The European Journal of Humour Research

Vol 9, No 3 (2021)

De-contextualisation fuels controversy: the double-edged sword of humour in a hybrid media environment

Sara Ödmark


Humour has a unique way of delineating social boundaries, and comedy can function as a double-edged sword; it can strengthen bonds and bring people together, or divide through provocation and violation of social norms. As a consequence, humour controversies are telling events that contain the possibility of highlighting cultural and political sensibilities – even more in the current political landscape, with increasing media fragmentation. This study analysed four humour functions through the theoretical lens of media framing, via three cases of humorous content that caused controversies in the Swedish news media. These cases were one divisive radio roast of a politician, one TV satire segment that was received as racist, and one audio podcast with young women who challenged a Swedish political consensus climate. Framing is the power of media to select and highlight certain aspects of issues, and by extension, shape public opinion. By subjecting the media coverage of these three controversies to a qualitative content analysis, the framing was examined and discussed in the light of four humour functions: identification, clarification, enforcement, and differentiation (Meyer 2000). Furthermore, the study examined the media context and the role it played in the framing of the controversies. One main finding was that the most uniting humour function of identification could be transformed into the most dividing humour function of differentiation through a shift in media context.


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