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Weninger, Csilla
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The participatory practices in social media are often about the sharing of mediatized contents across networks of social media “friends.” Much of these mediatized contents are appropriations of comedic genres (e.g., satire, slapstick) that center on the performance of one’s multiple digital selves (boyd & Ellison, 2008) for the purpose of managing social impressions (Goffman, 1959). Critical scholars have found the deluge of such “mundane” mediatized contents problematic as the lack of rational dialogue associated with this form of digital participation inevitably deprives media users the potential for democratic exchanges (Bohman, 2004; Chouliaraki, 2010: Habermas, 2006; Woodly, 2008). According to these scholars, the “frivolity” of online vernacular discourse masks the real need to have serious conversations about power dynamics in the digital epoch.

In the context of this thesis, I challenge the framing of comedic acts as apolitical, and I seek to investigate the performance of power relations in comedic YouTube mediatized contents. To this end, I take an interdisciplinary approach in formulating a contemporary view of power that reflects social realities in the digital economy. In this respect, I draw on scholarship in critical theory and cultural studies to theorize a view of power that is symbiotic (between the “powerful” and the ‘powerless’), nuanced and fleeting. In order to comprehend the notion of agency in social media, I also review salient constructs that include the concepts of the network society (Castells, 1996, 2000, 2010), participatory and convergent culture of the internet (Jenkins, 2006b), public sphere and communicative rationality in political communication (Habermas, 1989), and that of performativity (Austin, 1963; Derrida, 1988).

The specific context of this thesis is about the socio-political landscape in Singapore after the country’s general election (GE) in 2006. In all the 52 years of its nationhood, Singapore has been under the rule of a single political party, the People’s Action Party (PAP). The incumbent government has promoted the hegemonic ideologies of pragmatism and survival as a way to regulate the civil society, especially in curbing the freedom of speech. While the shared ethos of self-censorship for the collective good of the society might have appealed to older generations of Singaporeans, the state discourse has not resonated with younger generations of Singapore in the digital age. As such, this thesis pays close attention in selecting its data from the period after GE2006. This period is of special interest as the role of the digital social space is known, in popular discourse, to have been instrumental in shaping the political landscape in the country’s recent history. Two videos are examined as data. Both videos are parodies of a contentious social issue that riled Singaporeans. The producers in both cases are well-known social media personalities: mrbrown (mrbrown, n.d.) and Dr. Jiajia (Dr Jiajia & BigBro’s Show, n.d.).

As this thesis is interested to uncover realizations of power in moving images (YouTube), a multimodal critical discursive analytic approach is adopted as the theoretical framework. However, given the rich layering of social-emotional-political meanings that are associated with the data under consideration, an empirical framework that is undergirded by Bakhtin’s (1965) notion of carnivalesque is used to systematically tease out comedic (sub)political acts as different from media content that merely aestheticizes hegemonic ideals through the appropriation of the comedic discourse.

This thesis theorizes carnivalesque politics as liminal, oppositional and comedic. Given its potentials to reimagine alternatives for the status quo, its rampant appropriation both for the enterprise of moral participation and for banal entertainment purposes is indubitable. Further, this thesis also confirms the efficacy of Bakhtin’s (1965) carnivalesque as an empirical framework to proffer the notion of power as (theatrical) performance in vernacular mediatized contents.
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PN4565.W58 Kan
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Appears in Collections:Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

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