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Evidently there is a gushing river of verbal creativity in the normal human mind

Evidently there is a gushing river of verbal creativity in the normal human mind, from which both artistic invention and lying are drawn. We are born storytellers, spinning narrative out of our experience and imagination, straining against the leash that keeps us tethered to reality. This is a wonderful thing; it is what gives us our ability to conceive of alternative futures and different worlds. And it helps us to understand our own lives through the entertaining stories of others. But it can lead us into trouble, particularly when we try to persuade others that our inventions are real. Most of the time, as our stories bubble up to consciousness, we exercise our cerebral censors, controlling which stories we tell, and to whom. Yet people lie for all sorts of reasons, including the fact that confabulating can be dangerously fun.
ARE ARTISTS LIARS? | More Intelligent Life

FOX's Traffic Light: How to Make Lying Unfunny

I didn’t plan on watching FOX’s new show “Traffic Light” last night on Hulu, but I was trying to switch my brain off after a particularly intense round of homework. Little did I know that those twenty-two minutes would annoy me enough for me to write a review.

There are many things I could say about “Traffic Light”, many things that I hope other, better reviewers will say. Right now, my annoyance is focused on how “Traffic Light” sucks all the funniness out of lying.

In real life, lying isn’t funny. I’m not talking about hyperbole or sarcasm, because those are plenty funny. I am talking about the lying that “Traffic Light” depicts: misrepresenting oneself intentionally to another person in order to get what you want. This lying is often wonderfully funny in sitcoms. Not so in “Traffic Light”, not even a little.

Traffic Light

The show is based on three friends, each at a different “relationship stage”: one confirmed bachelor/player (Ethan), one newly-cohabiting (Adam), and one married with a child (Mike). Out of the three friends and their three female counterparts introduced in the first episode, four of them lie. The lies range from obvious and comical – Mike lies to his wife, Lisa, about being at work so he can get out of attending a boring charity function with her, while also helping Adam by dressing up as a professional wrestling clown for Adam’s boss’ kid’s bar mitzvah – to the insidious and depressing – Adam lies to Callie, his new live-in girlfriend, about player Ethan’s post-dumping mental state so Adam can escape Callie’s “forever date” of living together and go down to the bar to hang out.

Adam lying to Callie is okay, though, because he finds out that she did it right back. She made up a friend whose dog needed to be walked so she could get some time by herself without making Adam feel bad. Adam even compliments Callie on the thoroughness of her lie.

Why are these lies not funny? The first is just plain pathetic: Mike would rather help his friend with a hare-brained scheme requiring the loss of his dignity than support his wife. The second is a little more disturbing, because it perpetuates this ridiculous fiction that people shouldn’t just be honest with one another about what they need and want from their relationships. I use “shouldn’t” instead of “can’t” because there is nothing to indicate that telling the truth would cause any horrible repercussions on these relationships. Lisa would tell Mike that he is acting like an idiot, which he is, and to honor his original, familial obligation to attend the charity function, thus supporting his wife’s career, which is an actual priority to the relationship, as opposed to Adam’s favor. And Adam would tell Callie that he wants to spend time with his friends – just like adults do, even after the death-knell of cohabitation (please) – and Callie would be totally okay with that because she is an adult and, as the show has already indicated, she needs time alone too.

But no, “Traffic Light” has lazy writers who pander to the lowest, most unoriginal form of sexist humor extant: boys are always getting away with something, and girls have to either express their disapproval by meting out punishment – Lisa tells Mike he now has to bathe their child for the next two weeks, and let’s not get started on how spending time with their child is punishment – or by being just as dastardly and therefore giving permission for the bad behavior.

One brief moment sums up “Traffic Light” for me. As Adam and Callie are moving into their new place, Adam and Mike josh Ethan about his sports prowess, and to demonstrate, Adam lobs something fragile at Ethan for him to catch. He fails. The fragile thing falls to the ground and breaks. Hilarious, right? Callie plaintively says, “That was my grandmother’s.” Even funnier! No? Yeah, I didn’t think so either.

Lest you think I think lying in sitcoms is itself unfunny, I would direct you to ABC’s “Modern Family”, a brilliant comedy about interpersonal relationships that includes plenty of hilarious dishonesty.

It's My Phone

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Hawk and I went to Anchor & Hope for dinner. It was a wonderful evening: we crossed off #48 on 7x7’s 2010 Big Eat SF list, plus I told a story that made Hawk laugh.

He mentioned that I might want to lead with the story next time. So here I am, not leading with the story.

After work and before I was due at Anchor & Hope, I headed to Westfield because, despite it being a large collection of stores I avoid, it has one thing I love: Maido, a lovely stationery shop filled with fountain pens and notebooks and tiny stickers shaped like frogs and kittens and wheelbarrows and what appear to be smiley-faced boogers.

I kicked around Maido for a while, checking out the happy booger stickers, and then did something I rarely do: I skipped the escalators in favor of the elevator. Now, I am no elevator-hater; I merely prefer the grace and poise of open-air perambulation. But I was weary, and the route to the escalators brought me past the salespeople who yell at me that I need “skincare solutions”, so I elevated instead.

As the elevator opened and I walked toward it, I heard a high-pitched alarm sound behind me. Suddenly, a young man carrying a large Abercrombie & Fitch shopping bag ran at full-speed into the elevator as the high-pitched alarm sound grew louder. Confusing even myself, I ambled right in too.

As the doors closed, and with only the two of us in a small, gently-moving room, it became obvious that the high-pitched alarm sound was emanating from the man’s bag.

“That doesn’t sound good,” I said affably.

The man looked at me, slightly out of breath, and said, “It’s my phone.”

I watched with vague interest as he took his clearly-silent phone out of his jeans pocket, flipped it open, and pantomimed pressing a button over and over again.

“Can’t shut it off,” he added.

A second later, the elevator bell dinged, the door opened, and the man darted out. I wandered off to look for a security guard, pondering two things:

  1. The man thought I was naïve enough to mistake a security tag alarm for a ringtone.
  2. I saw no need to correct him.

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