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January 05, 2005



You've never heard of being almost incapacitated by fright/something in the face of public embarrassment? Now that I think of it, it *is* odd. As a child, if someone (usually one of my parents) told a joke whose punchline was based on the embarrassment of the joke's protagonist (I remember one about a backward woodsman who cuts wood with a chainsaw, but doesn't know that you can turn it on?), I'd actually start crying.

I'd be so embarrassed for the (fictional) character in the story, it made me really really upset. After a while, I became really frightened of that whole genre of joke, in general.

I know this really freaked my father out on at least one occasion.

rob loftis

As a child I would have to leave the room during some sitcoms because it was so hard to watch the characters be embarassed. Three's Company was the worst. These days, when I have to leave the room because a sitcom is too embarassing, I just pretend that I'm too intellectual to watch such tripe.


That's been the root cause my longstanding dislike for sitcoms as well, rob. Also the reason I can't stand "reality" shows. they always involve people willfully embarrassing themselves for no good reason.

Mary R

Anthuriums. When I was a kid, someone jokingly told me they were inverted buttholes. They've bothered me ever since. The idea of being turned inside out. And cut into pieces and used in a bouquet.


Three's Company! Yes! I was going to mention it too. Though it's worth noting that 3sC specialized in a particular kind of embarrassement, based on a misunderstanding, or false representation, and that's particularly hard for me to watch.

On the other hand, Ali G also specializes in this kind of humor, and while it's very hard to watch, it's also hilarious. (I do notice that I have a much easier time watching it with someone, maybe because that person can take care of the feeling bad for the victim, and I can yuck it up.)

bob mcmanus

The bubbles thing is just brilliant. Frog eggs. Spittle. Bubbling mud. Moist hemispheres organically arranged round side up on the ground in front of me...I won't sleep tonight.

Must be racial memories from when we hiding from dinosaurs.

Timothy Burke

I seriously had no idea that anyone else in the world had the "representation of embarassment" phobia. Screwball comedies, or comedy that turns on the embarassment or humiliation of someone, I can almost not bear watching them--it's worse than a horror film or watching someone get an injection in a film.

I'm mildly phobic about cold-calling strangers about business matters, or even about approaching strangers in person while doing ethnographic work. It has made doing research on modern African history very difficult for me at times.

rob loftis

Here's the thing of it:

Although I have a major "represenation of embarassment" phobia, I love horror movies.

Seeing an otherwise decent person acting stupid because he thought that a love letter intended for his roommate was intended for him: unbearable.

Seeing an otherwise decent person ripped apart by zombies: can't get enough of it.


I'm afraid I don't know the proper pluralisation of phobia.


I'm right with you on the ``mysterious arrangements of forms'' phobia. Pasta stuck to the bottom of a pot -- yikes, like fungal growth.

Waddling Thunder

Yup. I can't watch sitcoms either, without changing the channel whenever one of the usual embarassing situations happens. Certainly couldn't watch "Meet the Parents", and other similar movies.

belle waring

I almost mentioned Three's Company too! when I was little I had to either run away or restrain myself from screaming at the TV "just tell them that you really..." etc. do you think that bloggers/blog-reading commenters are unusually subject to this malady, or what? seems like a lot of us...


I'll bet lots of people have the same malady. So many programs are premised on this kind of embarrassment that you have to figure it pushes a button with people, and while most laugh, those who are just a bit more sensitive cringe. Still, while that all makes sense to me, like Tim, I'm surprised to hear it from so many people. I suppose it's because we don't often find ourselves watching shows we don't like to watch with people who also don't like to watch them.

Matt McGrattan

My wife has a werewolf phobia.

Which I thought was pretty funny till I went to her home village - it's a tiny place in Bohemia (north of prague) - with two streets, one of which is only partly surfaced. Perhaps 200 people live there.

And everyone seems to own some kind of Hound of the Baskervilles foaming-at-the-mouth gigantic dog - most of these dogs live chained in the front yards and whenever anyone walks past, especially at night, it sets up a chorus of infernal howling.

Even walking up the street in front of her house you have to get used to the dogs throwing themselves at you on the end of their chains teeth bared.

In a place with no street-lighting and a regular chorus of howling savage dogs, the werewolf phobia seems a bit less irrational...

belle waring

dude, and I just realized that the background at PZ Meyer's Pharyngula isn't bubble wrap, but eggs with gestating amphibians in them. I can never visit his blog again.

des von bladet

On the public embarrassment phobia thing, which I have too; has there ever been anything more excruciating than Fawlty Towers?

When school sports (which I hated) was cancelled for bad weather, they used to heard us into a lecture theatre and make us watch it as a "treat"; I think I prefered playing rugby.

And since everyone (else) agrees that it's a comic masterpiece, the Intellectual Highground Defence fails completely.


The werewolf phobia is intersting but I wonder what the root cause is for those people (and I've met like a dozen) who are deathly afraid of zombies?

Also, I wet someone recently who was absolutely freeked out when I played her a cool mashup on my iPod. The idea of two familiar songs edited together weirded her out so bad i had to turn it off.


Oops. I mean, I met someone, not wet them. That's a whole other phobia entirely.

Jacob T. Levy

Also with the 'can't watch embarrassment/ awkwardness, and therefore can't watch certain sitcoms;' and also with the 'didn't know there was anyone else like that.' My wife mocks me mercilessly for it...


Belle, just use PZ's pirate mode to avoid the eggs.

I feel a lot better not being the only freak with an embarassment complex. But I'm still looking for someone whose skin crawls upon hearing the sound of water pouring into a glass, as in beer commercials. Makes it hard to sit near the water cooler at work, I tell you.


I am another embarassment-phobic. Sometimes I can't even watch the daily show fake interviews because of the degree to which the pigeons are (unknowingly) humiliating themselves.

So here's a quesiton: what are the most horrifying representations of social awkwardness? There seems to be broad consensus on "Three's Company" for TV shows. For film, I'd offer the infamous answering machine scene in Swingers and the entirety of "Meet the Parents." Books: Tom Wolfe, perhaps?


I used to have a similar, visceral reaction to media depictions of bullies, except it went in a different direction. "C'mon smash that @$$#@!3 ^^@!=@ in the @@. Make him bleed! Take the bastard down with you! KILL HIM. What do you have to lose?!"

Eventually it got better. But, man, the 2004 campaign was a nightmare.



I cannot believe how many people have the cringing at embarassment of others reaction. The first time I saw meet the parents I had a very strong case of it, it hasn't totally faded, but the last time I saw it I had a much more enjoyable experience. The most recent example of it I can think of were a couple of situations Jack put Miles in in Sideways.

Matt McIrvin

For me it makes all the difference whether the embarrassment is a fictional depiction, or real. The Daily Show fake interviews often bug me (except when the interviewee is clearly playing along); Fawlty Towers does not.

Jacob T. Levy

Hm. I don't actually find 3C to be the epitome of discomfort. There the embarrassments are almost always based on misunderstandings. (Jack wasn't *really* sleeping with Janet's sister, it just looked like it.) I find it silly enough-- just explain, fer chrissake-- as to not trigger the reaction. For me, Ben Stiller movies are far, far worse-- where his characters are inevitably humiliated by things that they really were doing. No explanation possible, just mortification all the way down.


Oh, but the misunderstandings ones are the worst! I always want to yell at the people to just talk with each other and sort it out - I can't stand watching them get sillier over the misunderstanding.

Matt McIrvin

Ever see the Kids in the Hall sketch parodying Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First?" They do the first several lines, then the sidekick shouts "Oh, *I* see what your problem is!" and starts explaining the misunderstanding, infuriating the top banana...

Kathryn Cramer

A lot of children's television substitutes this sort of thing -- embarassment and social anxiety -- for sex an violence in order to keep up the narrative drive while meeting standards. I've become increasingly dubious that this is a beneficial substitution, since I've seem it cause kids considerable anxiety.

Kathryn Cramer

A lot of children's television substitutes this sort of thing -- embarassment and social anxiety -- for sex an violence in order to keep up the narrative drive while meeting standards. I've become increasingly dubious that this is a beneficial substitution, since I've seem it cause kids considerable anxiety.

Natalie Bennett

Hey thanks. I've just learned that although I'm usually considered quite odd, in this respect at least I'm quite "normal", or at least not one of a kind!


I can totally relate to you Belle. I had just such an experience last night with the bubble arrangement which led me to search the internet for more info today. My boyfriend was making soap in plastic forms and I looked at one that was finished. The back had an arrangement of 10-15 raised bubbles tightly squeezed together. I was obsessed. I could not sleep the whole night because of the creepy feeling it gave me. I had to get up and scrape them off and still I'm itching all over and feeling quite discontented. It is so freaky. Ugh!


has there ever been anything more excruciating than Fawlty Towers?

Yes. The British version of The Office, which I find completely unwatchable. These days I can just about cope with Fawlty, but as a kid I had to leave the room.


"Also with the 'can't watch embarrassment/ awkwardness, and therefore can't watch certain sitcoms;' and also with the 'didn't know there was anyone else like that.'"

My way to cope as a child was running back and forth as fast as I could between the couch and the kitchen, to get rid of the nervosity. My parents usally tried to protest but it was either that or screaming at the top of my lungs.

As for horror movies, no problem, but I remember running off in terror pretty soon while watching the first Alien movie. I was convinced the very first hole of hissing acid spit would keep on eating the ship till there's nothing left of her. My understanding of acid-base chemistry has fortunately improved a bit since then.

belle waring

close italics ?


I have your thing with bubbles and pustules as well!!! I can't stand especially seeing things like where woodworm has eaten or the bubbles in breezebloks etc. It makes me feel sick.


Lives of manager s money approval to go would normally employ consumer internet you making money to explain palatable to the online auction ton, D this world shall.


I am almost pleased that others find bubbles yucky. someone told me their paint job on a car had gotten fisheye!! which was like collapsed bubbles on the paintwork, i was nearly sick, i dont like honeycomb either!

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