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No Need to Be Self-Conscious
Scooby Doo, Laugh Tracks, and the Permission to Grieve Ambiguous Loss
Last week I got pulled into watching Scooby Doo with my daughter. She was hanging off the couch with furrowed brows and squinty eyes, trying her hardest to deduce which unsuspecting character was secretly giving Scooby, Shaggy and the rest of Mystery Inc. the business.
The back corner of my lower back is awkwardly propped up against the corner of the sectional. I’m uncomfortable, but I’m also feeling lazy. And it would be too much work to rearrange my body to find a comfortable position, so I figure I’d just lay there, get used to it, and pay for it when I try to stand up later. I’m scrolling through IG, and out of the corner of my eye I see my wife is just as engaged as my daughter. Both of them hurling wrong guesses about the culprit’s identity at the TV.
And then I hear it.
Not from Shawn & Ava, but from the TV. Scooby Doo seemed to be solving this crime in front of a live studio audience.
And then I hear it again.
But this time, Shawndra & Ava have joined in. And before I know it, I’m leaning forward. At some point, my phone took my spot on the sectional I didn’t want to leave and my brows are furrowed as the corners of my mouth are curling upward. Now, I’m guessing…and laughing…and enjoying my time with them.
And then I realized, it wasn’t Scooby Doo that sucked me in.
It was the laugh track.
An Invitation to Feel
In 1950 Chuckey Douglass invented the laugh track.
Remember those? Pre-recorded laughs inserted into your favorite shows in post production. Among many other reasons, Chuckey invented those to solve a particular problem. People’s self-consciousness embracing a common feeling in an unfamiliar different setting.
Watching TV sitcoms at home was a relatively new experience. As people moved away from attending live shows at the theatre, to using their kids as remotes when I LOVE LUCY came on, producers realized it was a new experience. These comedies adopted these laugh tracks to ease their audience into a new kind of entertainment.
Producers noticed that even at the filming of certain hit shows, people weren’t laughing at the right times. Not because the jokes weren’t funny, but because the viewers were self-conscious. Uncomfortable. Something didn’t feel quite right about laughing out loud if you weren’t confident other people were going to do the same. So people would be guarded in settings meant for a free expression of emotion.
We have this nasty habit of second guessing our emotions in community. We censor more than share. At least I do. The laugh track was meant to change all of that.
The laugh track was the gentle reminder that it’s not strange to laugh at a joke. More specifically, it’s not strange to laugh at this joke. Relax. Have a good time. Don’t be so self-conscious. Just ride the wave of your emotions for the 30 minutes you’re here.
A Different “Laugh Track”: Permission to Grieve:
I’ve started writing about Grief online to provide a laugh track of sorts—especially for ambiguous grief.
Ambiguous losses and grief may be a brand new experience to you. For most of us, it’s a new medium and we don’t quite know how to navigate it at home or in community. When it comes to something new, most people don’t feel the permission to grieve their losses for the same reason people don't feel the permission to laugh at sitcoms in a crowd.
Not because the loss isn’t a source of sadness, but because they’re self-conscious.
I want you to know that it’s not strange to cry at ambiguous loss, even in the face of people who are suffering different (notice, I didn’t say greater) tangible losses. Sometimes, all it takes is someone next to you, expressing the emotion you’ve been suppressing, to let you know it’s okay.
I hope this space is that “someone next to you.”
So today, SPEAK UP. You don’t need to be self-conscious, silent, or ashamed.
There’s other people around you, who are uncomfortably leaning back just waiting to be invited in to a communal experience of freedom.
Remember. You’re not crazy.
You’re not alone.
Day 7 of 30 Days of Hope.