chainsaw_header“How many TVs do you have at your house?” There was a time when the answer to that question was a matter of prestige in the elementary school set. Most homes had at least one television, but to have another, in another room, aside from the living one, well that was something. And if you had your own set, in your own room, you were a god amongst school-agers.

In present day, a flat screen in every room has become commonplace; the kitchen and bathroom being a bit ridicudundant (redundantly ridiculous) but not exceptions. Whether for the sake of narcissistic novelty, advert addiction or numbed necessity, a boob-tube in every room is acceptable. It’s interesting to note, that even in our modern multimedia society, there are few found in dining rooms. It seems people still hold this part of the house sacred in reverence of the traditional family meal. A bonding ritual that becomes an abandoned art if there’s something good on the telly. Anybody else remember those easy to store folding TV trays?

Still, with the world’s ever-growing entertainment obsession it’s nice to know there are some who still believe a place for everything and everything in its place. The bedroom is for sleeping, the dining room for dining, the bathroom for… quite a few things actually. Ergo “the television” (singular) will go in the living room… because it has nothing else going for it — unless you’re an avid reader, entertain on the regular or like to peep through the blinds to see what the neighbors are doing.

For years yours truly was one of these people…. not a pervy-peeper but rather a one-TV kinda guy. Until a prolonged phase of depression, resulting in sleepless nights, changed all that. Lying awake each night, replaying past events, creating scenario after scenario in search of a solution, until the sun rose or alarm clock rang. Verging on insanity, a mental distraction was called for; outside voices to drown out the ones within. The solution: a thrift-store 13” TV/VCR combo and a VHS copy of “The Curse of the Werewolf.”

Over time I became quite familiar with this 1961 Hammer horror film… at least the first 5 minutes… usually blacking out during the opening (soothingly accented monotone) narration. Sleeping peacefully… until the tape ended, auto rewound, filled the room with deafening static and effectively scared the s*** out of me. But at least and at last rest was acquired… between rewinding intervals.

Canned LaughterNecessity became habit (as it oft does) and now-a-days a good night’s sleep means televised background noise… with no rewind or static induced interruptions. And thanks to 24 hour streaming access, my pre-REM-viewing selection has expanded considerably. Most recently episodes of Unsolved Mysteries have been added to my ever-growing snoozer list. Ah yes, host Robert Stack, tell of those mysteries yet to be solved in your soothing baritone, while I drift off… “A couple from Ohio mysteriously disappears (subtle laughter) their bodies found 2 weeks later in a Pittsburg steel yard (boisterous burst of laughter).” What the hell? Since when does Unsolved Mysteries have a laugh track?!? “A young girl is found murdered in her San Diego home…” (uncontrollable laughter)” and so inappropriately placed!

I’m half asleep, out of bed and confronting the television in bewilderment. More laughter, at possible alien dog abductions (to be fair, that’s kind of funny) but it’s not coming from the TV…it’s echoing down the hallway. Tracing the source to the grandkid’s room, where an early 90’s episode of BBC’s Mr. Bean is playing to an unconscious child.

Before the Bean can be silenced, there’s another burst of laughter and I shudder. Laugh tracks can be unnerving when you consider their source. Most are comprised from or mixed with some “canned laughter” which is prerecorded audio of an audience reaction, originally recorded in the early 1950s. This means that you are hearing laughter from beyond the grave.

Although the use of canned laughter is now an outdated practice, it’s still alive and chuckling away in streamable reruns of most pre-turn of the century television series (not Unsolved Mysteries). So should we feel a chill etched in morbid horror at the eternally endless, albeit humorous, fate of the laughing dead? Or be envious of the forgotten, faceless, fifties audience who will forever have the last laugh?

I welcome almost all questions, comments via FOCUS, or E-mail me at [email protected]. Hope to hear from ya until then try and stay focused! See ya.