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Baym, Nancy

The Performance of Humor in Computer-Mediated Communication


There has been very little work on humor in computer-mediated communication (CMC). Indeed, the implication of some CMC work is that the medium is inhospitable to humor. This essay argues that humor can be accomplished in CMC and can be critical to creating social meaning on-line. The humor of the Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.tv.soaps (r.a.t.s.), which discusses soap operas, is analyzed. The method combines user surveys with message analysis to show the prevalence and importance of humor in r.a.t.s. Close analysis of five exemplary humorous messages shows how the group's humor arises from the juxtaposition of close and distant readings of the soap opera, which place the participants in close relationships to one another, and distance them from the soap opera's writers and producers. Group solidarity is also created as participants draw extensively on previous messages to ground their own humor. Humor is also shown to be a primary mechanism for the establishment of individuality, as participants combine the shared meanings and play with the shared parameters of the group in idiosyncratic ways.

  tags Computer Mediated Communication,