Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
English and Cultural Studies
This dissertation argues that humour not only constitutes a central aesthetic strategy within contemporary mass media, but can also be understood as a form of cultural production that is central to how we understand our world as a site of value and politics. Drawing on an understanding of liberalism as a politics of “reasonable dissent,” I investigate how humour is thought to operate as an exemplary form of this politics through a consideration of popular and scholarly literature. I then complicate this theoretical and lay consensus regarding humour-as-dissent, through a consideration of the ways in which a range of specific filmic and televisual texts – Jackass, The Office, The Sarah Silverman Program, The Chappelle Show, The Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report and Four Lions – produce an aesthetic of humour through the manipulation and mobilisation of textual strategies and affective registers, such as discomfort, absurdity and provocation. Questioning the easy understanding of humour as a means to challenge existing power structures, I instead argue that the currently dominant forms of media humour are better understood as a political aesthetic that opens up new avenues of understanding and critique even as it shuts down and short circuits previously tenable forms of political interpretation. Through an intertwining of close-reading of popular cultural texts and a critical engagement with wider theoretical models of media production and consumption, I thus propose that the aesthetic aspects of mass media, such as humour, can be understood as cultural precursors that inflect the ways in which we can imagine the problems and possibilities of contemporary politics.
Holm, Nicholas HF, "Dissent in Jest: The Political Aesthetics of Contemporary Media Humour" (2012). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 7316.
McMaster University Library
Available for download on Sunday, September 01, 2013