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Women in India Ink

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0024538/00001

Material Information

Title: Women in India Ink Controlling the Production of Gender Through Humor in Mainstream Comic Strips
Physical Description: 1 online resource (67 p.)
Language: english
Creator: Fernandez-Baca, Daniel
Publisher: University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 2009

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords: agency, characters, comics, gender, heteronormativity, housewife, humor, incongruity, jokes, mainstream, media, superiority, traditional, women
Sociology -- Dissertations, Academic -- UF
Genre: Sociology thesis, M.A.
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation

Notes

Abstract: This study seeks to understand the way women are used in mainstream humor and whether their portrayals seek to enforce or protest traditional notions of gendered behavior. By looking at the top six nationally syndicated comic strips over the period of one year, I was able to determine that women s roles in humor typically situated them in the position of feed , or straight woman, to the male comic. Those who were subversive enough to participate in the humor usually played on the incongruity of the situation rather than subordinate other women or their male counterparts. Reoccurring themes in women s use of humor included the incongruity of little girl characters searching to achieve gender normativity; as well as the inability of single women characters to achieve heteronormative relationships. Women who were in the envious position of being married were often were more likely to be shown as frustrated with the actions of their families and as a result, often verbalize their displeasure to their partners. Working women were given the most agency in creating humor and while at the mercy of their superiors they simultaneously possessed the ability to make light of the situation. And while most of these recurring female characters were shown often, their portrayals were largely one dimensional. The one group that was found to be produced with the greatest amount of variation was the non-recurring female characters who could function as both feed and comic. Overall, there was little challenging of traditional gender roles and humor was largely situated in the male realm. I conclude that popular media producers need to create and develop characters that have greater depth and complexity, rather than relying on non-recurring characters to express the varied roles of women.
General Note: In the series University of Florida Digital Collections.
General Note: Includes vita.
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: Description based on online resource; title from PDF title page.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The University of Florida Libraries, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Statement of Responsibility: by Daniel Fernandez-Baca.
Thesis: Thesis (M.A.)--University of Florida, 2009.
Local: Adviser: Shehan, Constance L.
Electronic Access: RESTRICTED TO UF STUDENTS, STAFF, FACULTY, AND ON-CAMPUS USE UNTIL 2011-05-31

Record Information

Source Institution: UFRGP
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: lcc - LD1780 2009
System ID: UFE0024538:00001

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0024538/00001

Material Information

Title: Women in India Ink Controlling the Production of Gender Through Humor in Mainstream Comic Strips
Physical Description: 1 online resource (67 p.)
Language: english
Creator: Fernandez-Baca, Daniel
Publisher: University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 2009

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords: agency, characters, comics, gender, heteronormativity, housewife, humor, incongruity, jokes, mainstream, media, superiority, traditional, women
Sociology -- Dissertations, Academic -- UF
Genre: Sociology thesis, M.A.
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation

Notes

Abstract: This study seeks to understand the way women are used in mainstream humor and whether their portrayals seek to enforce or protest traditional notions of gendered behavior. By looking at the top six nationally syndicated comic strips over the period of one year, I was able to determine that women s roles in humor typically situated them in the position of feed , or straight woman, to the male comic. Those who were subversive enough to participate in the humor usually played on the incongruity of the situation rather than subordinate other women or their male counterparts. Reoccurring themes in women s use of humor included the incongruity of little girl characters searching to achieve gender normativity; as well as the inability of single women characters to achieve heteronormative relationships. Women who were in the envious position of being married were often were more likely to be shown as frustrated with the actions of their families and as a result, often verbalize their displeasure to their partners. Working women were given the most agency in creating humor and while at the mercy of their superiors they simultaneously possessed the ability to make light of the situation. And while most of these recurring female characters were shown often, their portrayals were largely one dimensional. The one group that was found to be produced with the greatest amount of variation was the non-recurring female characters who could function as both feed and comic. Overall, there was little challenging of traditional gender roles and humor was largely situated in the male realm. I conclude that popular media producers need to create and develop characters that have greater depth and complexity, rather than relying on non-recurring characters to express the varied roles of women.
General Note: In the series University of Florida Digital Collections.
General Note: Includes vita.
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: Description based on online resource; title from PDF title page.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The University of Florida Libraries, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Statement of Responsibility: by Daniel Fernandez-Baca.
Thesis: Thesis (M.A.)--University of Florida, 2009.
Local: Adviser: Shehan, Constance L.
Electronic Access: RESTRICTED TO UF STUDENTS, STAFF, FACULTY, AND ON-CAMPUS USE UNTIL 2011-05-31

Record Information

Source Institution: UFRGP
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: lcc - LD1780 2009
System ID: UFE0024538:00001


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1 WOMEN IN INDIA INK: CONTROLLING THE PRODUCTION OF GENDER THROUGH HUMOR IN MAINSTREAM COMIC STRIPS By DANIEL FERNANDEZ-BACA A MASTERS THESIS PRESENTE D TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLOR IDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2009

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2 2009 Daniel Fernandez-Baca

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3 To my Mom, who has always supported me

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4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I would lik e to start by thanking my mother, Isabel, who never questioned the crazy decisions I made in my life but always pushed me to be everything I could be and never doubted me for a second. My father, David, who taught me that being an academic and being funny are not mutually exclusive, and that youre never t oo important to be self-deprecating. My sister, Cristina, who was the first person I tried to ma ke laugh every day, you will always be my baby sister. I would also like to thank my committee members, Dr. Connie Shehan and Dr. Charles Gattone, who saw the value in my research and ne ver put me in a box. Dr. Paul Windschitl for giving me the opportunity to explore the world of social research when I was still wet behind the ears. Dr. C. Wesley Younts for turning me on to sociology and convincing me that I would be a good sociologist, even if it took me a while to li sten. Christopher Weaver, for his selfless editing of my work and his many contribut ions to my scholastic growth. Most importantly I would like to thank my wi fe, Jeannette, who got me to get my life on track and always knows how to keep me goi ng. Thank you for all your love, support and understanding. Without these people, none of this would be possible.

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5 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ............................................................................................................... 4 LIST OF TABLES ...........................................................................................................................7 LIST OF FIGURES .........................................................................................................................8 ABSTRACT ...................................................................................................................... .............10 CHAP TER 1 INTRODUCTION .................................................................................................................. 12 2 LITERATURE REVIEW .......................................................................................................14 The Construction of Gender ...................................................................................................14 The Effects of Contemporary Mass Media ............................................................................. 16 The Construction of Humor and Ridicule ..............................................................................16 The Intersection of Gender and Humor in the Media .............................................................19 3 METHODOLOGY ................................................................................................................. 21 Study Rationale .......................................................................................................................21 Research Question ..................................................................................................................23 Sample ........................................................................................................................ ............23 Operationalization ............................................................................................................ .......25 Character Analysis ...........................................................................................................25 Position in the Joke .......................................................................................................... 25 Theoretical Orientation ....................................................................................................... ....26 4 FINDINGS ...................................................................................................................... ........30 Appearances ................................................................................................................... .........30 Character Analysis ..................................................................................................................31 Beetle Bailey ...................................................................................................................31 Blondie ....................................................................................................................... .....32 Dilbert ....................................................................................................................... .......33 The Family Circus ........................................................................................................... 33 Garfield ...................................................................................................................... ......34 Hagar the Horrible ...........................................................................................................35 Womens Position in the Joke ................................................................................................ 36 The Primary Female Character ........................................................................................ 36 Passive and Active Interactions ....................................................................................... 37 Character Themes .............................................................................................................. .....40 Desperately Seeking Normativity .................................................................................... 40

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6 A Good Man is Hard to Find ........................................................................................... 41 The Harried and Henpecking Housewife ........................................................................ 42 The Perils of the Working Woman .................................................................................. 43 Non-Recurring Characters ...............................................................................................43 5 DISCUSSION .................................................................................................................... .....56 Social Implications ........................................................................................................... ......56 Limitations ................................................................................................................... ...........57 Research Implications ......................................................................................................... ....60 LIST OF REFERENCES ...............................................................................................................62 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH .........................................................................................................67

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7 LIST OF TABLES Table page 3-1 List of Top Syndicated Comic Strips Arranged by Debut Year ........................................1244-1 The Appearance of Women of the Course over 1 Year in the Six Most Nationally Syndicated Comic Strips (N=2196) ...................................................................................1304-2 Listing of Individual Female Character A ppearances and Their Level of Interactions .....1374-3 Types of Interactions Female Character s Have in the Construction of the Joke ...............1384-4 Types of Female Joke Constructions .................................................................................139

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8 LIST OF FIGURES Figure page 3-1 Stooge A................................................................................................................... ..........27 3-2 Stooge B .................................................................................................................. ...........27 3-3 Foil A .................................................................................................................... .............28 3-4 Foil B .................................................................................................................... .............28 3-5 Superiority example ....................................................................................................... ....28 3-6 Incongruity example ....................................................................................................... ...29 4-1 Seeking normativity A ..................................................................................................... ..47 4-2 Seeking normativity B ..................................................................................................... ..48 4-3 Seeking normativity C ..................................................................................................... ..48 4-4 Seeking normativity D ..................................................................................................... ..49 4-5 Seeking normativity E...................................................................................................... ..49 4-6 A good man is hard to find A .............................................................................................49 4-7 A good man is hard to find B .............................................................................................50 4-8 A good man is hard to find C .............................................................................................50 4-9 A good man is hard to find D .............................................................................................50 4-10 A good man is hard to find E .............................................................................................51 4-11 A good man is hard to find F .............................................................................................51 4-12 Housewife A .............................................................................................................. ........51 4-13 Housewife B .............................................................................................................. .........52 4-14 Housewife C .............................................................................................................. .........52 4-15 Housewife D .............................................................................................................. ........52 4-16 Housewife E .............................................................................................................. .........52 4-17 Housewife F .............................................................................................................. .........53

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9 4-18 Working women A .......................................................................................................... ...53 4-19 Working women B .......................................................................................................... ...53 4-20 Gatekeepers ........................................................................................................................53 4-21 Lady friends A ...................................................................................................................54 4-22 Lady friends B ....................................................................................................................54 4-23 Lady friends C ....................................................................................................................54 4-24 The temptress A .......................................................................................................... .......55 4-25 The temptress B .......................................................................................................... .......55 4-26 The temptress C .......................................................................................................... .......55

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10 Abstract of Thesis Presen ted to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts WOMEN IN INDIA INK: CONTROLLING THE PRODUCTION OF GENDER THROUGH HUMOR IN MAINSTREAM COMIC STRIPS By Daniel Fernandez-Baca May 2009 Chair: Connie Shehan Major: Sociology This study seeks to understand the way women ar e used in mainstream humor and whether their portrayals seek to enforce or protest traditio nal notions of gendered be havior. By looking at the top six nationally syndicated comic strips over the period of one year, I was able to determine that womens roles in humor typically situated th em in the position of feed, or straight woman, to the male comic. Those who were subvers ive enough to participate in the humor usually played on the incongruity of the situation rather than subordinate other women or their male counterparts. Reoccurring themes in womens use of humor included th e incongruity of little girl characters searching to ach ieve gender normativity; as well as the inability of single women characters to achieve heteronormative relations hips. Women who were in the envious position of being married were often were more likely to be shown as frustrated with the actions of their families and as a result, often verbalize their disp leasure to their partners. Working women were given the most agency in creating humor and while at the mercy of their superiors they simultaneously possessed the ability to make light of the situation. And while most of these recurring female characters were shown often, th eir portrayals were largely one dimensional. The one group that was found to be produced wi th the greatest amount of variation was the nonrecurring female characters who could function as both feed and comic. Ov erall, there was little

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11 challenging of traditional gender roles and humor was largely situated in the male realm. I conclude that popular media produc ers need to create and devel op characters that have greater depth and complexity, rather than relying on non-r ecurring characters to ex press the varied roles of women.

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12 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION The interactions of a society are fueled, in part, by an understanding and appreciation of social norm s that are imbued in us at a young age. In contemporary society, the use of humor is a fairly common practice used to make social in teractions less strenuous and more enjoyable. The ability to appreciate this humor is one of th e simplest, yet greatest, pleasures one is afforded in life. However, the ability to create and partic ipate in humor is a right reserved for those who are familiar with the norms and constructions that we recognize as a wider society. Many of the most popular normative ideologies are taken and used in the public sphere which in turn legitimizes them on an even larger scale. Jurgen Habermas (1989) contends that in th e early coffee houses, sa lons, and lodges of 18th century Europe the creation of the bourgeois public sphere allowed for the free expression and communication of ideas and norms which was prev iously defined by centr al power structures such as monarchies and dictatorships. This development of a non-governmental public sphere helped set the tone for public discourse on a wide range of topics as well as serving as the basis for the rise of mass media and consumer culture. It is within our new consumer driven public sphere that Habermas believes we as a society lost the ability to freel y express ourselves and have a voice in the development of social norms. However, I contend that, despite its great stri des in lending a voice to the people, the early bourgeois public sphere was not th e egalitarian birth of social t hought that Habermas contends it was. This is especially true for minorities, such as women, who have been excluded from the conversation from the start. And while analys es of their exclusion have thoroughly noted its effects on politics, academia, and social reform, the development of humor is one that has gone under analyzed.

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13 Within the loud, smoke filled rooms of these ma le dominated social halls, the rules of public decorum in regards to laughter were establ ished early on (Burke, 1993). The endorsement of polite gentlemanly wit carried with it classist and patriarchal undertones that came to define what was considered acceptable to find humo rous and what lowered individuals to a dishonorable level. The norms and definitions that were put in place at this time have survived to certain extent in modern society prope lled onward by the development of mass media. However, the second and third waves of femini st activism have put into question the role of women in popular culture. Their increased par ticipation in the creation of all forms of media has helped them redefine their role. They have ha d to walk a thin line in this task as a gendered revolution cannot effectively happe n at once. Instead, we find a definition of gendered humor that is being protested bit by bit, punch line by p unch line. Sometimes these moves are effective, sometimes they are not, yet they continue to force us to conceive of gender as a fluid construct. There is a substantial am ount of work left to be done on the effect of the bourgeois public sphere defining the rules of humor in contemporar y mass media. This paper seeks to understand the effects of the latter on the role of wome n in contemporary mainstream humor. This study identifies some of the gendered bases of humor that continue to exist in much the same form they existed in the 18th century. However, it also seeks to determine how gendered humor is being challenged and redefined every day.

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14 CHAPTER 2 LITERATURE REVIEW In order to structure the research question, th is study seeks to synthesize three separate of bodies of literatu re: gender, contemporary mass me dia, and humor. While each subject is well researched, little has been done to explore the intersecti on of all three in rega rds to the portrayal of women. What follows is a distilled discus sion of each followed by a convergence of every piece to develop a structured understanding of the background of women in humorous contemporary media. The Construction of Gender Sociologists have largely com e to see gender as a social institution th at is constructed and performed by individuals on a daily basis. Patr icia Yancey Martin ( 2004) has put forth the argument that gender is an enduring institution that persists across time and space. However, her definition makes an effort to suggest that whil e the institutions definitio ns have a tendency to constrain certain behaviors, they also have the ability to facilitate othe r behaviors and that the legitimized norms are executed by ordinary people who believe in the morality of their gender ideologies. She continues by saying that the institution of gender is constantly changing and redefining itself and cannot be separated from e ither macro or micro phenomena. With this in mind we can begin to grasp the ways in whic h humor in mass media make use of gender ideologies while simultaneously legitimizing them and pushing their boundaries. This is important, according to Candace West and Don Zimmerman (1987), because once an ideology is absorbed by an individual they make it a part of their routine gender accomplishment. They state that a persons gend er display is largely dependent upon the context they find themselves in. However, Mead (1934) ar gued that in new or foreign social interactions we rely on our perception of a generalized othe r to guide our own behavior. Given that mass

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15 media is so pervasive in todays society, it is my contention that chil dren and those who find themselves in unfamiliar situations will rely on media icons as a significant and idealized part of their generalized other, especi ally in regards to gender. One clear example is the use of Ba rbie in Michael Messners 2000 study Barbie Girls versus Sea Monsters: Children Constructing Gender While Barbie can certainly possess all the necessary accoutrements to play soccer (if pur chased from the store), she is not regularly portrayed as a sports player; nor does her body stru cture make her the ideal athlete. Yet, for the little girls in Messners study, Barbie serves as an ideal feminine gender construction and provides the boys the social cues to construct their gender in opposition to the displays of femininity. In this way child ren learn early on about gender production and seek out idealized role models in mainstream media. The ability to do so becomes more difficult when role models are in short supply. Gender scholars have argued for years that there is a di stinct difference in th e way men and women are treated both in academia and the media. Judith Stacey and Barrie Thorne have argued at several points in time (1985, 1996) that fields such as so ciology and literature have failed to critically study the role of women in defining social life. As a result, while there have been great strides in gender equality, the voice of wome n continues to be distorted and misrepresented in both academia and the media. Furthermore, the pe rvasiveness of a culture that emphasizes a hegemonic masculine ideal (Connell 2005) ensures that patriarchal dominance is widespread in subtle and not so subtle ways. What we are left with is a soci ety whose perception of gender is defined by hegemonic powers that urge us to conform to long-held pa triarchal ideologies (Ridgeway & Shelley, 2004). By playing into these traditional ge nder definitions these ideologies attempt to maintain their ground as objective truths.

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16 The Effects of Contemporary Mass Media Critical theorists such as Ma x Horkheim er and Theodore A dorno (2002) have argued that mass media has become a rationalized process th at seeks to find the most profitable way of entertaining the masses. They refute the idea th at media portrays an accurate picture of society, but rather state that media creat es products that tame society into submission for capitalistic ends by using gender archetypes that are perceived as objective truths. Even protest is subject to co-optation according to Marcuses (Wolff, M oore & Marcuse, 1969) idea of repressive tolerance which states that a m odern industrial societ y will tolerate an o ppositional idea if it can be molded it into a m eans of making a profit. However, Habermas (1984) takes a more nuanced approach to the production of contemporary mass media in his book The Theory of Communicative Action. While he acknowledges the centralized pow er hierarchy of the modern media conglomerates, he argues that these structures are subject a number of variables beyond th eir control. These include, but are not limited to: journalistic codes of integrity, misinterpretation of context, active defenses against manipulation, and even the foresight to predict video pluralism with the rise of new media. So while a hierarchy still exists, there is still potential for pr otest that would cause a restructuring in the use of gender. It is vita l to note that Habermas does not place any value judgments on his definition of cultural protest and therefore it becomes diff icult to determine the impact liberals and conservatives will have on the mass media and whose influence will be felt the strongest in the next set of cultural productions. The Construction of Humor and Ridicule For years th e assumption has been that humor can lead to positive outcomes. Whether it manifests itself as a form of resistance (Hart, 2007; Merziger, 2007), a means for conflict

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17 resolution, (Holmes, 2006; Sclavi, 2008) or even a method to cope with loss (Klein, 1989; Stevenson, 1993), the results are varied with little actual data. Books like The Healing Power of Humour (Klein, 1989) tout humors ab ility to help withstand physical disorders declaring the humour is indeed the best medicine. Even in th e context of an interper sonal relationship a sense of humor is highly regarded in friends, family, and intimate relationships. Less popular are the studies that point to humor as a way to legitimize harmful behavior. This includes a range of beha viors such as sexual harassmen t (Angelone, Hirschman, Suniga, Armey & Armelie, 2005; Eyssel & Bohner, 2007), teasing (Lampert & Ervin-Tripp, 2006), group exclusion (Watts, 2007), proclivity toward s rape (Viki, Thomae, Cullen & Fernandez, 2007), and the exploitation of tragedy (Zandberg, 2006) to name a few. Their existence forces us to reconsider the effects of using humor, however innocuous we ma y believe it to be. This study focuses on the social theorists who study humor in the continuum that exists in everyday life. Michael Billig explores these theorists and their gradations in his 2005 book Laughter and Ridicule in which he discusses the three in tellectual theories of humour and identifies them as (1) superiority theories, (2 ) incongruity theories, and (3) release theories The least applicable of the three for this study, release theories, posit th at laughter is the result of a biological reaction to pent up energy that needs to be released and therefore it can not be judged to have any conscious morality. This sort of reaction would be difficult to measure as the level at which one needs to release nervous tension varies from person to person and could not be measured through content analysis. In contrast, superiority theo ries are rooted in a Marxis t tradition of hierarchical reproduction in which those who are in power use ridicule and humiliation as a form of domination and as a means of main taining the social order. Tout ed by ancient philosophers such

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18 as Plato (1974) as an effective means of social control, humor has been used to establish superiority in a hierarchical rela tionship. However, Plato and others warn that excessive use of humor is inappropriate and ther efore should be monitored and used only when it will benefit society. Thomas Hobbes (1999) wrote extensivel y on the immorality that resulted in making a person feel superior via cognitive comparison of one who was the butt of a joke. Even today, a large portion of the humor we find seeks to ma ke a fool out of some one which some social theorists may argue makes us feel superior and degrades the subject of our mockery. Incongruity theories on the other hand rely on the belief that huma n beings are rational creatures that process humor c ognitively rather than emotiona lly. As a result incongruity theorists, such as John Locke (1964), identify bot h psychological and soci ological themes within humor which rely on wit, or a play on ideas. This play on ideas seeks to pair two seemingly incongruous ideas and place them in close proximity causing the observer to be surprised to realize how similar they actually are. The classic example is the story of the man who asks his waitress to cut his cake into four pieces rather than eight because he is on a diet. We realize that by eating the entire cake he is violating the terms of his di et, which is incongruous; but by requesting that he be served four slices rather than eight, we see how he has cognitively arranged his thought process to make his actions seem rational. This point of view allows humor to be perceived as having the potential to by socially conscious and capable of inspiring social movements by stimulating thought about the incongruous natu re of oppression. Regardless of whether humor is deemed as supe rior or incongruous, it is important to note that its use can both enforce and protest social norms. The key is to understand who is using it and how they are using it.

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19 The Intersection of Gender and Humor in the Media The nature o f mass media requires that humor be placed in context so that the audience, who isnt actually present, can find humor by using the appropriate ideologies. This often calls for the presence of a second pers on, or feed, who feeds lines to the comic, or at minimum serve as a reactionary character. The feed cues the audience when to laugh but, unlike the laugh track, they also serves to act as the comedians foil, by making the comic look funnier, or the comedians stooge, by making themselves look wors e. While the feed can serve as both a foil and a stooge, we can largely agree that they are not in control of the humor production. Women have historically been discouraged fr om publicly taking part in the creation of humor. Greek comedies and Shakespearean play s were often produced using men in drag in place of women, the showing of teeth while smili ng was considered unladylike, and laughing out loud was considered low class in the 18th century (Billig, 2005). Ye t, despite their imposed exile, we have no shortage of female archetypes that comedians, playwrights, and authors have created and played off of for years: the shre wish mother-in-law, th e harried housewife, the coquettish young girl, the misguided feminist, th e strict schoolmarm, the list goes on and on. It is easy to see how the patriarchical nature of humor construction has shaped the role of women in comedy, and how easily our culture has legitimized those roles. Rarely have we heard of classic American female humorist such as Frances Whitcher, Caroline Kirkland, or Kate Sanborn. These pi oneering women had to face both the harsh critique of men and the emerging feminist move ments of their times who questioned the validity of their expressions. The difficu lties women endured to be taken seriously as comediennes, have been catalogued in anthologies such as The Jokes on Us: Women in Co medy from Music Hall to the Present (Banks & Swift, 1987), and Performing Women Stand-ups, Strumpets and Itinerants

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20 (Oddey, 1999). They encountered repeated challe nges to their ability to create humor on stage and screen where their producers would rather use them primarily as straight women and love interests rather than humorists in their own right. What has evolved is a pantheon of male come dic geniuses who rely on a straight woman who serves as their feed: Ralph Kramden had Ali ce, Fred Flintstone had Wilma, Archie Bunker had Edith, Cliff Huxtable had Claire, etc. The previous list however is indicative of the need for a steady woman in the context of the family ma n comic. There is an equally long list of historical comedians who go through attractive, yet disposable, young starlets as they go from one movie to the next: Charlie Chaplin, Bob Hope Woody Allen, Adam Sandler, etc. Both lists share the common trait of having men whose mass media pr oductions would often pair them with women who were at the mercy of their comedic performances and often require them to become emotionally involv ed with their antagonist. This shallow portrayal of women is an indicator of their status in our society as objects that observe and react but rarely participate. A study of gendered humo r constructions gives credence to the argument that gender itself is a social construction. And via mass media, these legitimized social constructions have enjoyed a long run that has only beg un to be challenged in recent decades by comediennes with increasing visi bility. This leaves the current position of comediennes in popular culture up for debate, on e which this study seeks to address through its analysis of mainstream comic strips.

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21 CHAPTER 3 METHODOLOGY Study Rationale Hum or is one of societys most subjective fo rms of interaction and can be difficult to operationalize and measure in any given interaction. By its very nature humor can be layered with meanings that change over time and are sy mbolically important to certain groups over other (Stokoe, 2008). Witty barbs can be traded back and forth continuously, building upon one another in an attempt to entertain but also degrad e. In some instances people may not even be aware that they are listening to a joke even after the punch line is delivered, and some jokes are simply not funny to anyone but the creator and a small group of insiders. On a larger scale, humor is used in part as a way to acknowledge common ideologies and beliefs about society as a whole. Those who shar e these ideologies take pleasure in recognizing the shared set of assumptions they have with the humorist. Some of those who do not share said assumptions will dismiss the joke for a variety of reasons: it does not reflect their social status, it may be perceived as infantile, or they may simply find it offensive. However, there are some who realign their attitudes to varyi ng degrees in order to fit these id eologies and take part in this social interaction. This is not the case in every situation, but as the le vel of exposure intensify one may increasingly come to believe that th e humor in the subject matter is a socially acceptable ideology and adopt it as his or her own. Therefore, in order to study the use of gende r in mass media humor, it was necessary to find a medium in which there is a large consensus that the material is meant to be humorous in nature. Likewise, there must be some discernable differentiation in gend er between characters for the audience to identify with. Additionally, the interactions cannot be so multi-dimensional that it becomes too difficult to separate the importance of one punch line over another. With

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22 these restrictions in mind, it became clear that the ideal form of humor to study was the comic strip. Since their debut in the late 19th century, comic strips have been used to hold up a distorted mirror up to societys face in order to make the reader laugh and think at the same time. While they have evolved over the year, in modern times comic strips exist as a set of characters existing within a group of panels, or single panel, that build upon one another until the story comes to a humorous conclusion otherwise known as the punch line. They employ benign humor, tragicomedy, wit, and satire, but in the end they all converge to one gag that concludes the strip on the last panel. This makes them easy to de code because each person in strip exists to facilitate the telling of th e joke, and their role in this context speaks volumes. Early studies of comic strips have focuse d on the communicative behavior of comics and how they help structure an individuals worl d (Spiegelman, Terwillig er & Fearing, 1952) and how they can even be used to substitute for intimate sociability (Bogart, 1955). More recent studies of comic strips have spanned the gamut of topics from aging and health (Gower, 1995; Hanlon, Farnsworth & Murray, 1997; Spigel, 2001), to capitalism (Cohen, 2007; Gordon, 1998; Kasen, 1980), to family (LaRossa, Jaret, Gadg il, & Wynn, 2000; LaRossa, Jaret, Gadgil, & Wynn, 2001), to race (Glascock & Preston-Sc hreck, 2004; Mason, 2002; Pigeon, 1996; White & Fuentez, 1997), to religion (Li ndsey & Heeren, 1992), and even sexuality (Padva, 2005). These studies have not only ignored the way in which gender intersects with th eir various topics, but they have failed in their attempt to discern how humor is derived. This is not to say that the topic of gende r in the comics has not gone unexplored. While comic strips have been studied by sociologist s in the past (Brabant, 1976; Brabant & Mooney, 1986; Brabant & Mooney, 1997; Chavez, 1985; Glas cock & Preston-Schreck, 2004; Saenger,

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23 1955), previous studies have only sought to catalog appearance and location. They have failed to explore the power dynamics between characters a nd express humor as a function of ridicule and suppression. In doing so, they have ignored the context of the characters appearances in favor of a quantitative approach. And while this study also hopes to understand the production of gender form a quantitative approach, it also seek s to critically understand some of the deeper qualitative aspects of the humor used. Research Question How do m ainstream comic strips use humor to challenge or legitimize the traditional gender roles of women in society? In order to op erationalize this researc h, I have delineated four detailed sub-questions that I believe, when asked sequentially, will facilitate a deeper understanding of the main research question. First, does a character analysis reveal a pattern of gender archetypes or gender pioneer s in the recurring female char acters? Second, what are the typical positions of these women in relation to the jokes that are regularly told? Third, what themes can we infer about these women based on their position and their ch aracter? And finally, what is the larger message the media is sending to the reader about womens roles in society and their ability to use, or be used by, humor? Sample Com ic strips are provided to newspapers, magazines, and websites from a variety of syndicates that represent various cartoonists. These syndicates take the time to copyright and promote strips, as well as negotiate contracts on be half of the artists. In the United States there exist six major syndication companies that provi de the majority of the print comics in newspapers today: Creators S yndicate, King Features Syndicate Universal Press Syndicate, Washington Post Writers Group, Tribune Media Services, and United Media. While it is important to note that these companies have vary ing degrees of influence over what artists to

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24 represent and that some popular cartoonists do not use a syndication company, this will not be a factor. Instead, for the purpose of this study, I chose to use strips that are syndicated by these companies to, at minimum, 1,500 outlets. By obt aining information from the various syndicate companies I have identified 8 strips that fit into this first criterion: Beetle Bailey, Blondie, Dilbert, The Family Circus, For Better or For Worse, Garfield, Hagar, and Peanuts The second criterion required that each strip routinely provide new material so that the strips could be analyzed for current uses of gender in humor. Of these 8 strips, two are no longer printing original material (For Better or For Worse and Peanuts) and were consequently excluded from the study. However, strips with anthropomor phic animals were not excluded from the study because creators were always specific in noting the animals gender which often came into play in the humor. Table 3-1. List of Top Syndicated Co m ic Strips Arranged by Debut Year Title Number of Outlets Debut Year Blondie 2000 1930 Beetle Bailey 1800 1950 Peanuts 2600 1950 Family Circus 1500 1960 Hagar 1900 1973 Garfield 2580 1978 For Better of For Worse 2000 1979 Dilbert 2000 1989 Each of the strips was analyzed daily over a period of one year starting on January 1st of 2008 and continuing until December 31st of 2008. Because each strip was produced on a daily basis, during a leap year, this resulted in 366 observations for each strip and 2196 total observations.

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25 Operationalization Because of the fluid natu re of humor and gender, an explanation must be given to understand how I have operationalized gender and humor in this study. Character Analysis Each character in a com ic strip must have an easily identifiable role in the strip so that the reader is engaged in the joke over the character. In order to understand these roles, I qualitatively analyzed the apparent role of each reoccurring female character. I limited my analysis to female characters that appeared a minimum of five times throughout the year to ensure that some level of analysis was possible. This information was be supplemented by information obtain through published anthologies to determine the evolving nature of each ch aracters role in the strip. Position in the Joke Interp reting the intended meani ng of jokes and the role of each actor is a difficult and subjective task. Therefore, in order to study womens position in the joke, I have broken my analysis down into four parts: background, f eed, superior, and incongruous. Each category describes the type and level of interaction the female character has in the joke. The background category is fairly self-explan atory as it catalogs the number of times recurring characters appear, but fail to interact within the context of th e joke. These women may appear in the fringes of the pane ls or in the center, however they do not interact with the joke teller and their status as bac kground characters is primarily dete rmined by the fact that their absence would not affect the jokes delivery. The feed refers to two types of women that act as a straight woman: the stooge and the foil. The two types are often difficult to distinguish so for the purposes of this study they will be combined into one; however it is important to understand there is a distinction. The stooge refers to the female characters who are the butt of anot her characters joke. Their character is often

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26 sacrificed for the good of the joke (See Figure 3-1 & 3-2). In contrast, the foil is simply present to make the joke funnier. Often, the character in charge of the joke wi ll say things that are absurd or illogical; it is the foils job to react to these statements or simply feed the lines that will set off the other characters (See Figure 3-3 & 3-4). Finally, there are two categories that attemp t to examine the types of humor women use when they are given the task of making the joke them selves. The first role is that of the superior jokester; which makes use of the other character s as the stooges (See Figure 3-5). In these instances the woman has successfully mocked or de famed another character for the benefit of the viewer. This is contrasted by the incongruous fe male jokester who helps the reader find humor in the incongruity of the thoughts, actions, and situ ations the characters find themselves in (See Figure 3-6). In either case, the women were classified as active pa rticipants in the creation of the humor. Once the level of participation was determined, strips were coded for recurring themes in feminine humor that synthesize th e characters and their position in the joke. These results were then extrapolated to determine the current stat e of women in mainstream humor at the beginning of the 21st century. Theoretical Orientation The theoretical orientation of this study relies heavily on a symbolic interactionist perspective as defined by Blum er (1969). It is ideal, in this medi um, to begin from a micro-level perspective before stepping backwards to find la rger underlying themes. We know that only one author is speaking for each character and thus th is perspective allows us to understand that each characters actions and dialogue ar e being shaped so ensure a ce rtain message is taken away. Furthermore, because of the nature of comic stri ps, we understand that each aspect of the strip is

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27 crucial to the goal of making the audience la ugh; therefore the interpretation of meaning becomes narrower and easier to ascertain. Using grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Strauss & Corbin, 1990), I will code reoccurring themes as they arise, periodica lly reformulating both themes and coding as unexpected variants arise. Given that the use of humor in gender construction can be used in a way that can be either social conscious or patriarchically domi nating, it is important to be open to the possibility of finding either. In this wa y I hope to approach this study with fewer preconceived judgments of what I can expect to find. King Features Syndicate Figure 3-1. Stooge A King Features Syndicate Figure 3-2. Stooge B

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28 Bil Keane, Distributed by King Features Syndicate Figure 3-3. Foil A Bil Keane, Distributed by King Features Syndicate Figure 3-4. Foil B King Features Syndicate Figure 3-5. Superiority example

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29 Bil Keane, Distributed by King Features Syndicate Figure 3-6. Incongruity example

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30 CHAPTER 4 FINDINGS Appearances The first step in understanding the role of wom en in humor is to determine the strength of their presence in each strip and compare them amongst themselves. This required that all 2196 observations be coded, first, for the appearan ce of women characters. Those that included women characters were then selected for in-depth analysis, yielding 906 observations. Once this was complete the remaining all-male comics we re coded for mention of non-present female characters, resulting in an additional 100 observati ons. The total number of strips with female involvement was 1006 observations (See Table 4-1). Table 4-1. The Appearance of Wo m en of the Course over 1 Year in the Six Most Nationally Syndicated Comic Strips (N=2196) Beetle Bailey Blondie Dilbert Family Circus Garfield Hagar the Horrible Total Women Shown 102 215 151 237 51 166 906 Women Mentioned 7 8 5 12 44 24 100 Final Total 109 213 156 249 95 190 1006 As we can see in these initial observations (shown in Table 4-1), women are seen in less than half of the comic strips coded. The only stri ps to use women in half or more of the strips were identified as Blondie and The Family Circus In order to understand why such low representa tion was found, it is neces sary to look at the nature of the characters themselves to understand how they are placed with in the narrative back story of each strip. Each character was then se parately coded and analyzed to determine her number of appearances as well as her lo cation in the joke (S ee Table 4-2),

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31 Character Analysis Beetle Bailey Over the co urse of the one year analysis, four recurring female characters helped define the type of humor used in the strip Beetle Bailey : Martha Halftrack, Miss Bu xley, Private Blips, and Sergeant Louise Lugg. Of these characters, Mart ha Halftrack is the on ly one to be married leaving the other three attempting to snag a ma n with varying degrees of success, none even close to marriage. Martha Halftrack serves as a counterpart to General Halftracks domineering personality and can be seen treating him with a similar amount of irreverence and domination as he treats his soldiers. However, she is never portrayed as anything but the Generals wife and the humor she provides is always in relation to her husbands a ppearances and his authoritative position. Like the General, Martha Halftrack is older, yet physically she is a larger woman which is contrasted by her husbands frame in a manner reminiscent of Jack Sprat and his wife. Miss Buxley and Private Blips primarily serve as administrative assistants. While Private Blips is a member of the armed forces, she is ne ver seen participating in any military activities with the men. For some unstated reason, the stri ps author makes a concerted effort to make Miss Buxley appear nearly every Wednesday in addition to occasional ap pearances on Sundays. Her appearances accounted for 64 of the 109 time s (58.7%) women were shown or mentioned in this strip, with the remaining 45 times being divided among the other three recurring female characters, as well as non-recurring female char acters. Furthermore, the names of both Miss Buxley and Private Blips appear to be thinly veiled references to their bust sizes and their regular juxtaposition allows the reader to contrast their various phys ical differences and easily identify the tension that arises when General Halftrack ogles Miss Buxley and not Private Blips. Yet, regardless of any superficial differences, they ap pear to be allies and ar e one of two pairs of

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32 women in the entire sample (the other being Helga and Honi in Hagar the Horrible ) that are regularly allowed to be a part in the ac tive construction of their strips humor. Finally, Sergeant Louise Lugg is the woul d-be fiance of Sergeant Snorkel, which coincidentally is the only capacity she serves in the strip. In the entire year the strip was analyzed she did not interact w ith any of the other female char acters, and despite being in the armed forces, like Private Blips, she did not participate in any military maneuvers with the men or any women. Instead she serves as the foil fo r Sergeant Snorkels punch lines or is shown to be pining for the day that he wi ll finally propose to her and sa ve her from a life of lonely spinsterhood. Like Martha Halftrack, Sergeant L ugg has a larger build; however, in her case her body type matches her partners physique. Blondie Blondie is by no m eans a stranger to challengi ng socially dictated norms. After her introduction to readers in 1930, Blondie Boopadoops marriage to Dagwood Bumstead in early 1933 struck a blow for exogamous inter-class ma rriages. Shortly after her marriage she gave birth to a son, Alexander, followed by a daught er, Cookie. And while the eponymous main character remains a regular in he r own strip, the focus had decidedl y shifted towards the antics of her husband Dagwood. Sixty years after her introduction Blondie fina lly got a job by starting a catering business with the nei ghbor, Tootsie Woodley. However, much like her home life, Blondies work life consists of her reacting to the incongruous na ture of the people that surround her. These mainly include her catering clients, who making impossible and irrational requests. Additionally, she is subjected to people who come in off the streets with no purpose but to elicit a response. In addition to Blondie, there are two other recu rring female characters. The first, Cookie Bumstead is the daughter of Blondie and Dagwood and has grown up on the strip since her

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33 introduction 68 years ago, however she remains frozen as a teenager. Her primary concerns in life, as observed in this sample, tended to be getting money from her parents and finding a good boy to date. She bears a striking resemblance to her mother with slight alterations in hair and clothing styles. The second is Tootsie Woodley who, with her husband (Herb), comprises the Bumsteads neighbors and best frie nds. Tootsie exists as a mirro r to Blondie, appearing to only differ in hair color, and thus understands the shenanigans that Blondie must put up with as a married woman. Aside from being Blondies conf ident and business partner, and Herbs wife, her role in the strip is minimal. Dilbert Alice is the only fem ale engineer in a comp any dominated by men. However, despite her status as the only woman, she is not seen as a love interest for any of the male characters, which is unique but not unexpected as the strip revolves around the workplace. She is competent at her job but is frustrated by the irrationality of the sy stem she works in which prides appearance over substance. As a result, she is prone to violent outbursts that are extremely effective against her male counterparts who cannot usually match her aggres sion. Her status in the strip is equal to, if not higher than, her male counterparts and th erefore she is capable of making humorous comments and inferences. Carol is the angry and bitter secretary of the Pointy-Haired Boss. Her character primarily seeks to antagonize anyone that co mes into contact with her because she is extremely resentful of her position in life and in the company. While she has little power to have any effect on her environment, she uses what little power she does have to make the lives of others more difficult. The Family Circus The Family Circuss humor relies on the ev eryday incongruities of life seen through the eyes of a family with small children. Much of the humor lies on the children attempting to

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34 anticipatorily socialize themselves. These result s in a multitude of ways in which their views and actions do not quite match the things they are attempting to emulate. However, in order to play off of the incongruities effec tively, the author relies on basic a nd strict archetypes in all of its characters including the female ones. Thel ma, also known as Thel but most often known as Mommy, is the mother of four children who al l appear to be under the age of 10. She appears to be a stay at home mother and hardly displays a personality but rather exists primarily to nurture and react to the even ts in her childrens lives. Likewise, Grandma visits the home regularly an d appears to take care of the children to some degree. She is a widow whose husbands spirit visits regularly perpetuating a religious theme that is subtly pervasive throughout the strip. Her relations hip with her deceased spouse is the only widow into her personal life and personality outside of the family that we are privy to. Finally, Dolly is the only female child and repr esents the only female in the strip with any semblance of a personality. As the second oldest child she wields a nurturing authority over the two younger boys, Jeffy and PJ, but remains somewhat subordinate to the eldest son, Billy. She is often seen playing in a very gender appropriate manner and, like Billy, she attempts to assert her own, often erroneous and therefore humor ous, explanations for circumstances she encounters. Garfield A year after its inception, Garfield introduced the eponym ous cat and his owner, Jon Arbuckle, to local veterinarian Dr. Liz Wilson. Fo r the next 28 years she appeared on and off as Jons unrequiting love interest whenever Garf ield went to the vet. While they would occasionally go on dates, her attitude towards Jon was more professional than affectionate. However, in the summer of 2006, Liz and Jon begi n to date and as a result she has become a regular recurring character. Her role is multilayered as she serves as an impediment to Garfields

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35 interactions with Jon while simultaneously balancing Garfields deadpan personas to those of Jon and the dog, Odie, which are less mature. She mostly bears witness to the hi-jinks of the men in the strip but is rarely the victim. Arlene is Garfields female love interest w ho appears intermittently in the strip. She seems to find Garfield simultaneously attractive and immature. While she most often allows Garfield to make a fool of himself, she also makes fun of him herself. Because she does not verbally communicate, her interactions are limited to Ga rfield who is the only recurring character who can hear her. Hagar the Horrible The fem ale characters of Hagar the Horrible are perhaps the simplest and most associable with classic archetypes. Helga plays the disg runtled housewife who is constantly on Hagars case to pick up after himself, come home from th e tavern, take her out to dinner, and generally henpeck his every move. She is shown as a domes tic maven who is appreciated primarily for her culinary skills. Physically she resembles her hu sband in weight and her manner of dress gives her the appearance of a bell. She is as strong as her husband occasionally shown as engaging him in physical confrontations. Honi is the less than intelligen t daughter of Hagar and Helga. She is physically attractive but her humor is derived from her inability to land herself a husba nd. By contrast, the neighborhood girl, Hernia, is perhaps the most cons istently aggressive ch aracter in the strip. However, her bold nature is ofte n in line with her desires to marry Hagars young son, Hamlet. Hernia, like Dolly from The Family Circus is portrayed as a little gi rl who has already accepted her gender norms and attempts to exercise them.

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36 Womens Position in the Joke Once character an alyses were complete, it wa s important to distingu ish the use of each character. Therefore, the appearance of each recurring character was coded to determine if, and how, they participated in the construction of the j okes (Table 4-2). Four separate categories were devised to characterize their appearances: f eed, background, incongruous, and superior. The latter two categories refer to any joking interaction in which the woman provided the punch line of the humor. Superior humor came at the e xpense of another character while incongruous humor typically dealt with the in congruity of their surroundings or their own behavior at times. Background characters had no effect on the performa nce of the joke, and feeds served as foils and stooges. The Primary Female Character Each strip h as a female character that is used predominately over the others, appearing approximately more than 40 times more frequently than any other female character. In half of the strips observed the choice is seemingly natura l as the female character in question is married to or dating the main male character (Blondie from Blondie, Helga from Hagar and Liz from Garfield ). However, given the settings of Dilbert and Beetle Bailey whose characters are Alice and Miss Buxley respectively, the primary female protagonist is seen in a work place setting which gives us a glimpse into the world of wome ns humor in the workforce. Finally, because so much of the humor in The Family Circus is derived from the good natured musings of the children, it is understandable that the primary fe male character is the s econd youngest girl Dolly. Consequently, the role of each of these female characters varies to a large extent, giving a varied look at the role of women in humor.

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37 Table 4-2. Listing of Individual Female Characte r Appearances and Their Level of Interactions Character Appearances Backgr ound Feed Superior Incongruous B e e t l e B a i l e y Ms. Buxley 63 2 25 15 21 Mrs. Halftrack 22 1 11 6 4 Private Blips 25 2 14 3 6 Lieutenant Lugg 5 0 1 1 3 Non-Recurring 11 2 6 1 2 Blondie Blondie 187 8 130 24 25 Cookie 18 3 12 1 2 Tootsie 5 0 5 0 0 Non-Recurring 15 5 6 2 2 D i l b e r t Alice 83 35 23 15 10 Carol 23 3 4 9 7 Tina 8 0 4 1 3 Non-Recurring 36 6 15 11 4 F a m i l y C i r c u s Dolly 182 32 37 3 110 Mommy 95 23 63 1 8 Grandma 29 3 22 0 4 Non-Recurring 8 3 5 0 0 Garfield Liz 42 3 34 3 2 Arlene 8 0 4 3 1 Non-Recurring 3 1 1 1 0 Hagar the Horrible Helga 144 1 79 23 41 Honi 20 3 12 1 4 Hernia 10 0 0 3 7 Non-Recurring 26 4 18 1 3 Totals 1068 140 531 128 269 Passive and Active Interactions Of the interactions wom en had with men, this excludes the appearances as background characters; they primarily found their role to be that of feed to th e antics of other characters in the strip. These number were calculated first as a pe rcent of their total interactions and then as a percent of the number of strips that year. The only notable exceptions to being primarily identified as a feed were the women in Dilbert and Dolly from The Family Circus (Table 4-3).

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38 However, when compared to the number of stri ps produced in a year, no one comes close to being represented extensively in bot h categories even close to half the time with the exception of Dolly, Blondie, and Helga. However of those th ree, only Dolly engages in much joke creation. Table 4-3. Types of Interactions Female Charac ters Have in the Construction of the Joke Within Their Interactions In a Year Character Feed Total Joking Feed Total Joking Beetle Bailey Ms. Buxley (P) 41% 59% 6.8% 9.8% Mrs. Halftrack 52.4% 47.6% 3% 2.7% Private Blips 60.9% 39.1% 3.8% 2.5% Lieutenant Lugg 20% 80% 0.3% 1.1% Non-recurring 66.6% 33.3% 1.6% 0.8% Blondie Blondie (P) 72.6% 27.4% 35.5% 13.4% Cookie 80% 20% 3.3% 0.8% Tootsie 100% 0% 1.4% 0% Non-recurring 60% 40% 1.6% 1.1% Dilbert Alice (P) 47.9% 52.1% 6.3% 6.8% Carol 20% 80% 1.1% 4.4% Tina 50% 50% 1.1% 1.1% Non-recurring 50% 50% 4.1% 4.1% Family Circus Dolly (P) 24.7% 75.3% 10.1% 30.9% Mommy 87.5% 12.5% 17.2% 2.5% Grandma 84.6% 15.4% 6% 1.1% Non-recurring 100% 0% 1.4 0% Garfield Liz (P) 87.2% 12.8% 9.3% 1.4% Arlene 50% 50% 1.1% 1.1% Non-recurring 50% 50% 0.3% 0.3% Hagar the Horrible Helga (P) 55.2% 44.8% 21.6% 17.5% Honi 70.6% 29.4% 3.3% 1.4% Hernia 0% 100% 0% 2.7% Non-recurring 81.8% 18.2% 4.9% 1.1% Total 57.2% 42.7% 24.2% 18.1% Notes: P connotes the strips primary female character Furthermore, the joking interactions were al so coded to see whether women created humor that relied on incongruity or s uperiority to the charac ters they interacted with (Table 4-4).

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39 Again, the number of interaction was calculated first as a percent of their total interactions and then as a percent of the number of strips that year. Table 4-4. Types of Female Joke Constructions Within Their Interactions In a Year Character Superior Incongr uous Superior Incongruous Beetle Bailey Ms. Buxley (P) 24.6% 34.4% 4.1% 5.7% Mrs. Halftrack 28.6% 19% 1.6% 1.1% Private Blips 13% 26.1% 0.8% 1.6% Lieutenant Lugg 20% 60% 0.3% 0.8% Non-recurring 11.1% 22.2% 0.3% 0.5% Blondie Blondie (P) 13.4% 14.0% 6.6% 6.8% Cookie 6.7% 13.3% 0.3% 0.5% Tootsie 0% 0% 0% 0% Non-recurring 20% 20% 0.5% 0.5% Dilbert Alice (P) 31.3% 20.8% 4.1% 2.7% Carol 45% 35% 2.5% 1.9% Tina 12.5% 37.5% 0.3% 0.8% Non-recurring 36.7% 13.3% 3% 1.1% Family Circus Dolly (P) 2.0% 73.3% 0.8% 30.1% Mommy 1.4% 11.1% 0.3% 2.2% Grandma 0.0% 15.4% 0% 1.1% Non-recurring 0% 0% 0% 0% Garfield Liz (P) 7.7% 5.1% 0.8% 0.5% Arlene 37.5% 12.5% 0.8% 0.3% Non-recurring 50% 0% 0.3% 0% Hagar the Horrible Helga (P) 16.1% 28.7% 6.3% 11.2% Honi 5.9% 23.5% 0.3% 1.1% Hernia 30% 70% 0.8% 1.9% Non-recurring 4.5% 13.6% 0.3% 0.8% Total 13.8% 29% 5.8% 12.2% Notes: P connotes the strips primary female character As the table shows, the majority of humorous in teractions used incongruous humor to make their point. In total women used incongruous humor 12.2% of the year and only used superiority humor only 5.8% of the year. It should be noted that the only time a character constructed the

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40 humor in excess of 10% of the time is seen through Helga and Dolly (again a phenomenal outlier) who both primarily used incongruous humor. It is apparent that it is not common for women to make jokes at the expense of men, or anyone else. Character Themes Many of the jokes in each strip ar e replicated with slight vari ations. Through m y analysis I have determined several reoccurring themes that cartoonist ha ve used in creating their humor. Much of the humor coded in these strips focu sed on the relationships between men and women. Without exception, all relationships depicted were heterosexual relationships and the humor they enacted could be characterized as a battle of the sexes. Desperately Seeking Normativity The fact that som e of the female character s were too young to participate in romantic relationships did not deter the creator from portraying them as pining for the day they could legitimately take up their role as a true female. Lynn Spigel ( 2001) notes that this is was a common ploy in the comic strips that emerged s hortly after the World War II. By depicting children as consumers of gender norms, seemingly without any prompting, authors were able to suggest that these gender norms are inherent in every person at a young age, rather than being gained through a lifet ime of socialization. The most direct example of this desire for normative gender roles is found in Hernia from Hagar the Horrible While she has not yet reached pubert y, she has already found her suitor in Hagars reluctant son Hamlet (See Figure 4-1). Despite his insistence th at they are too young to consider such arrangements, Hernia continues to persist that they will live a traditionally gender normative life as married adults. Her theatrics a nd the logic of her insist ence are so over the top it is considered humorous but may be perceived as slightly unnatural. However, because her actions are heteronormative they are not too farfetch ed. It is here that we also begin to see the

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41 themes of men being reluctant to marry a woman. These occur for a variety of reasons but the common theme seems to suggest that they do not want to lose any of their natural manhood by having to clean, go shopping, or start a family. However, Dolly from The Family Circus is more subtle in her desire to be a normative female (See Figure 4-2 thru 4-4). Her author is skillful to state her desire to find her Prince Charming and husband in a manner that does not ma ke her appear to be irrational but rather excited at the eventual prospect of being in a rela tionship like that of her parents. In this way Dolly can also make inferences about gender ro les that can sometimes make us think about stereotypes but never goes far enoug h to challenge such ideologies. A Good Man is Hard to Find If a fe male character was no longer a minor, she was either portrayed as having a husband or seeking to date and marry a man. However, these men were never strangers to the reader as they were typically recurring characters themselves Therefore, to ensure that the possibility of the joke continued to exist, the women were never allowed to succeed in their pursuits of the course of the year that was analyzed. This is common among mass me dia productions because it allows the strip, TV show, or movie series, to use the same running gag repeatedly with minor variations. This is not to say that all women are unsuccessful in love, but some of these moves come after a few decades, Liz and Jon from Garfield, and even after such a great passage of time some still fail to land their man, Ms. Buxley and Lieutenant Lugg from Beetle Bailey (See Figure 4-6 thru 4-11). However, these men are often pursued despite prior acknowledgement that they are not of the highest caliber. The women are often the foil s and stooges to their actions, and while they are constantly at the mercy of their male suito rs, they do not rebel but rather act shocked and then adapt. The fact that they were seeking to enter into unions with these comic men signals

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42 that if they were successful, we would most lik ely see them again in the future mimicking the roles of women in the next category. The Harried and Henpecking Housewife Marriage is sim ultaneously the goal and the curse of women in humor. Once women were married they were essentialized into the traditional stereotypes portrayed to be womanly (See Figure 4-12 thru 4-17). They we re always capable and effective homemakers. They knew their way around the kitchen, and, in comparison to thei r husbands, were best suited for life taking care of children and a domicile. While they w ould mostly do the work in the home, they would occasionally request that their spouses part icipate which was often met with humorous consequences. However, this continuous henpecking would occasionally be referenced by the men as nagging. By doing this, the humor was derived from implying that the women were asking too much of their male partners and as su ch being an ineffective househusband should be considered normal. This would result in a woman who was overwhelmed by the amount of work that needed to be done with lit tle challenge being made to the ma les inability to work his own home despite being a master of the world outside. However, despite rarely being portrayed out side of the home, these women were also portrayed as being extremely materialistic. Thei r ability to spend, or make requests for, money were often the subject of the humorous sight ga gs. Men carrying large quantities of items and referencing themselves as pack mules gave the impression that the requests of the women were beyond the scope of rational need. The reader is never privy to what these materials are ever used for as the characters routinely dress in the same clothing and backgrounds are not extensively drawn. All we are al lowed to know is that the perpetuation of the belief that men make the money and women spend it is still we ll alive in the world of humorous mass media.

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43 The Perils of the Working Woman The one place that women were consistently s een creating their own humor and actively participating in the joke was the same place wome n have fought for years to enter: the workplace (See Figure 4-18 & 4-19). Both Alice from Dilbert and Miss Buxley and Private Blips are routinely seen as effective workers. However the thin line between working woman and surrogate mother was sometimes blurry, especially in the case of the older strip Beetle Bailey Often the humor in the dialogue centered on interac tions that place the women in the role of the harried housewife. Once again, while at work women are seen as competent and useful, but at the mercy of their male counterparts. Recurring female char acters were never placed in positions of power and therefore directly suffered from the stupidity of their superiors. However, their ability (and sometime inability) to cope with the strains of such activities allowed them the privilege of creating their own humor. And, had this study included an analysis of working men, there would have most likely been similar themes in the humor both men and women used in relating with their incompetent male bosses. Non-Recurring Characters Perhaps the most interesting fi nding of the entire study is th e creators use of non-recurring characters. The addition of non-recu rring characters to a strip with a cast of recurring characters routinely signaled that their role provided an el ement that one of the ma in characters could not fulfill. This was important because it demonstrated that many of the characters existed as such strict archetypes that they could only serve a small number of roles and additional women were need. While they were occasionally used as background characters, those women that interacted with recurring characters, or came into the scope of the joke, helped prov ide further insight into

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44 the way mainstream comics have to construc t gendered humor by using other people. These characters eventually developed in to four distinct categories with elements that represented their role in the joke: (1) the absurdis ts, (2) the gatekeepers, (3) the lady friend, and (4) the objects of desire. The absurdists role was perhaps the least c onfined to gender stereotypes. In these instances a character is introduced that plays a role sim ilar to that of the husband in the stooge housewife analysis. The humor in the joke occu rs when their requests or statements are so absurd as to cause the recipient of the joke to recoil at the inc ongruity. Because the gender of the absurdist is rarely important they are free to act as original as is necessary for the joke because they will not be making a repeat appearance. The gatekeepers exist in the joke as impedimen ts to a recurring characters goal, whether they were material or an attempt to interact with someone of a high status. These female characters were most commonly represented as nur ses, secretaries, and salesladies which are all considered pink collar professions that are lower in status than their traditionally masculine job counter parts (doctor, boss, manager). The hum or in these situations is derived from the gatekeepers actions which inevitably keep the recurring character from achieving their goal of meeting with their superior or being able to purchase the desired produc t (See Figure 20). This leads to the recurring character to reconcile their failure at the hands of these gatekeepers in a comedic fashion. Yet it is importa nt to point out that while the gatekeepers do exert power as an intermediary between the main characters and the product/person, they have little other status beyond this simple role. The lady friend in the strip typically served as the feed for the housewife (See Figure 4-21 thru 4-23). Because the humor is typically deri ved from a male partner, the female occasionally

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45 needs someone to spark a conversation pertaining to the man. This is where the lady friend plays her crucial and unacknowledged role. Because th ere is no male friend counterpart for women, these situations seem to mirror the typical pr ivate sphere interactions women had with one another when being a housewife wa s still a traditional role. The lady friend is never given the power to create the joke, but rath er suffers the same fate as wo men before her to be the feed. Finally the objects of desire as non-recurri ng characters were perhaps the simplest and most prone to gender stereotypes. By their very nature of being portrayed by non-recurring characters, it would be signaled to any regular reader that these women were not going to be around and that their presence merely made them the stooges of their would-be male suitors. Within this category there were two further divi sions: the temptress and the potential mate. The temptress rarely sought to use her femininity to ac tively attract men, but rather exists as an object of lust that is rarely attainable. Little inte raction was had with the temptresses and in each occasion they seemed unaware of their role in the joke. They ranged from poster pinups and girls on the beach to bar patrons and unnamed passe rsby. Their one common thread is that they only serve to give the punch line co ntext, take no active part in its construction, and appear either in the first panel or the last pa nel and rarely more than once. Some of the situations invol ving the temptress also managed to incorporate the wife. Rather than acknowledge her husbands gaze in a constructive attempt to change his ways, the humor arose from her verbal, and occasionally physical, retaliation that would put him in his place. However, a deeper reading of the role of temptress reveals that both the temptress and the wife are at the mercy of the male gaze; the temp tress unwittingly being pulled in to the situation forces the wife to react in an attempt to k eep her husbands fleeting attention. This further legitimizes the cultural belief that women as the tamers of men whose instincts are viewed as

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46 natural and irrepressible. Th is is further exemplified in Hagar the Horrible (See Figure 4-24 & 4-25) when the same situation and punch line ( Dont pretend you didnt no tice her!) were used within two months of one anothe r, the first occurring on July 26th and the second on September 13th. The only significant difference was that the unnamed temptress was different in each opening panel. In doing this, th e author seems to feel his audience either has a short attention span, or that regular readers will find humor in Hagar routin ely subjecting his wife to his wandering eye. An age component is also evident in that th e temptresses are often young and of fertile age while the men are older and have been with there partners for as long as the strip has been in production. One of the more perplexing instance s of this phenomenon is a selection from Blondie (See Figure 4-26) in which Dagwood recognizes the weekend weather girl on the street and describes her physical attractiveness in great de tail to the dismay of his wife. What the more observant reader will notice is that with the exception of hairstyle, the object of desire is almost identical to Dagwoods wife Blondi e. From the color and style of clothing and shoes, to the impossibly small waist and disproportionately large bosoms, there is little to distinguish the two women and yet Dagwoods gaze is diverted to the temptress. There is no counterpart to the phenomenon of the temptress and as a result we must question why it is much rarer for a woman to objectify unfamiliar men at the expense of thei r husband than vice versa. The answer might lie in the latent belief that wo men should expected to have their men leer and not consider it a challenge to their femininity; meanwhile, a cuckolded man is less humorous with such a challenge flying in the face of almost any masculine norm. The second object of desire is th e potential mate who takes the form of the date or potential date who will eventually become a mate. Howeve r, given their non-recurring status readers can

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47 safely assume that the relationship will not last a nd that the potential mates presence signals that the male recurring character will do something to end the relationship or be the unwitting pawn of the woman. This character was most commonly found in Dilbert to showcase the title characters inability to socialize properly with members of the opposite sex, or his naivet for not recognizing the ways in which he was being targ eted for manipulation. However, strips like Blondie use a different strategy by making mention of a non-recurring female character as a potential mate when men were in private conve rsations. The humor in these discussions was often found in the exchanging of ill suited advice on how to deal with members of the opposite sex. Again, an age component is evident in the dissemination of the advice as the conversation often occurs between an elder fa ther figure and a younger son figure. Part of the humor also lies in either generations inability to properly interact with potential romantic interests furthering the belief that men are completely baffled by the myster ious behavior of women and that attempts to understand them will fail humorously. The simple fact that there is an extensive amount that can be written about non-recurring female characters speaks volumes to the way recurring female characters are used. While nonrecurring characters are just as unlikely to take pa rt in the construction of the joke, their ability to exist as more than one facet of a personality makes them a unique part of gendered humor that has greater implications that thei r brief appearances allude to. King Features Syndicate Figure 4-1. Seeking normativity A

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48 Bil Keane, Distributed by King Features Syndicate Figure 4-2. Seeking normativity B Bil Keane, Distributed by King Features Syndicate Figure 4-3. Seeking normativity C

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49 Bil Keane, Distributed by King Features Syndicate Figure 4-4. Seeking normativity D Bil Keane, Distributed by King Features Syndicate Figure 4-5. Seeking normativity E King Features Syndicate Figure 4-6. A good man is hard to find A

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50 King Features Syndicate Figure 4-7. A good man is hard to find B King Features Syndicate Figure 4-8. A good man is hard to find C King Features Syndicate Figure 4-9. A good man is hard to find D

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51 King Features Syndicate Figure 4-10. A good man is hard to find E King Features Syndicate Figure 4-11. A good man is hard to find F King Features Syndicate Figure 4-12. Housewife A

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52 King Features Syndicate Figure 4-13. Housewife B King Features Syndicate Figure 4-14. Housewife C King Features Syndicate Figure 4-15. Housewife D King Features Syndicate Figure 4-16. Housewife E

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53 King Features Syndicate Figure 4-17. Housewife F King Features Syndicate Figure 4-18. Working women A King Features Syndicate Figure 4-19. Working women B King Features Syndicate Figure 4-20. Gatekeepers

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54 King Features Syndicate Figure 4-21. Lady friends A Bil Keane, Distributed by King Features Syndicate Figure 4-22. Lady friends B King Features Syndicate Figure 4-23. Lady friends C

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55 King Features Syndicate Figure 4-24. The temptress A King Features Syndicate Figure 4-25. The temptress B King Features Syndicate Figure 4-26. The temptress C

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56 CHAPTER 5 DISCUSSION Social Implications The large r social implications for the pos itioning of men and women in humor are important because as agents of mass media th ey simultaneously display and enforce gender relations. We can conclude that the top six syndicated comic strips continue to use women primarily as feeds who react to their surroundings rather than creat ing an identity. They do so by constructing them in traditional gender archetypes that are easily recognizable to anyone with a basic knowledge of our culture. Wh ile this is, in part, a result of the way comedy is constructed, it is also a result of a lack of challenging gender norms. Mass media producers seem to act slowly when it comes to adopting new ideas about identity construc tion. Therefore, each generation relies on the development of a new voice to speak for them. However, the ghosts of older generations linger in the production of classi c strips that previous generations enjoy and current generations find pleasantly nostalgic; which results in a high degree of popularity. We must understand that the most effective chal lenge to gender norms will come as newer productions gain steam and become the voice of a generation. It is only then that older productions will feel comfortable includi ng such themes into their own work. Not only are these women portrayed using tradit ional gender stereotypes, but they are also largely viewed as one dimensional. They are wi ves or mothers, friends or coworkers, and are rarely portrayed as a combination of any that may not automatically be paired. Sadly, this portrayal mirrors the problems of women in the larger society. For so long the domain of women existed primarily in the private sphere leaving them in the home to take care of the domestic duties. Within the walls of the home women were expected to be domestic goddesses content

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57 with caring for children and gossiping with other housewives. (Coontz, 2000; Hochschild, 1989; Spiegel, 2001) And despite gaining ground in the workforce, women repeatedly feel compelled to choose between being a good mother and being a good empl oyee. And while men can be good fathers and good providers, we seem to doubt the ability of women to accomplish this same task. Our culture also casts suspicion on men and wome n who are friends because we feel that heterosexual couples cannot be friends and that all women are always looking for their male friend to become romantic partners. Our wives and mothers are encouraged to abandon the overt displays of femininity they are encouraged to take up when they were younger because it is not proper for a wife and mother to be a sexual be ing to anyone except her husband behind closed doors. In society, as in humor, it seems diffi cult for us to conceptualize women as having clashing aspects of their personality when in reality we are all comp lex beings that do not fit into neat little boxes. It is difficult to differentiate the direction of causality between gender construction and mass media, but it is safe to say it is not a one way relationship. However, there is one place where the most difference can be made, and that is at the level of media producer. The most skilled of these producers must learn to move away from thes e one dimensional portrayals of women and allow them to be characters in and of themselves. There is hope that if this is done, then society will begin to view all women as complex individuals worthy of their own consideration. Limitations It is obvious from my anal ysis that women and men do not exist independently of one another in the world of syndicated comic strips. This is unders cored by the simple fact that

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58 women were underrepresented in the total num ber of strips, 1006 out of 2196 (45.8%). The inclusion of an analysis of the roles of men in comic strip humor would help to provide context and points of comparison to the ro les of women. However, given the magnitude of this current study, such an undertaking would have yielded more results than one thesis could effectively and concisely present. Further analysis is required of mens role in the c onstruction of humor in order to develop a more rounded understanding of the mechanics of gender in humor. What makes this sample so unique is that it inad vertently selected a group of strips that are all at least 30 years in age (with the exception of Dilbert which is now almost 20 years in age) with an average age of 46 years in sy ndication. Bill Watterson (1996), creator of Calvin and Hobbes characterized some of the comics as co rpses being propped up and passed for living by new cartoonist who ought to be do ing something on their own. For these relic strips the original cartoonist has often passed on or is no longer the primary writer and artist for the strip. The reason this constitutes a problem for the construction of gender is evident when one considers that the premises for most of these characters grew out of an entirely different historical period in which gender roles were more rigidl y defined. The longevity of the strip may be attributed to the fact that the current artist may be relying on these classical perc eptions of gender rather than creating a more contemporary per ception of the world. Strips like Beetle Bailey, Blondie, The Family Circus, and Hagar the Horrible are all staples in many nati onal papers but my analysis shows the women in the strips have changed very lit tle in comparison to the shifts in our cultural perception of gender. And while this does rais e some questions about whether other strips should have been considered, this study was attempting to ascertain the nature of a wide-ranging ideological construction which made this method of selection ideal. This sample does manage to double the time span of Brabant and Mooneys 1997 study, provide more than four times as

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59 many observations as LaRossa et al. made in 2000 and 2001, and has more than ten times as many observations per strip when compared to Glascock and Prest on-Schrecks 2004 study. A future study might attempt to explore the na ture of comics that are produced from a female artists point of view, such as Cathy or Stone Soup Furthermore, the nature of these older strips provided a skewed account of trad itional family structures and hindered the exploration of women in new family structures i.e., women who experience aging transitions, and minority women. This is not to say that all old strips are traditional, as seen with Doonesbury or that all new strips ar e more thoughtful of women, but there appears to be a distinct difference in the construction of gendered humor as time has progressed. Entire papers could be written about the intersectionality of the female experience yet those experiences are not among the top syndicated strips, as all main characters are white. There was almost a complete absence of represen tations of other races in the top six strips analyzed as well as a dearth of discussion about class and money. However, it is important to establish a baseline analysis of women in ma instream humor so that future studies may determine how newer forms of humor are using thes e archetypes, or protesting against them. So while an intersectional look is important, a different sample will most likely need to be procured. Finally, the study of superiority and incongruity humor can be rather subject based on the readers location. Because this is a single author paper the analysis was only done by one person. Future studies would benefit from mu ltiple authors coding the same strips multiple times. In this way, multiple interp retations of the strips could be made that would cast the humor in a different light and observe new themes not captured by this paper.

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60 Research Implications Any for m of media research has increasingl y become outdated in an era of new media dominance. At the end of the first decade of this new century, newspapers find themselves in danger of becoming extinct with a progressively sm aller pool of advertiser s in both the paper and in the classifieds. The ever growing reality that the funny pages, as we have known them for almost a century, may become a thing of the past should be acknowledged. However, like any form of creative expression, I believe they will find a new home within this ever changing media landscape. Already we can point to the existence of several prom inent comic strips that exist solely in cyberspace with no s yndication company representing them. The only question is: will these older strips and their excessive use of arch etypes be able to make the transition to a new media production economy? Furthermore, I believe that the necessity of this research does not lie in simply reevaluating the use of humor or the production of gender in co mic strips every 10 years as previous research has done (Brabant, 1967; Brabant & Mooney, 1986; Brabant and Mooney, 1997). Instead, it should serve as a baseline for the construction of gender through hu mor that can be used as the study of media evolves. Additiona lly, as the study of humor as a social construction continues to evolve as well, the study of simple constructio ns (such as those found in comic strips) will help future researchers to underst and how more complex forms of humor work to effect the construction of gender as well as other social id entities such as class, race, sexuality and many more. This study has provided a snapshot in time of the construction women in humor in popular mainstream comics. Like the construction of any social identity and inte raction, both gender and humor are ever changing constructions that re ly of the constructions of the past while simultaneously forging their own ch aracteristics. As the legitimacy of women participating in

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61 mass media continues to grow we cannot continue to ignore the legitimacy of women in humor and the very real effects they ha ve on the construction of gender norms in our larger society.

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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Daniel Fern andez-Baca was born in Mexico City, Mexico in 1981 to David and Isabel Fernandez-Baca. He moved to California at the tender age of one, and once more to Iowa at the age of 5. He attended the University of Iowa where he received his B.A. in 2003 with a double major in sociology and psychology. His experience after college included working as a research assistant on the NIH funded study PREDICT-HD, as we ll as stints in retail and construction. In 2006 he returned to school and is currently a grad uate student at the Univ ersity of Florida where he hopes to continue his doctoral work. His re search interests include gender, family, and culture. He currently resides in Gainesville with his wife, Je annette, their cat, Gandalf, and dog, Sophie.