Jester, journalist, or just jerk? The roles of political comedians in societal debate
Abstract: Where does the political comedian fit on the spectrum of societal debate? Comedy has gained legitimacy in academia in recent decades as a non-serious communication form worth taking seriously. But in the personalized, high-choice hybrid media landscape, what roles do comedians inhabit? This dissertation explores this topic via five studies detailed in articles produced for publication in scientific journals. The articles employ frameworks such as humor functions, role conceptions, media framing, boundary work, non-deliberative media discourse, and moral theory, and utilize qualitative content analysis, quantitative content analysis, and qualitative interviews, to investigate empirical examples collected from Swedish and Finnish contexts. The dissertation also includes an introductory chapter that summarizes and discusses the results of the five studies and presents the empirical and theoretical contributions of the dissertation. Several roles of political comedians are introduced, based on political intent and their tendency to challenge norms, where the main ones have been established as Unifier, Advocate, Entertainer, Explainer, Provocateur, Questioner, and Eye-opener. The roles should be seen as role performance elements that are somewhat fluid and contextual. In addition, three role clusters, or broad comedic dispositions, are discussed. The first is the jester-type comedian, represented by the Entertainer, the Unifier, and the Advocate. These comedians are practitioners of a more benign, light-hearted form of political comedy, and they focus on creating mirth and social bonding. The genre of journalistic news satire is defined and explored as the second role cluster, and the genre is represented by the Unifier, who aims to connect people in laughter, the Explainer, who wants to explain complex news issues from a specific point of view, and the Questioner, who audits power and challenges groupthink. Finally, the third role cluster is personified by the troublemaker or jerk, who either enjoys being a Provocateur simply for provocation itself, takes on the role of persistent Questioner, or, if the political intent is stronger, embodies the Eye-opener, aspiring to influence the audience to see things differently.Contexts, implications, and limitations are discussed.
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