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Where Humor’s Not to Tread


An audience engages with material with a purpose; there is a reason why we read. Explore a novel for entertainment or insight, watch a movie for pure escape or puzzling stash of riddles. Two can watch a movie for different reasons just as they can find completely different ideas. Reading the “text” paper or otherwise begins with the intention of the reader and, if discarded or violated, the material’s value may be lethally compromised. Engage though we do it is not for common goals.

How does one react when these expectations are violated? What becomes of a reader’s experience when an engagement on strictly serious, information-seeking goals finds humor and silliness? How does one react when engaging with a film labeled comedy finds sadness and drama? For many this violation is grounds for exit: some leave the theater or change the channel upon finding this violation. Expectations and crucial.

Our skills at labeling and categorization work to protect us from these violations of expectations. In most cases our labels work to inform us before we engage with material. We trust Netflix when it labels a movie as comedy. When we grab a book from the non-fiction shelf we expect to read a certain amount of truth inside its pages. Fiction is fake, comedy is funny and facts abound in non-fiction. Is this true? Are we safe? How much can be trust or expect from our systems of labeling.

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