Reflection theory, redux

Three scholars from THE Ohio State University recently published a study of viewers’ political perceptions of the Colbert Report.  Among the 332 individuals surveyed, the researchers found that liberals identified Colbert’s style as satirical while conservative viewers felt “Colbert only pretends to be joking and genuinely meant what he said”.  It reminds me of Vidmar and Rokeach’s conclusions about viewers’ opinions of All in the Family (from a 1974 issue of the Journal of Communication), where misogynistic, racist viewers found Archie Bunker to be a sympathetic hero, and progressive viewers saw him as the butt of the joke.  And it reminds me of one of my constant (ahem) “teaching challenges”: 18 year old students insisting that media “causes” things like violence, sexual promiscuity, and a decline of “traditional values.”

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5 responses to “Reflection theory, redux

  1. mp

    it makes me uncomfortable when students say “promiscuous”

  2. Colbert is just pretending? Are they watching the same show that I am?

  3. A decade ago, Jedidiah Purdy published a long argument against Irony and how it was the curse of civilization as we know it. His opening salvo is against Seinfeld (there was no Colbert Report at the time). He got a lot of coverage in the press. But if half the people don’t catch on to the irony, what’s to worry about?

  4. my first thought is, wow, i mean wow. it’s hard to see how anyone could watch more than five minutes of Colbert and not see it as satire.

    my second thought is that this is theoretically interesting as it’s the exact opposite of the usual “hostile media” finding in which partisans usually see the media as biased against them. what is it about Colbert that makes people want to irrationally identify with him, when usually they are irrationally antagonistic to the media. is it that he’s cool? that it’s satire rather than something where we expect objectivity? that he never ever breaks character? a sense that a real liberal would be too clueless to understand conservative punditry well enough to satirize it?

    and let’s not leave this as an open question, pick a side, we’re at war.

  5. I think people who are strongly committed to a viewpoint cannot see irony-by-exaggeration, mostly because compared with their point of view, it’s not such an exaggeration. It’s like the principle of assimilation-rejection in psychology (as I remember it, which probably isn’t all that well). Imagine a 10-point scale. If your position is at #3 and you hear someone come out with a #9 opinion, you reject it. But if you’re at #8, the #9 opinion might not sound so outrageous.

    Something similar happened on the other side — that pomo science parody by Alan Sokal that got accepted and published by Social Text.

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