What is it about?
How is it that mass-communicative visuals combined with minimal written text are by and large correctly interpreted in the way their creator intended? The answer is: because the envisaged audience (a) recognizes the genre to which the image belongs, and is knowledgeable about the purpose of the genre to which it belongs; (b) accesses the image at a moment that is to a considerable extent foreseen by the creator; (c) accesses the image at a location which is to a considerable extent foreseen by the creator. In the case of Peter van Straaten's tear-off calendar cartoons, the audience knows (a) the cartoons are supposed to be funny, making one smile; (b) they are typically seen and read in the morning of a new day; (c) the calendar often hangs in the home, often on the toilet.
Photo by Jan Antonin Kolar on Unsplash
Why is it important?
Whereas in face-to-face communication interlocutors can continually check whether they correctly understand each other, mass-communication does not allow for immediate feedback. One might think that as a result, mass-communicative messages, particularly purely visual messages or visual messages only accompanied by a sentence or so (= a type of multimodal communication) would often be misinterpreted. The claim in this paper is that the chances of misinterpretation are enormously reduced by the fact that both mass-communicators and their envisaged audiences trust that they share awareness about the purpose of the message -- and this purpose is closely tied to its genre: the 8 o'clock news wants to inform; the advertisement wants to sell; the non-political cartoon wants to entertain; and the political cartoon wants to criticize politicians in an entertaining manner. The analyses of ten Peter van Straaten cartoons thus help outline what theoretical concepts are needed for a full-blown theory of mass-communication.
Read the Original
This page is a summary of: Addressing an audience: Time, place, and genre in Peter van Straaten’s calendar cartoons, Humor - International Journal of Humor Research, January 2005, De Gruyter, DOI: 10.1515/humr.2005.18.3.247.
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"Are you STILL talking about the war?"
This is one of the PvS cartoons discussed in the paper. The young man that brings drinks to the elderly people on an outdoor terrace sees them all laughing, and asks, "are you STILL talking about the war?" -- suggesting that the war is a very funny topic for conversation. What adds to the humour (and possibly controversy) of the calendar cartoon is that it appeared on the 4th of May, which is the day on which the Dutch traditionally commemorate the victims of WWII.
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