Rob Hardy / Silhouette Staff

Changes in the way societies function and interact with each other occur over time. There are points when we sometimes take notice and recognize the shifts taking place. We suddenly realize that a marker, such as the demise of MSN, says much about the new worlds we are entering and the old ones we leave behind.

Some of these changes are positive and may not always be seen as such, while others are for the worse. But unlike earlier times when we could more easily withdraw from or ignore the symbols and mediums of our cultural experiences, this is now more difficult to do. We find that culture is not something that is somewhere out there but actively following us.

One of these sociological trends is likely not very recognizable to generation Y or Z, even though they helped spur it on. However, they became very evident at this year’s recent Oscar ceremony. Apparently thinking that any degree of formality or seriousness is now an archaic throwback to out-dated values, an incredibly vulgar and tasteless host was chosen to invade our televisions.

Jennifer Lawrence was also the cool kid on the block weeks earlier, cheekily making fun of her fellow nominees on SNL, including the more serious Jessica Chastain.

Never mind that the incredible dearth of worthy performances this year actually helped to further boost the young Lawrence - nearly an acting newbie - to Hollywood’s highest honour. But perhaps it was fitting given the clear lack of gravity that permeated most of the proceedings.

That the purpose of the awards is to poignantly celebrate the touchstones of people’s careers takes a backseat to Twitter gossip. Because, after all, when everyone gets in on the act, it always needs to be a punch line, even if the “jokes” are neither funny nor in keeping with the occasion.

But media has always been quick to trade in for the cheap laugh and fast money. Witness the news channels of today, whose newscasters are now supposed to be witty and entertaining as opposed to the more respected voices of a bygone era.

When hard-hitting issues are shown on TV, they are turned into programs like Storage Wars, which shows bickering hucksters bidding on lockers appropriated by storage companies which served as the last refuge for broke Americans that lost all too much in the recent recession. Apparently though, this takes a backseat to the contrived battles as other people’s final possessions get sold for pennies on the dollar.

But it gets much worse in 1,000 Ways to Die, where people’s final moments get dramatized for a laugh, as their lives are reduced to comedic abstractions and their deaths played out so that people can shout “what a loser!” in their living room.

What all of this tells us, if we are brave enough to observe our behaviour, is that we live in a society that may be turning into a joke.

While fun and games are all good, we have to ask ourselves why we seem so ready on the trigger, and where our humanity has gone.

It seems to be the de facto cultural handshake of our time to presuppose beer commercial scenarios in our backyards. For further evidence, take a look at the first cast of Big Brother Canada currently airing on Slice, all chosen for their youth and craziness since the oldest contestant is only 38 - so much for a mixed group and differences based on deeper philosophical thought.

The problem with this sharp turn is that it has made it very difficult for us to know when we really need to buckle down. We may, for example, overstep and screw up a job interview because we assume everyone will be okay with what we thought was a good-natured retort.

Similarly, many a loose office culture has brought companies to ruin.

But even more so, we have lost some ability to be compassionate and empathize with the very real troubles that people face – the kind that can’t be lifted with a smile.

As a result, we may deem tears and sentiment to be sappy and cheesy because we have become too removed, too uncomfortable to stoically face life’s grimmer realities.

Though we use humour to successfully navigate life’s obstacles, there are times when we forget that it is just one tool out of many and its overuse can become quite ridiculous and not in the funny Zach Galifianakis kind-of-way.

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