9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN07 Sociology of Culture

2009-09-04 13:30:00 2009-09-04 15:00:00 Friday, 4 September 13:30 - 15:00 Mediated Cultures Building II, C4.08

"It makes you laugh but it´s not funny": French audiences and American comedy

In this paper, we analyze French viewers´ perception and appreciation of American television comedies, using the results of 17 focus groups with French television viewers. A stratified sampling procedure was employed to ensure equal representation of age groups, genders, and educational levels. This study is part of a larger project studying the import and reception of American television in four European countries.
The protectionist French media regime led to relative small inflow of American programming. Indeed, our respondents - especially those above 30 - demonstrated rather limited skill in "decoding" American comedies. Respondents of all social backgrounds were rather dismissive of American comedy and American television; and in their discussion of American popular culture voiced many negative opinions on the US.
Our analysis will focus on the question how cultural fare from the egalitarian US is incorporated into the hierarchies of French taste culture(s). Our respondents placed American comedy (and American popular culture in general) firmly in the realm of low culture (vulgar, simple, physical, "beauf"). As such, it was contrasted with French humor, which respondents of all social backgrounds described as more verbal, refined, and intellectual. Moreover, French humor was typically seen as politically relevant and critical, whereas American humor was dismissed as mere entertainment (and potentially reactionary). However, this combination of anti-Americanism, political suspicion and aesthetic disdain proved hard to maintain during the viewing and discussion of clips of American comedies; which many of our respondents found fairly amusing. This led to extensive discursive maneuvering, especially among more highly educated. Typically, American comedy was described as "not funny" although "it makes on laugh". This analysis, therefore, illustrates the normative aspect of taste hierarchy - explicitly uncoupling legitimate taste from affective response ? which we found was particularly prevalent among French viewers (compared with other countries in this study). Moreover, it highlights the work involved in making cultural imports fit in nationally bound taste patterns and classification systems.