Recently I came across an article that was talking about a topic near and dear to me. It referred to something called bathos. This is a technique in which humor or sarcasm is used to undercut drama within a scene.
There are a lot of reasons that this is a topic that I enjoy. Primarily, it’s because that is what I write. I love a little bit of sarcasm some snark a bit of humor right in the middle of the action.
The article stated that the use of bathos was undermining the true emotion of a scene. I have to disagree with that statement.
The example the article used was in the movie Doctor Strange. Apparently, the use of humor in the scene in which Doctor Strange accepts the cloak while looking in the mirror, undercuts the drama of his acceptance in his role.
I recently watched Doctor Strange for the first time. My husband was with me. When this scene occurred, we both laughed. It wasn’t because the drama of the scene was undercut. It wasn’t because there was somehow something less dramatic about accepting one’s responsibilities. It was because both of us immediately thought: that’s exactly what a magic cloak would do.
Dose of Reality?
And that’s the thing about bathos. It shows a certain reality. When you do something dramatic, usually it goes badly, or at least wrong.
You try to make a dramatic point and then trip over your own feet. You make a dramatic entrance and promptly fall off the stage. You make a dramatic speech and somebody starts snickering.
Even though I never knew what the name of it was, I’ve used bathos in all of my writing. Because that’s how life works. We try to do something seriously and it ends up being hilarious. We try to do something dramatic and it ends up being anti-climatic.
Perhaps the problem isn’t that drama and emotion are being undercut by bathos. Maybe bathos shows us the reality of how life undercuts drama and emotion.
And in case you need examples of how this works in real life, just Google fail videos on YouTube.