Saturday, February 1, 2014

Future Directions for Political Comedy Research

Now out in the latest edition of the National Communication Association's Communication Currents newsletter is an essay I've written with my colleague, Don Waisanen, about our recent review of the state of political comedy research.

The essay translates our recent article published in Review of Communication where we focus on defining the current boundaries of political comedy research. We discuss how research focuses primarily on comedy's features (e.g., things like comedy's devices and conventions, ideological and ethical functions, and contributions to public affairs and civic discourse) and the effects of exposure to this entertaining content (e.g., key outcomes like knowledge and learning, attitudes, and political engagement). The piece also reviews recent work on how viewers process, interpret, develop an affinity for, and come to understand political comedy content.

In the second half of the piece, we work to bridge the features and effects divide by offering 5 key directions for future political comedy research. They include:

1. Bringing conceptual clarity to political comedy's boundaries, terms, and definitions by developing a sharper vocabulary for the study of political comedy.

2. Focusing on the proliferation and diffusion of political comedy. It's time to better understand how comedy is shared and circulated on the Internet, the subcultures that develop around comedy content, and its influence on the political process.

3. Apply traditional mass communication approaches toward a study of the political comedy audience -- looking not just at patterns of exposure but also how audiences evaluate of a range of content types.

4. Better situating political comedy in the larger post-broadcast environment to more fully understand the institutional structures against which comedy operates.

5. Study the effects of comedy over time rather than through the predominant cross-sectional perspective. Doing so will help us understand what features and impacts of comedy content are important over time, various election cycles, etc.

As we conclude, "Communication scholars have been at the forefront of research on political comedy. From studying the pressures political comedy puts on our public discourse to its direct and indirect effects on citizens, communication studies will continue leading efforts to examine the seriously funny."

What do you think is the future of political comedy research?

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