Saturday, March 03, 2007

Experiments in Sarcasm


I just got home from going to see Little Children. Not a perfect movie, not by a long shot. For one thing the voice over sounded a little like someone decided to read the actor's directions out loud, in case the audience just wasn't getting it. A few of the scenes were really well done, but the back and forth between the effective scenes and and the pedantic voiceover was a little like reading a good novel only to find that random pages have been torn out and replaced by pages from the Cliffs Notes. But any movie that has Kate Winslet, a discussion of Madame Bovary, and a bunch of Hummels getting smashed to pieces can't be all bad (Although, with respect to the Hummels, the film suffers from a bit from SYMBOLISM. "Quick class what does the playground symbolize?").

I went to this movie alone, something I do quite often nowadays in this solitary phase of my life. I really don't mind going to see movies alone. When it comes down to it movies are not much of a social activity, yes you get to talk before and after, and hopefully there is dinner or drinks or something, but most of the time, during the actual film, you might as well be alone. However, I find that if you are going to the movies alone, it is best to plan the showing accordingly, in general matinees are good, weekdays best of all. Then practically everyone is alone. This particular evening I went to see a movie alone on a Saturday night, which is perhaps not the best choice. Saturday night tends to be filled with couples, this can easily make the transition from alone to lonely.

I got to the film five minutes before it was supposed to start, in general a little late for my taste, but I thought that this would allow me to slip in as the one solitary guy amongst all of the dating couples. Alas, no. There was a huge crowd filling the lobby and spilling out onto the street. Apparently, the last showing of the film had not let out yet, and didn't get out for another fifteen minutes. First, this was awkward. There were many colleagues from the University in the crowd, a few of whom do not even know that I am no longer married. (Well at least I have not told them, I find that word has a way of spreading, and, believe me, when you have difficult news to deliver, the kind that makes you feel like crying, gossip is your friend.) Second, and more importantly for my story, I couldn't quite get past the fact that the last film went over. After all, it is not like this is basketball (do they have overtime in basketball? I hope so. It would really help my point). Movies have a fixed length; in this case 130 minutes. Granted that is a bit long, but it is not like the theater did not know how long the film was. In fact I know from looking at the theater's web site. So I could not contain myself, I made few sarcastic remarks, to everyone and no one. A very uncharacteristic gesture on my part. People seemed to be amused.

Which brings me to the title of this story: once in college participated in psychological experiment on sarcasm. I was something like the mole, or plant, or accomplice (there must be a technical term for this, for the person who appears to be in the experiment but is actually in on it). My friend had the thesis that the conditions for sarcasm are: a) an incompetent authority figure and b) a pointless task. So he had volunteers sign up for what they were told was an experiment on memory. They were then given a lengthy and easy test, matching shapes or some other idiotic task for pages on end. My role was to get the sarcasm going, I would say things like, "This guy has a real winning project" (referring to my friend, when he was out of the room). Despite the fact that my experience this evening confirms one of the theses, nothing calls for sarcasm like incompetent authority, it was not a very succesful experiment, but it was a lot of fun. Since the whole things was filmed, I felt like I had participated in the long history of psychological films; like Stanley Milgram's experiments on obedience...


And the Stanford Prison Experiment...



As a philosopher, and one of an anti-humanist materialist orientation, I find it necessary to criticize psychology for its focus on interiority and subjectivity, but I have to admit they have some of the best documentaries. Or maybe it is just the look of the sixties and seventies that makes them so enjoyable, like watching old Twilight Zones or episodes of In Search Of...

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