Sometimes Empathy is the Worst

I am not overly fond of horror films. By that, I mean that I hate them and will not watch them. I am not one who finds entertainment in scaring myself.

But there is one tactic used in non-horror films, typically in dramas, that I hate worse than anything “scary movies” could throw at me. And it is a tactic typically used for comedic purposes. I don’t know what it is called, but I dub it “The Mortal Humiliation Tactic.”

Basically, this tactic is when the main character is desperately ignorant about something—something that everyone around them deems commonplace. The main character then goes and humiliates themselves by unknowingly saying or doing something out of ignorance in front of people who know better. They are then humiliated beyond belief.

I hate these scenes. Like in horror films, you can see them coming a mile away. I sit there thinking to myself “Don’t do it. Don’t say that stupid thing. We all know better. Just don’t do it.” But they always do it. And then I feel the crushing embarrassment, stemming from my overzealous empathy. It sucks. When I sense these scenes coming, I usually mute it until I think it has passed.

This isn’t to say there aren’t exceptions. There are a few instances of this occurring that I do not mind. The only two that come to mind are in The Parent Trap (either version) and in “He’s Just Not That Into You.”

In The Parent Trap, the twins are on a camping trip with their father and their soon-to-be evil stepmother. In the first version, the twins convince the fiancé that smacking two sticks together will make enough noise to scare away cougars. Their father sees her doing this and corrects her. In the remake, they give her a bug repellent spray that is actually sugar water. The father discovers this and tells her so. In both versions, the father looks at the woman like she’s kind of gullible and should know better.

I don’t mind this because no one likes the woman anyway, so seeing her embarrassed so is actually enjoyable.

In “He’s Just Not That Into You,” Ginnifer Goodwin’s character mistakenly believes that Justin Long’s character is into her. After a party, she makes a move but Justin’s character claims that he is not interested in her romantically and chastises her for ignoring his advice. The reason I don’t mind this is, even though I do feel terrible when she is humiliated, after he finishes she turns it around and chastises him for being cynical and bitter.

Anyway, all this thought has come about from a Hallmark movie, of all places: When Calls the Heart. In it, a teacher moves to undeveloped Western Canada in the 19th century. Her first night there, she hears what she thinks are wolves and is scared out of her mind. In the book, she brings this up to a 9-year-old boy who comes to fetch water and wood for her house. He calmly tells her that it was actually coyotes and that she shouldn’t be scared. In the book, this scene is sweet and not terribly embarrassing because only the nonjudgmental little boy knows about her mistake. I don’t actually know what happens in the movie, as I paused it right before I think her embarrassing moment is about to be sprung. She is currently in front of the class with all the students and their parents waiting to hear about her. I am praying she does not mention the so-called wolves!

Well, that’s my two cents on movie tactics I hate worse than horror films.

[Update: The teacher does not mention the wolves. My nerves were spared.]

[Update #2: Later she is about to do something even more horrifyingly embarrassing. I stopped watching then and there,  and I haven’t been able to watch since.]

[Update #3: It has been 5 months. I still have not finished the movie. I doubt I ever will.]


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