Voices on the Border : Comedy and Immigration in the Scandinavian Public Spheres
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The aim of this dissertation is to advance the understanding of the relationship between comedy and politics, as well as the relationship between the cultural and the political parts of the public sphere. Its main research question is How can TV comedy thematising immigration contribute to public opinion formation on immigration in the larger public sphere? This is investigated through a text-focused, case based historical study of comedy shows, actors and events in the three Scandinavian countries – Norway, Sweden and Denmark. The concept immigration comedy is used to refer to the special kind of comedy in question, in order to refer not only to ethnic humour, but also to satire about immigration policy or xenophobia. Two of the case sets in the dissertation focus on comedy shows, while the two other case sets focus on comedy reception in the mass media. Drawing on insights from public sphere theory and humour theory, and with a broad orientation towards the Scandinavian immigration debates, it is argued that the cases analysed in this dissertation can be considered as manifestations of boundary struggles in various ways. Scandinavian immigration comedy, and the debates around it, have worked to preserve boundaries as moral guards against anti-immigrant positions in the public sphere; and to challenge boundaries by being means of access for immigrants. Furthermore, as attempts of politicisation of the issues of symbolic racism and the limits of humour, debates about immigration comedy have worked to both challenge and maintain boundaries. Finally, immigration comedy shows made by and for immigrants themselves, diaspora humour, have through their playful recognition of ethnic difference worked as alternative spaces beyond the borders of the more problem-oriented serious public sphere. The main theoretical contribution of the dissertation lies in pointing out how different forms of boundary work were all done through the special characteristics of the humorous mode, characteristics conceptualised as unsolvable and productive tensions. These tensions are between humour’s unseriousness and its use for serious means, between humour as conventional, conservative and suppressive and creative, radical and subversive, and finally between humour as a facilitator of both emotional investment and emotional detachment – which also includes a tension between positive and negative emotions. The most central argument is that humour is not inherently conservative nor inherently radical, but works politically through balancing these two aspects. The dissertation also makes a methodological contribution by advancing a textual-historical view of opinion formation. Departing from public sphere theory, it is argued that the bast way to understand how public opinion is shaped is by textual analysis, where texts should be read as interventions in specific, historically located debates. Furthermore, it is especially useful to investigate historical ruptures, moments when the relationship between different kinds of discourses in the public sphere, for example comedy and immigration debate, intersect and interact in new ways, in order to detect ways that texts who not explicitly are part of the day-to-day political debate nevertheless can contribute to it.