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Why I Hate America's Funniest Home Videos, and You Should Too. [VIDEO]

By Rebecca Odes |

You’re at the pool with your kids. A teenager does a backflip off the diving board. The board collapses and falls into the pool underneath him.

At the park, a kid scales the climber and slips, hitting each rung on the ladder one by one on his way down.

While you’re walking to school, a man trips over the curb and falls flat on his face.

If your child saw any of these things happen, what do you think his reaction would be? How would you want him to feel? How would you expect him to act?

Is collapsing on the floor in a heap of hysterics appropriate in this situation? I’d say no. So why do we show our kids these kinds of unfortunate accidents…over and over and over, spliced together in rapid succession, to music and a laughtrack? That’s what happens every Sunday night when our kids watch America’s Funniest Home Videos.

I get it: Slapstick comedy is one of the oldest forms of entertainment. Why is this any worse than Charlie Chaplin or Tom and Jerry cartoons?  When we laugh at Buster Keaton or Jim Carrey, we’re laughing at something staged: actors exaggerating what’s likely to happen in reality. Even the clearly self-destructive Jackass, which takes slapstick to a deliberately life-threatening level, is…deliberate.

But when we show our kids America’s Funniest Home Videos, we’re teaching them to laugh at accidents. In real life, how many of the clips in the video below ended in tears? How many ended with a trip to the ER?

When I was at a family party on a recent Sunday, someone switched on AFHV. I had never seen it before, and neither had my kids. I watched their faces. For the first few crashes and splats, they looked confused. Was this really happening? Was someone getting hurt? But they looked to other kids for cues, and quickly realized that these events were meant to be funny, that they were supposed to ignore the context, override their empathy, and watch these real people’s misfortunes as if they were cartoons.

Does this affect kids’ ability to empathize with other people’s pain in real life? It’s hard to say. There might even be some benefits to making light of sad situations. But when I was watching the show, I kept thinking about video desensitization therapy, like in A Clockwork Orange, or the kind Sylvere Lotringer describes in Overexposed. A bit extreme, sure….but perhaps not as unrelated as you might think.

After the kids went to bed that Sunday night, the adults settled into the grown up version of America’s Funniest Home Videos: Tosh.0. After twenty minutes, I saw a montage of skinny, ill-cared for dogs looking mournfully at the camera. It wasn’t until the voiceover started that I realized this was an ad for the Humane Society. Before that, I had been watching these abused animals in a state of amusement, waiting for the punchline.

If this is what’s happening inside my brain when I watch this kind of television, what’s happening inside a brain that hasn’t even fully learned what empathy is yet?

How would you react in person? Truly Terrible Temper Tantrums caught on YouTube

 

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About Rebecca Odes

rebecca-odes

Rebecca Odes

Rebecca Odes is a writer, artist and mother. She was inspired to write her blog, From The Hips, during her first pregnancy when she discovered every pregnancy book she came across made her feel anxious or irritated. She lives in New York City with her husband and two children.

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15 thoughts on “Why I Hate America's Funniest Home Videos, and You Should Too. [VIDEO]

  1. Beth says:

    Agree! I’ve always disliked this show for this exact reason. I don’t find these accidents funny at all. I hadn’t thought about the desensitization factor. interesting.

  2. bob says:

    Dear AFV, please let Strollerderby borrow your laugh track when you’re done with it.

  3. anon says:

    I completely agree. Parts of that show are funny, but they’re not the parts where people get hurt OR where kids are being filmed while crying or tantruming. Sometimes I wonder if the people who made that show lack souls.

  4. Ashley says:

    I usually like AFHV, but I see your point, especially in regard to the pool videos. Many of those incidents could have ended in a serious injury or worse. It reminded of another video I saw recently related to firework fails. The compilation consisted mostly of videos showing people acting irresponsibly and mishandling fireworks. I didn’t find the video funny though because all I could think about was how most of those incidents could have resulted in severe burns, injuries, or someone’s death.

  5. stamped says:

    These strollerderby articles make me think that all you authors are super-sensitive helicopter mommies with way too much time on your hands to think about how the world is out to ruin your precious babies. Sit down, shut up, and let your kid eat a damn Oreo and laugh at idiots on TV every now and then.

  6. anon says:

    So that they’ll grow up to say things like “sit down and shut up” to the people around them? No thank you.

  7. K. Annie says:

    Now, I love AFV. I do. But, that’s obviously not a personal high point. I agree that some of the videos clearly result in real physical harm, and that it’s in poor taste to market the program as a family show for that reason but there’s also stuff on there that reminds us that life–and ordinary life in particular–is wonderfully funny and worth it. Nothing pulls me out of a funk more quickly and completely than this show. I’m embarrassed to admit that, but it’s true. It’s not glamourous. It’s not aspirational. But, it usually manages to remind me of all that’s right with an ordinary life: babies and dogs and kids and weddings and christmas mornings and having people in your life that would want to record you being ordinary. And, also, just to say it: clips that seem painful never win.

  8. Rosana says:

    I agree, I get more stress than laughter from watching that show. I am done by the second video.

  9. marj says:

    I never liked it,.but then i never liked tom and jerry either.

  10. meredith sinclair says:

    Fully agree. It’s SO not “helicopter mommy” syndrome to want your kids to have a little empathy for people getting visibly hurt rather than standing by and howling.

    I’m actually a bit shocked that show is still on the air. If you have 30 minutes for TV, there are so many better options people.

  11. KBeach says:

    C’mon, be realistic. You make it sound like the Jackass movies. The entirity of the show isn’t made of falls, and people getting hurt. Lots of it is babies laughing or doing funny things. Other times, it’s animals who jump into a pile of leaves or can’t be seen underneath a heap of snow and sometimes it’s grandmas misunderstanding technology (thinking a microphone is a telephone). And, hasn’t any of us ever fell and, in hindsight, it was quite humorous? Yes, sometimes it hurts but I think it also teaches us to be resilient, not meant to be mean or lose empathy. (I mean really, those are usually the same people who are sending them in.) These are perfect shows to teach children lessons, and when it is and isn’t okay to laugh.

  12. Catherine says:

    We love AFV here and I haven’t noticed any ill side effects on my kids as they grow. I think it is overkill to say that this show makes us less empathetic or less human. Isn’t it our jobs as grown ups to teach out children the difference between a funny show and how to behave in real life if they were to find themselves in a situation where someone needed help because they tripped on the curb?

    Come on…..seriously. Lighten up.

  13. OldMom says:

    Wow, uptight much? My kids watch the show occasionally and are both exceptionally empathetic to other people’s pain. They have NEVER reacted to someone being really hurt by “collapsing on the floor in a heap of hysterics”. When we watch the show together, they see that we react to the falling with both laughter and concern – it’s possible to have both.

    They also DO get teary when they see the Humane Society commercials – one even covers his eyes as soon as he hears the music because it makes him so sad.

    The fact that your brain didn’t recognize the change from a funny scene to a horrifying one (especially when you have the sad, musical cues of those commercials), probably has a lot more to do with the amount of attention you were paying and how tired you were, than your insensitivity caused by watching 20 minutes of Tosh.O.

    One more thing. That feeling of horror you had when you realized it was an Humane Society commercial and not a joke, is EXACTLY why they bought that ad space – to maximize the effect of their commercial. They were counting on that reaction because it’s perfectly normal – not sociopathic

  14. Adriana says:

    Some times the stuff on America’s funniest video is well not really all that funny. But we don’t have cable T.V. in my house. I don’t have to worry about fighting over what they can and can’t watch. Even when I am not home. No they are not board. They do other things they are more creative, they draw, read write stories. Play out side. Doing things they should be doing as a kid.

  15. Jackie says:

    The ASPCA and Humane Society have to realize exploiting abuaed animals only adds fuel to the fire of animal abuse. Frankly, it’s amazed me how they can be so hypocritical. Abusing animals is wrong, but us essentially showing ten minutes of abused animals gratuitously is just as bad. It’s like adverstising against child abuse, then showing videos of abused children for the sickos who would enjoy abusing children to get off to.

    The ASPCA ads have become so infamously horrible, that even South Park parodied the ad on an episode, with the kids going “Oh God not THAT ad again!” about something almost equally disturbing, it’s South Park you know what kind of humor to expect from them. They either are turning on the people who enjoy animal abuse, or turning off those who care about animals.

    Everyone loses, because as most people who care for animals would feel, they’re not giving money to a supposedy advocacy organization that promotes themselves with animal torture porn. Even if it’s the aftermath, only an idiot would think that would gain revenue. Instead, it’s just given me a Pavlovian response to hit the mute button anytime I look up and see the ad starting.

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