The Golden Girls- Laughing Tracks


I guess I have to acknowledge that the Golden Girls is a classic and in many ways was progressive for its time. But because humor is so deeply rooted in context and the cultural zeitgeist it rarely stands the test of time, only jokes that reference the show in of itself can be funny, i.e. if Sophia says something sassy in relation to Blanche. But Bea Arthur talking about a bald girl with a nose ring doesn’t have the shock value it did back then.

Also, another thing that bugged me, which isn’t the show’s fault and it quite surprisingly bugs me– I don’t quite remember when we transitioned away from laughing tracks– the first show I can recall (actually watching) without them is Malcolm in the Middle. But being told when to laugh is almost physically distressing to me, so much so that I don’t laugh when something is funny because someone else is doing it for me. However, I remember when shows moved away from laughing tracks, being startled from it and not knowing when something was a joke or not.

I think laughing tracks, much like musical queues are very clearly a way of manipulating the audience into feeling or recognizing what emotions or actions are being conveyed in a scene. I know that when I started watching As The World Turns, out of sheer boredom, it was hilarious because the musical queues often did not accurately convey what was going on. I think the move toward getting rid of laughing tracks– kind of raises the bar– or rather the attention span of the viewer. In order to know what’s funny in Arrested Development or The Office, you kind of have to be very aware of what’s going on. My parents hated these shows because there was no laughing track something that they were very accustomed to, the show simply wasn’t funny to them because there was no indication that it was supposed to be.

I wonder how the laughing track thing got started at all? Was it because TV was such an unfamiliar medium it had to be spoon fed? I don’t believe there was any laughing track in the theater? A movie without a soundtrack would be a bizarre experience, but I wonder if the inclusion of music and laughing tracks is a way of underestimating the viewer? I wonder how many people would stop watching TV and film if those things were no longer included?



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2 Responses to “The Golden Girls- Laughing Tracks”

  1. dolexwatch Says:

    You make a very interesting point here, the laugh track is something I always disliked about tv as well, it made it seem so prescribed and cheap somehow and seemed to completely disrespect a viewers ability to comprehend TV comedy. More interesting to me, but on a bit of a tangent I suppose, is its usefulness purely as a persuasive tool on such a deep rooted level. As you mentioned your parents find it hard to transition away from the laugh track after growing accustomed to it, which makes it seem as though the laughtrack changed the very fundamentals of comedy itself by changing the reason a laugh is created at a base level. It makes me wonder about the impact of “news” programs such as the infamous o’reilly show, which seems to have combined various cues accumulated over years of TV journalism, to create simply a shell of a news show, infused with very subjective, opinion based material. Yet the cues are so strong (the set, corny intro music, important guests, all that good stuff) that I feel many will take what they are given as actual news, which is objective, despite the fact that under close analysis that not the case. It is really the art of distraction. But here is a little combination of the two topics.

  2. ser312 Says:

    Žižek has a whole theory about the interpassive subject where discusses canned laughter. Its really interesting, just thought I’d suggest it for anybody interested, it definitely is in line with what you talk about here. He’s published it in a few different forms, I read it in his book on Lacan, but I’m pretty sure you can google it and find it easily. It basically talks about the laugh track as a stand in for the observers own amusement. Where the laugh track enjoys the joke for us, taking away or active relationship to the show. Along with canned laughter he analyzes pornography, the Greek chorus and the weepers. Anyhoot I figured it’d be best if I just attached a link to it here. Its a great article,

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