Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Quiz: The Weather Lady’s Collapse”

Curmie’s typically erudite and perceptive Comment of the Day below made me happy and sad at the same time. Happy, because it is the kind of superb commentary Ethics Alarms readers excel at producing, making the site unique in the blogosphere whether a significant numbers of people take advantage of the resource. Sad, because I should have authored its equivalent in the first place, and might have come closer if I were not forced daily into squeezing posts into randomly distributed periods during the day that I don’t have to devote to earning enough money to keep the Marshalls from a future living in a cardboard box in the woods.

Curmie’s analysis also alerted me to something I had missed in the video, the mysterious statement “Not again!” from one of the anchors. This reminded me of the just-created whale in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” hurtling to Earth through space (along with a pot of petunias) that similarly thinks, also inexplicably, “Oh no, not again!”

Here is Curmie’s Comment of the Day, a deft examination of humor, ethics and human nature, regarding the post, “Ethics Quiz: The Weather Lady’s Collapse”:


I find this one fascinating for a variety of reasons. One of those is that I no doubt had a different reaction to seeing the event under the headline “BREAKING: CBS LA Weather Forecaster collapses live on air.” So I can’t say how I would have responded had I simply been watching that news show.

Part of my response is also based on the initial movement, the slow bend forward toward the desk. That seemed almost choreographed, as if she was going to pound her head on the desk as some sort of statement on the imminent forecast, described by the co-anchor as “the calm before the storm.” It’s the slide out of the chair that changes the dynamic. That’s definitely unstaged.

More importantly, I’d read your statement that she’s recovering at home before I viewed the video. This takes us very close to the notion of aesthetic distance, that unspoken understanding that what we are watching isn’t actually happening. Hence, we don’t run for cover when the bad guy in a play or a movie appears with a gun and looks threatening, and we’re not confused when the actor who played Hamlet is miraculously alive to take a curtain call even though the character is dead. Or, in this case, that she suffered an episode, but is on her way to recovery.

When I was teaching introductory play analysis courses, we’d talk about this phenomenon especially in discussions of comedy, particularly physical comedy. One of the reasons we laugh at pratfalls, slapstick, etc., is that we understand at least subconsciously that the actor isn’t really hurt. Another is that—this time, at least—it wasn’t us. Audience superiority, however it is manifested, is an essential ingredient of comedy.

This changes when aesthetic distance disappears. If we see someone fall down a flight of stairs, we’re initially horrified. But if the victim then gives an indication that they’re okay, now we have permission to laugh, and we almost always do. Interesting, we’re more likely to laugh at a friend than at a stranger, at someone young and healthy than at someone older and frailer, even if they claim to be fine.

To the extent that I can process my thoughts in seeing this video, here’s my best guess, in chronological order:

1. I’m know I’m going to see a video of a TV weather forecaster collapsing on air. I’m being asked about the ethics at laughing at the incident. I’m told she’s recovering.

2. OK, let’s watch this.

3. She starts slowly leaning forwards. That isn’t a collapse, and it’s kind of funny.

4. OMG! She really does collapse! (Yes, I know, I’d been told that. The manner caught me by surprise, though.) Laughter is now inappropriate, at least until we find out more.

5. Wait, I’ve already been told she’s recuperating and appears to be fine. I knew, of course, but it passed out of my mind when I saw her slide out of the chair. And yeah, there was some humor in that. Perhaps even a lot of humor. But there wouldn’t have been had she had a fatal heart attack, for example. Context matters; known context really matters.

6. And what did that anchor mean by “Not again!”? This has happened before? [Apparently so.] Am I captured by the incident or by the other women’s reaction to it? (Think, for example, of the noble families’ responses to the mechanicals’ performance at the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.)

Ultimately, I think we’re hard-wired to find humor in whatever form it presents itself. Sometimes it’s just clever word-play; sometimes it’s very dark irony. The ethical question only arises if we know (or should know) some circumstance that renders our laughter cruel or unfeeling. There are enough restraints on laughter; we needn’t add more to curtail an immediate and unthinking burst of a response to an unexpected and uncontextualized stimulus.

3 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Quiz: The Weather Lady’s Collapse”

  1. Excellent examination of the process by which we derive humor from these types of situations. Forty years in law enforcement made me somewhat of a connoisseur of dark humor, but I tend to be wary about sharing it lest I needlessly offend the uninitiated.

  2. By the way…

    “6. And what did that anchor mean by “Not again!”? This has happened before?”

    The “Not again!” was in response to the “calm before the storm” statement moments before not the collapse of the weather lady.

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