Humor and Information

This week we read Emily Nussbaum’s piece on the effects of jokes on the presidential election. The article raises, in my mind, an interesting point in how people like to receive information- humor is one method that makes it easier to consume unsavory information. People are more likely to remember things ideas when they’re introduced with a strong emotional response, such as laughter. In the case of humor, this introduces an interesting dynamic when Morreal’s Relief Theory is applied – if distressing information is presented in a way that makes people laugh, it both draws their attention to the information, and allows some of the negative pressure surrounding the information to be released. As an example, think of Stephen Colbert’s words during the gulf coast oil spill in 2010 (http://www.cc.com/video-clips/uzkxfc/the-colbert-report-gulf-of-mexico-oil-spill). While his show may have brought attention to the issue for some, it also has some desensitizing effect as a result of his humor; that effect wouldn’t be present if the information were gathered from a newspaper. In the case of the election, there were a sizable group of people who joked about and wrote Trump off as a presidential candidate because it was so ridiculous, but as Nussbaum put it, “It was a joke! But we just let the joke go on for too long.” With each joke, their own concerns with regard to his legitimacy as a candidate slipped away. With each ridiculous comment that he made, the population grew surer that his candidacy was nothing but a joke, and so they joked. Without realizing it, the anti-Trump population was shooting itself in the foot. Not only were they tearing down their own resolve, but their humor angered and polarized his supporters into more vigorous support of their candidate.

It raises several questions – At what point does the value of easy-to-consume information outweigh its own implications of a de-stimulated population? Is there a way to make disagreeable information easier to consume without releasing the negative pressure surrounding it?

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