BREAKING BOUNDARIES

2011 SYMPOSIUM ON POLITICAL ENTERTAINMENT MEDIA

Including "Saturday Evening SATIRE," with Joe Randazzo, Editor-in-Chief of the satirical news network, The Onion. Saturday, April 9, 2011, Mr. Randazzo spoke about what he envisions to be the role of satire within American democratic processes. The event included Q&A and a book signing. Political comedians from Philadelphia’s 1812 Productions performed a short set of sketches.


Symposium

A three-day conference on Politics and Entertainment sponsored by the Center for Political Communication.

Scholars across discipline, epistemology, and method convened to develop a plan for a ground-breaking, theoretically-grounded, systematic study of how entertainment media relates to, informs, and interacts with more traditional public affairs media within the context of politics.  The weekend included guided roundtable discussions, a keynote presentation from a practitioner from the political entertainment industry, and a wrap up session to map out future directions and collaborations.

A follow-up meeting of the group takes place at the National Communication Association conference in Boston, May 2011.

A wide range of entertainment media content has been shown to influence some of our most important democratic outcomes. Recent political communication scholarship is beginning to look at how certain entertainment-based media outlets function alongside more traditional political outlets (e.g., TV news, debates) in shaping citizens’ political attitudes, cognitions, and behaviors. In today’s complex media environment, it is apparent that audience members do not experience political message in isolation from one another. There are intricate connections across individuals, genres, and texts. Studying how various forms of political information work together, and how people make sense of them in tandem, is essential to understanding the broader role of media in politics. This symposium offers scholars - across discipline, epistemology, and method - an opportunity to come together to share and develop a plan of action designed to foster a ground-breaking, theoretically-grounded, systematic study of how entertainment media relates to, informs, and interacts with more traditional public affairs media within the context of politics.

One hindrance to advancing the study of politics and entertainment has been the sheer number of diverse disciplines across which this research is being pursued. Scholars in seemingly disparate fields who are addressing similar issues are generally not exposed to each other’s work. By fostering cross-disciplinary connections, scholars can gain (a) new perspectives on how to approach a research agenda, (b) a better appreciation of what areas have already been covered, as well as (c) new theoretical insights that may be well established in one area but unknown in another. The interdisciplinary nature of the study of politics and entertainment media can serve to benefit scholars from all fields, but only if scholars have a forum in which to build a community to discuss trends, approaches, findings, and assumptions of the research that is being conducted across a variety of fields.

With numerous disciplines pursuing the topic of entertainment and politics, we have also found a myriad of methodological approaches. Unfortunately, this diversity of method, jargon, and epistemology often creates gulfs between scholars and their scholarship. Work being conducted in this area has employed quantitative survey research (e.g. Young, 2004), experimental methods (e.g.; Holbert, Lambe, Dudo & Carlton, 2007; Xenos & Becker, 2009; Young, 2008), multilevel analyses (e.g.; Prior, 2005), critical/cultural approaches (e.g., Baym, 2005; Jones, 2009; Williams & Delli Carpini, 1994), as well as historical analyses (e.g., Baym, 2010; Delli Carpini & Williams, 2001). Yet, when pursuing the topic of political entertainment’s role in the political world, scholars using one particular methodology or epistemological approach often fail to incorporate observations from colleagues in disparate fields. Although this problem tends to plague most areas of research, we see this as a particularly fruitful opportunity given the influx of significant work and attention to politics and entertainment over the past ten years, and given the growing recognition of scholars that such cross-disciplinary ventures can benefit all parties involved. As Holbert, Shah, and Kwak (2003) argue at the close of their quantitative study of the effects of entertainment media on public opinion, “The merging of insights from various qualitative or critical/cultural studies with a quantitative analysis has proved fruitful… we encourage this meshing of approaches for future studies that deal with the relationship between media and public opinion” (p. 58).

In a forthcoming chapter in an interdisciplinary sourcebook being published by Blackwell, “Media Effects and Media Psychology” (Edited by Erica Scharrer, University of Massachusetts-Amherst), the cosponsors of this CPC proposal lay the groundwork for the very topic of this proposed symposium. The chapter, “Exploring Relations between Political Entertainment Media and Traditional Political Communication Information Outlets: A Research Agenda,” sets forth a challenge to scholars across the fields of politics, entertainment, and communication, to begin to pursue an interdisciplinary approach to the study of political entertainment media – one that contextualizes effect processes in terms of history, economics, policy, culture, and technology. In our chapter, we write that “[The cross-disciplinary, cross-epistemological study of entertainment and politics] cannot be undertaken by a small group of scholars with disparate message-focused research projects. What is required is a healthy marketplace of ideas shaped by a critical mass of scholars who are willing to work across epistemological boundaries” (p. 24-25). We see this symposium as a logical and tangible extension of the ideas proposed in this text.

The intimate and in-depth conversations spurred by the CPC symposium brought together diverse scholars working “across epistemological boundaries” and provided that “healthy marketplace of ideas” certain to spearhead multiple collaborative projects in the area of entertainment and politics.

Funding for this project was provided by a grant from the Unidel Foundation to the UD College of Arts and Sciences' Interdisciplinary Humanities Research Center.