The sitcom “Mom” airs on CBS, a half-hour show. It’s about an adult daughter who didn’t make it on her own, so she lives with her alcoholic mother. They rarely have anything nice to say to each other. Instead, they constantly lob verbal grenades at each other. It’s supposed to be funny. It’s really sad, though. Even when they want to be nice to each other, they just can’t do it. The result is a hollow, bitter relationship portrayed as “good as it gets.”
What’s good about this? Does it depict a healthy relationship? Is Love the motivator? Are there any attempts at reconciliation o healing? I’d have to say not. For these reasons, much of what passes for humor these days really grinds my gears. I was told long ago that you don’t build yourself up by cutting (putting) others down. It still seems like sound advice. Yet whether it’s on the stand-up circuit or primetime TV, put-downs seem to be the accepted way to get a laugh.
Perhaps this sort of humor is so popular because it reflects the society we live in. Though we like to pretend we’re culturally advanced, evidence speaks differently. It’s easier to stiff-arm someone than to care. We’re not so far from anarchy and mayhem as we pretend. As the world we live in becomes more crowded, we owe it to each other to reach “up” to find humor. Down is easy, whether we’re talking about motion or humor. The pull of gravity is one thing most of us will never escape for more than a few seconds. Up requires (almost) constant effort. We can be generous and kind and loving. It just takes work. There is still plenty to laugh about.
Negativity seems to be part of our genetic psyche. I heard on a radio program that it takes only one negative comment to erase five positive comments. The program went on to observe that perhaps this is why one cutting comment has such a lasting impact in intimate relationships. But if this is the case, are we doomed to negativity?
Faith says otherwise. Imagine life lived with a piece of paper taped to your back that read “help me succeed.” Is that not what Christ is asking us to do when we treat the “least of these” as we would him? What does that mean? To treat others with the grace of forgiveness? To allow for the fact that their own story influences who they are now? We cannot control their story from the past, but it might influence our responses to them so that we are able to meet them where they are, not where we think they should be. It could mean not making assumptions about their motives or agenda. Those might seem obvious or transparent to us, but as we say around here, “assume makes an ass out of “u” and “me.”
When we laugh at things, at situations, our attention is directed away from our own shortcomings. We are provided with a way to attack the problem, not the person. This is a key in the process of problem solving. Resorting to verbal trench-warfare keeps barriers to progress in place. Don’t remind me of my failures. I had not forgotten them (Jackson Browne). Both mother and daughter have their raw places of alcoholism & failure. Neither salves the other’s hurts.
There is such a thing as a sitcom that makes us think. We can root for the characters rather than jeering. In the 1970s (admittedly ancient history to many) Alice was on CBS in the evening. In this case, Alice was a single mom raising a teenage daughter. The show revolved around Alice’s work at the diner and her other job- -raising her daughter. While the road was not always smooth, and the characters weren’t always nice to each other, they cared about each other. Alice’s boss, Mel, was portrayed as somewhat of a jerk. When the chips were down, his heart of gold shone through. Schneider, the maintenance man for the apartment where Alice lived, had an inflated ego and was somewhat of a letch. In spite of those qualities, he was there to help when he was really needed.
Humor is needed. Research has shown that it is an essential part of a healthy mental diet. To provide for that need, God provided plenty of quirkiness in creation. We fail to grasp Her sense of humor though, because we’re often too self-absorbed to see or comprehend it. Putting others down to get a laugh unnecessary. It creates a paradigm for how to treat others. This qualifies as one of those places religion has something to say to culture: what if the paradigm was to lift up, love, and praise, laughing all the while? We can choose to take a playful, loving approach to life and those who touch us. My observation is that when this approach is used, the results are far more positive. It’s hard to stay angry at someone who is nice or caring towards us.
The old saying about catching more flies with sugar than vinegar may be true. The sourness of the vinegar may linger. Sometimes it seems to overpower the sweetness of affirmation and success. If we accept the “sour” model of shows like “Mom,” what can we expect but sourness? There is a “more excellent way.” Counterintuitive? Maybe. Hard work? Yes. Worth it? Definitely.