By: Scott Weinberg, reprinted from SXSW 3/18/09
There's a fine line between being laughed at and being laughed with -- especially in an "instant video" culture that seemingly loves to see people humiliate themselves on YouTube. But what are we laughing at, really? For example, check out the (extremely profane and NSFW) video after the jump. I'll wait.
OK, the man you just witnessed is one Jack Rebney, an average citizen who got caught on film while having a VERY bad day on the job. Did the clip make you laugh? Was it the profanity? The frustration? The flies? And here's the question that interests me the most: As you watched Jack's meltdown, were you takingpleasure in his misery -- or were you able to empathize with Jack because you know exactly how he feels?
This is one of the themes that runs through Ben Steinbauer's excellent independent documentary Winnebago Man. It also touches on issues of privacy, frustration, friendship, and loneliness (stuff we can all relate to, obviously), but what I found most interesting was the theme of simple respect. Yes, Jack flipped out on camera 20 years ago and then became sort of a mini-sensation on the "funny clips" circuit (before YouTube showed up, I mean), but the question of WHY we laugh and what that laughter does to the man himself, well, that's a pretty fascinating theme to tackle.