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Is there anything behind joking? Political engagement and generic perception of televised humour

Jūratė Kavaliauskaitė
Vilnius University
Jūratė Kavaliauskaitė
Vilnius University
Open Panel

Abstract

Political scientists show a growing interest in new television formats based on humorous communication. The interest conveys a general concern about effects of humor on declining political engagement. However, no unanimous findings about humor exist: skeptics refer either to threat of glum political cynicism or a mass withdrawal to entertainment and leisure culture; optimists stress opportunities to bring politics down to everyday life of a citizen and grab her back into the public life. Why findings are so discrepant, even in similar research contexts? First, the variable of humor still remains a tricky “black box” devoid of an established and agreed definitions (e.g. humor, comedy, show, satire, infotainment, etc.). Second, “political comedy show” is often held a single genre, and few empirical studies discriminate between various new hybrid entertaining, satiric, comic, or burlesque TV formats with potentially discrepant influences on viewers. Third, an exposure to televised humor is a reigning variable to measure impacts. The paper suggests introducing instruments of “reception studies” into “communication effects” research to overcome shortcoming of previous endeavors. It presents results of public survey, conducted in Lithuania in Autumn 2008 (N=1009) and addressing relationship between televised humor (Dviracio Sou) and political engagement. The empirical quantitative study supports the following argument. According Austin (1976), humorous discourse is non-serious in terms of its playfulness or pragmatic ambiguity (e.g. joking or sneering?). Therefore relationship between television humor and political behavior depends upon ways audiences tackle this pragmatic ambiguity and perceive the genre of humorous program. Empirical study confirms the relevance of an introduced variable of generic perception of humorous discourse in the research of political impacts of humorous TV, as well as shows positive relationship between “serious” reading of the televised humor and political participation.