The Power Relations of Gender in Humor Discourse: An Analysis of Comedian Performance in Taiwanese Variety Shows
Female comedians have become a sought-after group to participate in variety shows in recent years; however, the field of comedy can never be neutral nor does it exist in isolation from gender. On the contrary, humor discourse is like a battlefield of various stereotypes, and gender stereotypes are no exception. The central problem of this research is divided in two parts: media representation and ideological interpretation. This study attempts to determine the difference between male and female comedians in Taiwanese variety shows in various aspects, for example, performance style, a performer’s image, character traits, laughter-creating ratio and performance chance percentage. Also, with humor discourse’s ambiguity and duality, is it possible for female comedians to challenge gender stereotypes and patriarchal stereotypes through a funny routine on TV? To answer the research questions, content analysis and textual analysis are jointly conducted in this study. Firstly, the talk show “Kang Xi Lai Le” and the sitcom show “The Largest Party of People” are adopted as the subject of content analysis. Secondly, based upon the result of content analysis along with other media reports and TV shows, textual analysis will continue to explore the ideology and myth behind the gender inequality in TV comedian field, and then discover the difficulties and mobility factors of female comedians. The result of the content analysis is broken down into two sections—performance style and performer image. The finding of performance style shows that while males tend to use more other-disparaging humor, females tend to use more self-deprecating humor; besides, a male comedian’s comedy routine contains more rational and rhetorical factors, whereas a female comedian’s funny routine contains more sensory and bodily factors. In sitcoms, cross-gender acting and sexual harassment of women has become part of a male’s “funny” performance, yet exposing the sexual body become part of female’s too. Regarding character image, there are three major differences: (1).Male comedians are inclined to show more male stereotypes, such as confidence and dominance in contrast, female comedians are inclined to show more female stereotypes, such as passivity and obedience. (2). Male act as more public figure, such as politicians or famous experts while female act more non-public figure, such as characters without fame or a specific name, for example, teachers or waitresses. (3).Males are usually the leading role while females are in the subordinate role. No matter the TV show, male comedians create much more laughter than female comedian do. These differences reflect the ideology and social expectation of gender roles, namely, masculinity is superior to femininity and femininity is subordinate to masculinity. In addition, funny female comedians have to be misrepresented as ugly and unpopular women in variety shows and their appearances become an obstacle to performing in more various way as man do. There seems to be a beauty/funny dilemma, polarizing women into two funny-but-ugly and beautiful-but-unfunny categories. However, by displaying a nontraditional female image on TV, it is possible for female comedians to challenge deeply-rooted gender stereotypes. Female comedians also contribute to occupying humor field step by step, an area that has been long belonged to men only. But due to the patriarchy being entwined with the television production industry so closely, it is too early to say if female comedian can change gender inequality in the field of comedy immediately.
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