Did Capitalism Give Us the Laugh Track?


In BK Marcus’s latest Freeman article, he takes on the development of that mawkish, pedantic habit of old TV comedies: the laugh track. Is capitalism really responsible for canned laughter?

Dartmouth College Psychology professor Bill Kelley studies the brain’s response to humor. He explains, “We’re much more likely to laugh at something funny in the presence of other people. Hearing others laugh—even if it’s prerecorded—can encourage us to chuckle and enjoy ourselves more.”

If capitalism is mass production for the masses, then perhaps the laugh-track-loving executives at the networks were just giving the people what they wanted. Maybe the critics are just snobs, blaming the market for the facts of supply and demand.

Greater competition in the pursuit of profit, however, has now actually pushed canned laughter into full retreat. The studio system that allowed the laugh track to dominate television had its roots in patterns of government intervention laid down before television even came about.

Read the whole thing in the Freeman online.

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Filed under Austrian Economics, History

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