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Crowd Reaction

October 13, 2009

alg_split_leno_lettermanIt seemed to begin like the hundreds of shows that had preceded it.  But the October 1, 2009 episode of Late Night with David Letterman was unlike any of those. As he sat behind his desk, Letterman revealed an extortion plot that was intended to blackmail him for 2 million dollars. A CBS producer had threatened to write a book (or even a screenplay) based on Letterman’s behind the scenes indiscretions. He was accusing Letterman of sleeping with members of his staff, and he was planning to reveal it to the world. As it turned out, the producer was arrested, and Dave beat him to the punch. The strangest thing about watching Letterman’s admission of those actions with staff members, which has been reproduced on several stations and websites, was hearing the laughter from the studio audience.

I have actually been in the studio audience for Late Night before – front row of the balcony on the far right. I was in college, and I had to miss a chorus trip to New York to participate in the Homecoming Play. With the help of some frequent flyer miles, Dad took me on a short trip to New York to make up for it – just long enough for us to visit the Empire State Building, see a Broadway play, check out Times Square, and watch a taping of Letterman. While you probably know there are applause signs in the audience, you might not realize there are several Late Night employees standing in the aisles, “encouraging” you to laugh. It caught me off guard to see a man standing next to Dad laughing loudly, and even nudging people when he thought they weren’t laughing as hard as they should. So, when Letterman spilled the details of this scandal a couple of weeks ago, it probably sounded like a joke. The nervous audience was laughing and clapping, as if waiting for the punch-line. But there was no punch-line, because this was no set-up. As he discussed having sex outside of marriage with multiple members of his staff, everyone laughed. When he joked about the shock they must be experiencing upon discovering women had consented to have sex with him, the audience clapped. The story, as it was reported on most major media outlets, had little to do with those affairs and much to do with the extortion plot.

As I watched it, I wondered what I would have done if he made that admission the day we were in the audience. You see, when everyone is laughing, a flashing sign is telling you to applaud, and a grinning person on your left is eyeing you to make sure you cooperate, it is easy to laugh. In fact, there were times during the taping when I was laughing because everyone else was; I wasn’t even sure what had been said. And if you think about it, isn’t the laughter of the audience that night pretty typical of what our country has come to expect from its entertainment? After all, when people joke about sex in a sitcom, the studio audience might cheer or the laugh track might crank up at just the right time. When two people sleep together on a TV drama, fans might blog about what a great episode that was. When it happens in a movie, it might be called “cinematic genius.” It might seem strange to see people laughing at that particular situation, but isn’t that just the logical result of what we have been trained to think is funny? Do we stop and think about what we are laughing at? Have you ever caught yourself repeating a joke or a scene from a TV show, only to realize halfway through that the entire premise of that episode was based on something God has commanded us not to do?

We are surrounded by people who are encouraging us to laugh. The flashing sign of our culture is telling us to applaud things that are shameful and to be ashamed if we disagree. The people next to you might be watching to see your reaction. What if instead of laughing, we prayed for the people involved? What if we lovingly but strongly refused to affirm sin? What if we looked for ways to reach the people involved with the life-changing message of God that doesn’t just modify some behavior but completely changes lives from the inside out? What if our crowd gave that reaction? It might not make a story that media outlets will be scrambling to report, but it could change some lives, families, and ultimately the world. I guess we just have to decide how we want to react.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. October 13, 2009 3:46 pm

    What if, by our loving pacifism towards this type of humor, we create a new way in which our children and, dare I say our church, will operate in the world?

    Good thoughts.

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