I always tell myself that I don’t care about what other people think of me, and 90% of the time, I believe it. It’s not until I stumble over a crooked tile in public when suddenly nothing matters more in the world to me than what the person behind me is thinking.
Embarrassment is a cruel thing, because your brain has a way of blowing every little thing out of proportion. Something as simple as tripping in public might give someone behind you a slight chuckle, but in your head they’re laughing at your very existence and are probably planning to tell everyone in the world what a clumsy, useless fool you are.
Annoyingly, we don’t only feel embarrassment for ourselves – we feel it for others as well. Sometimes it’s even worse when you’re feeling it for others, because at least when it’s you, you can control what you’re doing – when it’s some random spod, they could do anything to further the embarrassment. In comes Television.
Film and TV mercilessly combine the two aforementioned types of embarrassment. We project ourselves onto the characters, we feel as though we know them and we have a connection – but we also have absolutely no control over what they do in embarrassing situations. It’s freaking unbearable.
For many TV shows and films, this is a core element. Take for example, the beloved The Office (US or UK version – I’m not picky.) The show centres around a dimwitted boss who frequently get’s himself into horribly humiliating situations with disastrous repercussions. You as the viewer are forced to watch as he digs himself into these holes, and there’s bugger all you can do about it. It’s a horribly painful experience, yet, it’s one of the most popular sitcoms of recent years. Many episodes have me blocking my ears and looking away because I simply cannot deal with the level of humiliation happening on screen, yet, it’s one of my favourite TV shows of all time.
It’s similar to horror I guess. Horror movies are designed to garner a negative emotional reaction to it’s content, and yet we as viewers cannot get enough. It’s a strange attraction we as humans have to experiencing things that make us uncomfortable.
Another piece of televisual entertainment that creates a similar uncomfortable sensation is reality TV – more specifically shows such as X Factor and Pop Idol. Most people who watch these shows couldn’t give a damn about the music, or watching these small time dolts become big time dolts, they care about watching people make absolute fools of themselves. It’s even worse with reality TV, because you know it’s real – you know that this could literally be ruining somebodies life.
The sad truth of why we enjoy watching other people humiliate themselves – despite the fact it makes us horribly uncomfortable – is that it makes us feel better about ourselves. Don’t even deny it, if you’ve done something stupid that day, watching some poor sod frankly dwarf your situation is guaranteed to ease up the pressure you are putting on yourself. It’s like therapy. Extremely unbearable and hard to watch therapy.
The trouble with this otherwise perfect solution to humiliation, is that it adds the additional fear that maybe something stupid you might do will end up on TV. A somewhat irrational fear I realise, but a fear nonetheless. Should this fear be realised, you would have to deal with knowing that you, yes, you, are now officially the loser whom other losers look down to and say: “Well, at least i’m not that bad.” You will be immortalised by the infinite black whole that is television as being that guy.
Don’t be that guy.