laughing with dread

I’ve been trying to think of a word that approaches the sort of gallows humor that comes up a lot lately. It partly demonstrates relief because there is now a solid chance that in 2021, the political situation in this country will become marginally better, and that is good? But things are still…bad? 

Because there is no single word to describe it, I can only explain it as feeling like when I thought I was laughing, I was actually coughing up blood.

This humor tends to have a target, who is off-the-deep-end weird but harmless enough. Like John McAfee’s whale tweet on New Year’s Eve. And now Andrew Yang—his whole deal. I can’t stop laughing—that way—while feeling bad. It sounds like laughter and feels like laughter, but is actually just a nervous, manic sort of exhaust. There’s a social component to it—laughing as a form of distancing ourselves from whatever is going on over there. 

It is the laughter that happens at dinner with friends, when facts take up the space that jokes might:

“So Andrew Yang—”

“Arghhahha!”

“Did you hear Jack Dorsey, Rivers Cuomo, and Nicolas Cage donated to his campaign?”

“Arghhahha! Celebrity incels!”

“But they aren’t incels, really. I suppose they are….nonpracticing incels?”

His campaign is a fact and it is a fact that John McAfee tweeted that thing about whales. What other reaction is appropriate than coughing up blood and calling it laughter?

And has anything captured this feeling better than Videodrome? It used to be just a weird movie. I watched it all the time in college, and I loved the deadpan delivery and tech criticality presented in terms so wacky as to feel mystical. I never thought of it as say, a mirror on the world. Or ever dreamed that deadpan wacky would be so attuned to the very real weirdness of the world. It’s scripture now. (Especially relevant with the real James Woods having traveled deep inside Videodrome’s logic, to never return from it.) 

I recently came across this deleted scene. Fascinating as it’s all exposition early on—a nut graf that was superfluous.

When I first became obsessed with the film, I lived by a dry cleaning place that had a rack of clothes outside for sale for $3; garments that had been orphaned — things people took the time out to drop off, but in the end didn’t care enough about. It was all good fabrics—silks and linens—and oddly shaped, out-of-date styles, often good for Halloween (I got a dress there once that became a “stewardess” costume.) Items that probably had been sitting in a shopping bag in someone’s closet with a post-it “to be drycleaned” for a decade at least, and once that person went to the effort of dropping them off, they were released from the responsibility of having to continue owning them. Once I found something there in my size that was a dead ringer for the Debbie Harry Videodrome red dress. I wore it out a few times, but I just couldn’t pull it off (Let’s be real, it was never about the dress, but Debbie Harry wearing the dress.) It was just so dowdy and loud. I passed it on to a friend who wanted to do something with the fabric (my guess is it got stuffed in bag in her closet with a post-it “scrap fabric” and finally she pass it off to a goodwill bin.) Anyway, I wish I still had it. I wouldn’t leave the house in the Videodrome dress, but I’d wear it when I’m at my laptop—like my personal version of a baseball cap with the word “Thinking Cap” printed on it— trying to think of a word that explains the coughing up blood laugh. 

Thanks for reading.