Illustration for article titled Who's Ridiculous?Photo: VALERIE MACON / AFP (Getty Images)

In 2007, Britney Spears suffered a very public fall and quickly became a punching bag for the national comedy scene. Impaling Spears for public gaffs – shaving their heads, accidentally exposing them when getting out of a limo, and marrying backup dancer Kevin Federline with a shotgun at a wedding – became something of a comedic layup that the late-night presenters did Show drooling.

Illustration for article titled Who's Ridiculous?

America’s happy glee is told in Framing Britney Spears, a new one New York Times documentary about the pop star currently streamed on Hulu and HBO Max. The core of the documentary is an emphasis on the conservation of Spears’ $ 60 million estatewho controls her father Jamie Spears with sole authority. The film also recalls the news cycle of public humiliation against Spears, who at the time was a 25-year-old mother of two who knew nothing but a life of achievement.

As the country remembers the frenzy that followed Spears every waking moment, it’s worth discussing how a talk show host, Craig Ferguson, out of respect for the state of emotional and psychological drudgery it was, decided none To direct barbs or tweezers on the singer.

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Ferguson confronted mankind with cheap and hectic jokes and refused to poke fun at the megastar, even though most of us found it pretty fair to “beat” the rich, popular and successful. Ferguson’s monologue came back for good, instructive reasons: You too can see when it is inappropriate to wallow in despair, whether it is a public figure or someone you personally know.

What is “Punching Up”?

In comedy parlance, “punch up” means to impale or mock someone who has a larger platform and public profile than you. Typically the punching is kosher while the punching is gauche, although the circuses inspired by Spears – and later Tiger Woods – show how identifying which is can be more art than science.

Personally, everyday people tend to turn to similar numbers: perhaps turning their anger on a multimillionaire who enjoyed worldwide admiration just to crumble in the spotlight, or joking about an athletic icon after she fell. There is a psychological impulse to rejoice in the unhappiness of those who are more prominent and successful than we are. It’s something of a psychological kink.

In one Article 2018 in the GuardianTiffany Watt Smith distilled the intercultural meaning of Schadenfreude – a German word that means joy in the unhappiness of others:

The Japanese have a saying: “The misfortunes of others taste like honey.” The French speak of Joie Maligne, a diabolical joy in the suffering of other people. In Danish it’s skadefryd; in Hebrew simcha la-ed; in Mandarin xìng-zāi-lè-huò; in Russian zloradstvo; and for the Melanesians who live on the remote Nissan Atoll in Papua New Guinea, it is Banbanam.

Understand the nuance of the situation

There is a psychological impulse to find solace in others’ difficulties. Only when you fail to understand the real situation behind someone’s unpredictable behavior does the joke go from seemingly harmless to vengeful. People don’t turn for no reason. So before we joke at someone else’s expense, ask ourselves whether we adequately understand why someone is acting strangely.

To take the obvious example, Spears was shaped from the earliest stages of her life into an empire that was deprived of agency and thrown into the megastardom. In the words of Craig Ferguson, she was a “baby” herself, even when she seemed to have the world at her feet.

Ask who is hurting the person

Of course, our opinions can change if the person in question has done something terrible. But in the case of someone like Britney Spears, her breakdown was at the expense of herself and the people closest to her. It can be fun to enjoy the pain of someone making music you loathe, but it only turns us into a bully if we don’t see what makes someone lose their footing and the real impact, resulting from it.

How to decide who is worth ridiculing

There are plenty of times when hitting can be good and clean fun, and that includes berating people for their mistakes – especially if they’re blatant assholes. This works particularly well when it comes to political figures who are not always very motivated and Sometimes use words incorrectly. Do you know a celebrity who was blacklisted for doing something outrageous just for the sake of it Doubling the justifications for their behavior? Belittling people and situations like this is a little different than enjoying the breakdown, celebrity or not. There are plenty of bad guys out there who won’t deal with a poisonous family or pillage paparazzi outside their door. It takes a little effort to separate those who deserve playful ridicule from those who aren’t, but it’s worth it.