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Embarrassment vs. Humiliation

I love comedy, and I like to think that I have a good sense of humor.  I take pride in the fact that I can generally make the people around me laugh.  It is my defense mechanism.  My particular brand of comedy falls into self-deprecating humor.  I will make fun of myself to get a laugh more often than I will make fun of somebody else.  Probably because of this I don’t embarrass easily. This being said, there seems to be a branch of comedy that has infiltrated the main stream that no matter how open I try to be, I can’t enjoy. It’s the comedy that goes a step beyond embarrassment and into humiliation. I will go from loving a movie to wanting nothing to do with it as soon as that line is crossed.

Self-deprecating humor doesn’t bother me, if Jim Carey wants to make as ass out of himself to get a laugh, more power to him. I don’t necessarily find it funny, but it doesn’t bother me.  Everything that he does is his choice.  There is no loss of control. He is not being forced to do anything. In contrast, the scene in BRIDESMAIDS where everybody gets sick and there aren’t enough bathrooms to go around, so one woman uses a sink and another winds up taking a crap in the middle of the street, I don’t find that the least bit funny.  In fact I find it in very poor taste.

I know what you’re thinking; you think I don’t like it because the whole scene is about poop. Nope, I have nothing against poop jokes.  Poop jokes abound in Shakespeare and I love his work.  I don’t like it because that situation isn’t embarrassing, it’s humiliating.  The so-called comedy is derived from a situation, that if it happened in real life, the person would be absolutely mortified. They might shrug it off and slink away, or even try to make a joke out of it, but if you looked into their eyes, you would see that a part of them had just died inside. It is a degradation of the human spirit so cleverly disguised, that people no longer see it as such and it becomes acceptable.

In general, I am not an overly empathetic person. I have never lost sleep because of the starving children in Africa or because of the atrocious conditions of our inner cities. Some people are made to be humanitarians. I am not. So why does this bother me so much?  It isn’t somebody I know or me being humiliated after all. I think it is because laughter is one of the most powerful forces in our arsenal, and using the humiliation or degradation of others for comedy, for laughter, is one of the lowest forms of entertainment.

I don’t find that funny.

Embarrassing situations on the other hand I find very funny. I love slapstick, or situational comedy. Give me a guy stepping on a rake and getting smacked in the face and I will laugh until my sides ache.

Garfield - Rake

The kid on the bike delivering papers in WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING makes me laugh so hard I cry every time I watch the movie. For me the difference lies in the semantics. These are embarrassing, not humiliating. If no one were around to be witness you would either continue on with your day and forget that it ever happened or find the humor in it and tell a friend later to share the laugh. If no one is around to witness something humiliating, you thank God up above for your good luck and never tell anyone that it happened, but you will always remember. To me that’s the difference. Humiliation requires judgment from others. Embarrassment can be a solo activity.

And yes, that is very subjective.  I am quite sure that there are things that I would only find mildly embarrassing, while somebody who is more sensitive might find the same thing humiliating.  But my general rule of thumb is that if it is something that you will look back on in ten years and feel ashamed then it belongs in a tragedy.  If no, then it’s fodder for comedy.