Hung out to dry: Use and consequences of disparagement humor on American Idol

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Humor can be a means of social control and establishing boundaries between social groups. Disparagement humor, which is belittling and degrading while laughing at a target, is such a means of social control. Through the use of disparagement humor, people establish in-groups and out-groups and audiences of disparagement can enjoy vicarious superiority, as long as they are not members of the targeted out-group. In this paper, we look at the way disparagement humor is used on a mass stage, the popular reality television program American Idol. Using qualitative content analysis, we explore the ways in which social outsiders are marked as out-groupers and the ways their outsider status primes them as easy targets for aggressive humor. We find that disparagement humor is more often directed at social outsiders than insiders and audiences are directed to view such contestants as inferior. We also find that the gender and power of judges impacted the use of disparagement humor.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)229-251
Number of pages23
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Linguistics and Language
  • General Psychology


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