if they don't add laughs the audience probably won't either. Feel free to chuckle or groan now.

Don't take it personally, they don't think the studio audience is any smarter than you, the home viewer. If you've ever gone to the taping of a TV show you've seen the signs which light up and sitcom star wannabes who cue the audience when it's time to laugh or applaud. God help us if we were left to our own devices. See, we get confused easily, like the audiences on late night talk shows where the latest trend is not to laugh at jokes, but rather to applaud them. "It's not funny enough to laugh at, but we appreciate the fact that you're helping the economy by keeping that writer off the unemployment lines, not to mention out from behind the counter at our local 7-11 where we'd have to watch him snap his jaws loudly every time we ask for a Big Bite."

Television is the only medium that uses laugh tracks. Movies don't have them. Newspapers don't tell you to [insert laugh here] when you read the comics page, though judging by most of them it wouldn't be a bad idea. Humorous books don't use laugh tracks, nor are they included with the books on tape versions. Audio guides in museums don't have them either, not even when you find yourself standing in front of a canvas that looks remarkably like the drawings on your refrigerator which your artistically challenged 3-year-old niece did, probably because they assume that in this case you'll have no problem supplying your own laughter.

There is one place where a laugh track would be a nice addition, and that's everyday life. And why not? If six Academy Awards can be handed to a movie in which people burst into song and dance anyplace and anytime -- at least if they're in Chicago -- why couldn't there be giggles, laughter, and applause accompanying us every day? Wouldn't you feel good if when you remembered to put the toilet seat down or replaced the cap on the toothpaste without having to be reminded there was applause? How about if whenever you stuck your tongue out at your boss you heard tittering until he or she turned to look and then it would stop just as you pulled your tongue back in? Think about this: real life laugh tracks would mean not having to listen to Congress applaud every fourth word during the State of the Union address since even the most heavy-handed Laff Box technician wouldn't dream of overusing an effect that much when there was obviously no reason for it.

Aside from making life lighter, more fun, and more like the TV sitcom we all wish we were a part of, we'd feel much better knowing that we're laughing at the right moments. After all, nothing's more awkward than hearing someone say, "No, I'm serious" after you burst out laughing at the story of their grandmother becoming Chipmunk Chow after pilfering acorns from a tree in the back yard because Martha said the best wooden spoons came from oak you grew from scratch.

The truth is, it's not always easy to tell when people are trying to be funny. You can take a cue from those who laugh at their own jokes, except that's a dead giveaway that they never say anything funny. Then there are those who are so deadpan you don't know whether they're kidding or not. They say something, then stare, daring you to laugh. You know that if you laugh they'll ask what's so funny because they were serious, yet if you don't they'll say, "Hey, I'm kidding around, don't you have a sense of humor?" This is what's known as a no-win situation, much like being asked, "Does this make my butt look big?" or "Does my stomach poking out of the gaps between the buttons on my shirt remind you of Britney?" There are definitely times when being a deaf mute has its advantages.

Laugh tracks would also be good in emails, which are notorious for being misunderstood since there's no body language to help interpret the intended meaning. In real life people smile, raise their eyebrows, grimace, and stick their finger down their throat to help you understand their intentions. Actually, many of us do the same thing when sending emails, but the receiving party doesn't see it so all it does is remind those in the office who signed your commitment papers that they made the right decision.

That's why emoticons were invented. They're the goofy symbols comprised of punctuation marks people pepper through their emails which are supposed to look like a smile, a frown, and Macaulay Culkin doing his Home Alone look, though no matter how you turn your head or tilt the monitor they still look like the cat's been walking on the keyboard again. Emailing a laugh track as an attachment would be much more effective. It wouldn't be so cutesy, would clue the person in as to whether you're being sarcastic (groan), cute (awwww), clever (ohhhh!), or just a real laff riot. Best of all, a flood of email laugh tracks would clog up the Internet so much that there wouldn't be enough bandwidth left for all that spam to get through to you.

Hey, that was a joke. Hmmmmm.....come to think of it, maybe having laugh tracks in print isn't such a bad idea after all.

More Mad Dog can be found online at: www.maddogproductions.com.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Imagine you've forgotten once again the difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee, so you do a quick Google image search of “gorilla." But instead of finding images of adorable animals, photos of a Black couple pop up.

Is this just a glitch in the algorithm? Or, is Google an ad company, not an information company, that's replicating the discrimination of the world it operates in? How can this discrimination be addressed and who is accountable for it?

“These platforms are encoded with racism," says UCLA professor and best-selling author of Algorithms of Oppression, Dr. Safiya Noble. “The logic is racist and sexist because it would allow for these kinds of false, misleading, kinds of results to come to the fore…There are unfortunately thousands of examples now of harm that comes from algorithmic discrimination."

On At Liberty this week, Dr. Noble joined us to discuss what she calls “algorithmic oppression," and what needs to be done to end this kind of bias and dismantle systemic racism in software, predictive analytics, search platforms, surveillance systems, and other technologies.

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