The Sadness Behind ‘Funniest Home Videos’

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I have this terrific plan to win the $100,000 grand prize on ABC’s “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” It involves a child who’s 3. I go to the top of a building and drop a brick on his head.

Better yet, I drop Bob Saget.

Airing at 8 p.m. Sundays, “America’s Funniest Home Videos” is not only the season’s surprise megahit, it’s also downright megabominable, a half hour of mostly violent, amateur-produced slapstick whose biggest victims are inevitably its smallest participants.


Riding the crest of the camcorder revolution, this is the series that asks viewers to send in home videotapes for possible inclusion on the show with sound effects and inane commentary by smugly caustic host Saget. The studio audience--which is periodically shown belly laughing at sequences that are about as funny as a hanging--decides the week’s best video, with the winner earning $10,000 and eligibility for the season-ending big payoff of $100,000.


Got a baseball shot of an outfielder losing his pants while toppling over a fence in pursuit of a fly ball? Send it in. That one, which won the $10,000 last Sunday, was funny.

So was a dance recital where two tots dressed as poodles got their tails tangled. So were bridesmaids who collided and fell down while trying to catch’s the bride’s bouquet.

Most of the videos are anything but funny, however. Say it’s funny when a garage door falls on a man’s head, and I’ll say you need therapy.

Some of the videos--like the man who wiggled the swizzle sticks in his ears to the tune of “Dueling Banjos”--echo “That’s Incredible.” Some--like the human bowling balls--are contrived. Some--like the two fat men who attempted to parody synchronized swimmers as “Saturday Night Live” did so brilliantly some years ago--are pathetic amateur theater. After all, there’s a reason why your friends make excuses to leave when you bring out the home movies.

Most of the videos are repetitive. There are only so many variations of someone slipping on a banana peel.

If you have a video of someone falling, this is your show. People here fall from chairs. They fall from horses. They fall from bikes. They fall from machines, sometimes perilously, as did the man shown toppling from an out-of-control rider mower.


However, none of this--whether the video bits are funny or flat, whether they’re corny, whether they run too long--really matters. What does matter is the show’s undertone of sadism when it comes to children. Some comedy.

What’s funny about a toddler banging into a wall? Then another toddler doing the same thing? Then another? Then another?

A young boy rides his bike into a tree. Hard! Another child runs into a tree. Hard! A toddler walks into a video camera, hitting his head. Hard!

A girl hits her head on a teeter-totter. A mother accidentally knocks her daughter into a stream. While teaching his tiny son how to bat, a father accidentally flips him on his back. A mother accidentally hits her toddler in the face with a shovelful of snow.

But parents at home, don’t you try this.

While watching, you’re bothered not only by the somehow mean-spirited violence against kids and the trivializing of that violence, but also by something else, an omission that’s very curious.

What’s missing here are the sounds of pain.

As anyone who has been a parent knows, a small boy who walks head first into a camera usually cries. A small boy getting hit in the face with a shovelful of snow usually cries. Kids usually do not react silently even to mild pain.


But there is no sound of crying here because each video usually ends on impact with crunched bodies becoming the punch lines, leaving you only to speculate about the possible unpleasant consequences of these cute little scenes. You do hear yucks, though, the sound of the studio audience laughing like fools. After all, we can’t have crying ruining American’s funniest videos.

Here’s a thought that ABC and the producers of this program may not like, but is worth considering: “America’s Funniest Home Videos” inadvertently encourages child abuse.

The network and producers emphasize that that’s not their intent, that they do not want anyone making an unsafe video to get on the air, that before airing a tape they demand verification that no one was seriously hurt.

But no absolute verification is possible. And even if the show does reject a video it suspects involved a child suffering pain or injury, the deed has already been done and the veto comes too late to help the child.

There are too many horrible parents who need no incentive to abuse their children. For those who require an incentive, however, “America’s Funniest Home Videos” provides a whopper. You just know that there are plenty of parents who wouldn’t mind bruising their kids a little bit in the interest of making a funny video that would win them a shot at $10,000 and maybe even $100,000.

The children are helpless to prevent it, but “America’s Funniest Home Videos” isn’t.

The show can prevent potential abuse by immediately announcing that it will no longer accept home videos featuring children. That would take courage, because for better or worse, kids are now the stars of many of the show’s videos. Yet the cost of this safety measure--losing many good-faith videos in which children are not harmed or even jostled--would be justified by the results.


“America’s Funniest Home Videos” recently put out a call for tapes showing kids getting their first haircut. Here’s hoping there are no entries featuring samurai swords.

Said Saget when announcing a commercial break on a recent episode: “Don’t go away, because the worst is yet to come.” Count on it.