Since the season finale aired Monday, I’ve been searching for a book that could explain why I spent sixteen hours of my life watching ABC’s The Bachelorette. My only explanation was that I found the show funny, but what’s funny about terrible television? Or, better yet, what does it say about me that I found the show funny? Luckily I found Dr. Avener Ziv’s Personality and Sense of Humor to help me make better understand why I love to laugh at bad television.
Dr. Ziv’s argument is that there are five basic functions of laughter: aggression, sexual, social, intellectual, and humor as defense mechanism. I don’t know if each function fits my Bachelorette habit, so I’ve chosen the three most relevant.
First, Dr. Ziv argues laughter is an important way to release aggression in a socially acceptable way. The good doctor says, “When we succeed in reducing someone’s power or status, it is as if we have elevated ourselves in comparison with him” (8). Dr. Ziv would argue that by mocking Ali (The Bachelorette) I’m bringing her down a level and thus making myself feel better. I won’t deny that mocking Ali is good fun but I would argue that her social “status” is not really high enough to obtain much satisfaction. Mocking Ali the first time she tried to say “important” properly was fun. But by “impor’ant” one hundred, the thrill was gone. My point is that I’m certainly a bad enough person to mock Ali but I’m not a boring enough person to mock her for sixteen hours. There has to be something else.
That something else could be what Ziv calls the “social function of humor.” This is an important part of The Bachelorette because it provides the social group a shared experience to loath. I was speaking with one colleague about the show and she remarked (I’m not naming names) that during parts of The Bachelorette she imagined causing Ali harm, by “punching her in the face.” Now in general it’s not nice to say you’d like to punch another person but we both laughed because, sadly, we both would like to punch Ali. This colleague and I shared a moment through our mutual disdain for The Bachelorette. I’m not saying it’s nice but it’s less terrible when you know other people feel the same way. Isn’t it? NOTE: The MLC Reference Department does not condone punching anyone at any time, unless it is in one's imagination.
The last important function of The Bachelorette is that it provides an uncomfortable stimulus. On the surface this may seem unlikely because people usually do not like uncomfortable situations. Dr. Ziv recognizes this is not the case. He says, “We are all aware of the natural tendency to withdraw and escape from frightening situations. Less generally known but no less well established is the fact that the frightening also attracts and stimulates. Adults have an undeniable need for anxiety, as is evident from the literature and movies that take advantage of the need for the enjoyment of mankind.”(45) This is what could be called the “train wreck” phenomenon where you can’t look but you can’t look away. If The Bachelorette doesn’t cause you to be uncomfortable then you really do have problems.
So what did I learn from Personality and Sense of Humor? Well, I learned that I am not a very good person. Mocking and wanting to hit someone is not very mature behavior for an adult. More importantly though, I learned that no one is a very good person because mocking and wanting to hit someone, especially someone like Ali, is totally natural.
Ziv, Avner. Personality and Sense of Humor. New York: Springer Publishing Company, 1984.