Satirical Narrative Processing: Examining the Roles of Character Liking and Media Enjoyment on Narrative-Consistent Attitudes

Satirical Narrative Processing: Examining the Roles of Character Liking and Media Enjoyment on... Abstract This study uses online survey data (n = 127) with an embedded media manipulation to examine relationships between character liking, media enjoyment, and narrative consistent attitudes with late-night political comedian, Stephen Colbert’s satirical campaign finance narrative. The data offer empirical support for the notion that narratively structured political satire processing models should consider relevant entertainment psychology and narrative persuasion concepts such as how audiences respond to the main characters and the role enjoyment plays in the process. Using structural equation modeling, media enjoyment significantly mediated the relationship between character liking and narrative consistent attitude formation (about the antagonist), but appears to have functioned as a suppressor variable. Competing models are offered in an Online Appendix. Since the Satire of the Trades, humorists have used comedic expression as a form of social and political commentary. In today’s global environment, the humorous depiction of politics is among the most popular media formats (Baym & Jones, 2012). From editorial cartoons to online parodies, many forms of humor continue to frustrate political campaigns and trouble elected leaders (Feinberg, 1967; Knight, 2004). Contemporary processing and effects studies have largely focused on cognitive perspectives (LaMarre, Landreville, & Beam, 2009; Nabi, Moyer-Gusé, & Byrne, 2007; Young, 2008) including examinations of satirical web outlets such as The Onion and JibJab (Baumgartner, 2007; LaMarre, Landreville, Young, & Gilkerson, 2014; Sheagley, O’Loughlin, & Lindberg, 2008). Additionally, investigations of satirical shows such as The Daily Show and The Colbert Report have solidified into a dominant research stream governed by an interest in political satire’s influence on democratic ideals (Boukes, Boomgaarden, Moorman, & de Vreese, 2015; Baumgartner & Morris, 2008). While there appears to be a strong focus on developing robust theoretical models applicable on a global scale, much of this work relies on traditional political communication and persuasion theories with a focus on expository, rhetorical, and other nonnarrative forms of political comedy. With few exceptions, various global perspectives almost completely overlook the potential roles of narrative processing constructs (e.g., character liking, media enjoyment) known to influence how one processes and responds to other types of political entertainment (Landreville & LaMarre, 2013). Although satire has historically been used to comment on policy concerns and illuminate government corruption in narrative and nonnarrative formats (Atkinson, 1992; Bates, 1906; Knight, 2004), few empirical examinations have focused on the processing and effects of satirically structured narratives. Satire as a form of narrative has been around since Ancient Greece (Bates, 1906), meriting our attention as a unique yet important format for delivering potentially persuasive political messages. The present work extends beyond nonnarrative forms of satire processing to investigate this unique hybrid of political satire and political narrative, referred to herein as satirical narratives. Satirical Narratives Greek playwright Aristophanes is often considered the father of political satire (Bates, 1906). As early as 425 BC, Aristophanes ridiculed Athenian Generals, providing social commentary on the absurdity of the Peloponnesian war. Aristophanes is said to have written 40 political satire plays regarding Athenian politics and culture. His plays were performed at festivals and in the Greek Agora where citizens would enjoy satirical depictions of villains, victims, and martyrs in stories regarding Athenian politics, war, and government corruption. After targeting important cultural figures such as Socrates (e.g., The Clouds, 423 BC) and the courts of justice (e.g., The Wasps, 422 BC), Athenian legislators passed a law to reign in satirical plays (Atkinson, 1992). Even in ancient Greece, political elites feared the influence political comedy might have on public sentiment. The combined power of narrative and humor (often found in satirical Greek plays) was thought to carry immense powers of persuasion among the citizenry (Atkinson, 1992; Bates, 1906). Moreover, satire began as a narrative form. Whether through the lens of a Greek tragedy or comedy, early satirical plays illuminated the essential elements of narrative including characters, plot, and setting (Hinyard & Kreuter, 2007; Jones, 2014). Owing to the prevalence of political satire on a global scale, the genre is no longer dominated by its original narrative form. However, satirical narratives still abound. From contemporary satirical plays (e.g., The Book of Mormon) and animated TV series (e.g., Southpark) to docudramas (e.g., Thank you for Smoking) and political film parodies (e.g., An American Carol), satirical narratives remain an important form of satire that provide social and political commentary through the lens of humorous storytelling. For instance, the longest running animated TV series, The Simpsons, includes an ongoing satirical environmental narrative. Threads of commentary regarding the ills of capitalism are woven throughout the series, juxtaposing the young environmental activist, Lisa Simpson against elite nuclear power plant owner, Mr Burns (Cantor, 1999). From ancient Greek plays to modern animated television shows, this format attempts to weave satirically structured political messages within engaging stories, creating a complex mix of elements for viewers to process. Colbert’s Super Political Action Committee Satire as a Form of Narrative Narratives have key elements: scene, plot, characters, conflict, and temporal sequencing that often includes a message or moral to be considered (Hinyard & Kreuter, 2007; Kreuter et al., 2007). Shanahan, Jones, and McBeth (2011) contend that policy narratives “must have at least one character and some reference to a public policy preference or stance” (p. 457). Shanahan and colleagues (2011) also conceptualize narratives as having generalizable structural elements that are evident across various contexts (e.g., setting; characters; plot). Generally speaking, these conceptualizations situate the narrative as a “story” with a unique set of structural elements that form a coherent message about a given topic (Hinyard & Kreuter, 2007; Kreuter et al., 2007). Applying these conceptual definitions of narrative to satire, we turn to The Colbert Report’s super PAC (political action committee) story about campaign finance in political elections as the context for this study (Jones et al., 2012). Subsequent to the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United ruling, which allows corporations to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to influence U.S. elections, Stephen Colbert started his own super PAC as a means of parodying the contentious court ruling. By regularly offering satirical and critical commentary on the legislative decision during his show, the host himself became a central character in the national campaign finance debate (Jones et al., 2012). In doing so, an ongoing satirical narrative in which he played a leading role emerged. Specifically, by regularly engaging in a type of satirical performance art about his own super PAC, Colbert became the protagonist of his own political story. Clearly, Colbert’s super PAC satire meets Kreuter and colleagues (2007) definition of narrative as “a representation of connected events and characters that has an identifiable structure, is bounded in space and time, and contains implicit or explicit messages about the topic being addressed” (Kreuter et al., 2007, p. 222). First, the ongoing saga represented a series of connected events (e.g., how to form a super PAC, how he can spend the money, etc.) with an identifiable structure bounded in space and time (e.g., the U.S. election cycle). In accordance with Shanahan et al.’s (2011) conceptualization of narrative, the storyline also offered characters including a protagonist (Colbert), antagonists (corporations donating to super PACs), and victims (the electorate). Additionally, the satire contained both implicit and explicit messages about campaign finance and super PACs, as well as moral propositions (i.e., money corrupts political elections) and preferred resolutions (i.e., campaign finance laws should be reformed) (Hinyard & Kreuter, 2007; Shanahan et al., 2011). As such, Colbert’s super PAC satire can be considered a form of narrative. However, this was all done through satirically structured storylines over a series of episodes, forcing viewers to reconcile what he said with what he meant in a complex setting (Young, 2008). This raises interesting questions regarding how viewers processed Colbert’s unique experiment in late-night political comedy. Although prior work has demonstrated that Colbert’s super PAC storyline led to increased issue knowledge (Hardy et al., 2014) and support for a campaign finance reform (LaMarre, 2013), we suggest that reconceptualizing this as a satirical narrative offers an interesting context for examining whether narrative persuasion constructs such as character liking and media enjoyment played a significant role in processing the satirical storyline. There is a strong theoretical framework for examining these potential variables, as contemporary political humor processing studies have repeatedly pointed to the important relationships between humorous media and concepts such as source liking and humor enjoyment (Nabi et al., 2007). Source Liking and Humor Enjoyment in Political Satire Although most narrative persuasion concepts have not been formally tested within the context of political satire narratives, empirical political humor examinations have included explicit references to related concepts that provide some theoretical insights regarding their potential influence. Baumgartner (2007) suggested that humor enjoyment could be the mechanism through which counter-argumentation is reduced and positive evaluations are elicited. Likewise, the author argued that source liking (conceptually similar to character liking) could increase attitudinal agreement with the show host (and story protagonist in the present case). Though not explicitly testing the roles of character liking and media enjoyment, Baumgartner (2007) clearly articulated their importance and suggested their intervening roles in late-night comedy’s influence on audience attitudes. Other cognitive-based empirical examinations of political satire have similarly pointed to the importance of show characters and humor enjoyment. Stroud and Muddiman (2013) concluded that enjoyment-motivated audiences to avoid counter-arguing the underlying premise of the message, as well as avoid counter-attitudinal information to the accepted message frame. Their results added support to two seminal satire processing studies, which had previously demonstrated reduced argument scrutiny and motivation to discount humorous political messages (Nabi et al., 2007; Young, 2008). This line of research offers strong theory-based empirical evidence that political satire processing often operates at a heuristic level wherein intervening variables such as show host liking and media enjoyment could serve as heuristic cues subsequently increasing message agreement. Moreover, political humor studies certainly offer the theoretical basis for examining whether these narrative persuasion concepts serve as key intervening variables. Applying this to a satirical narrative context, the theoretical argument for the integration of these variables in processing models becomes even stronger. Indeed, the entertainment psychology literature demonstrates strong evidence of their role in narrative persuasion. Character Liking and Enjoyment in Narrative Persuasion From an entertainment media perspective, character roles and media enjoyment share prominent positions in the literature (Bilandzic & Busselle 2011; Cohen, 2001; Igartua & Páez, 1997; Raney, 2003, 2004; Slater, Rouner, & Long, 2006; Vorderer, Klimmt, & Ritterfeld, 2004; see also Green & Brock, 2002; Slater, 2002). Character liking represents feelings of affinity, friendship, similarity, or imitation (Cohen, 2001; Raney, 2004). In general, this is thought to occur through a form of social comparison wherein one perceives media characters in comparison with one’s self, subsequently making judgments, ascribing traits, and forming attitudes toward the media characters based on empathy and moral evaluations. Audiences respond to media characters with a type of affective disposition represented on a continuum ranging from disliking to liking (Hoffner & Cantor, 1991). These appraisals form a summary judgment of liking or disliking for the media character. Moreover, character liking is an external form of social judgment wherein the audience members are positioned outside of the narrative as spectators (Igartua, 2010; Raney, 2004). This concept is related to but different from Cohen’s (2001) character identification wherein one is thought to go a step farther by seeing themselves in the role (high levels of identification include seeing oneself as aligned with the character such that they would likely make the same choices as said character). Because prior satire work has examined the show host more in terms of one’s ideological alignment or external evaluations of the host (Baumgartner & Morris, 2008; LaMarre et al., 2009), we stopped short of including character identification in this context. Rather, we limit this study to the narrative concept of character liking because it similarly focuses on summary judgments of the protagonist. Alternatively, media enjoyment is generally considered to be a positive, pleasurable response toward media content (Raney, 2003; Zillmann & Bryant, 1994). Although extensive research has addressed the theoretical conceptualization of media enjoyment, different perspectives remain within the literature (Nabi & Krcmar, 2004; Sherry, 2004; Vorderer et al., 2004). Namely, enjoyment has been conceptualized as an emotional (Vorderer et al., 2004; Zillmann, 2003), attitudinal (Nabi & Krcmar, 2004), and cognitive state (Raney, 2003; Raney & Bryant, 2002). Zillmann and Bryant (1994) considered media enjoyment a purposefully chosen gratification, while Sherry (2004) defined enjoyment in terms of a balanced state between relaxation and arousal. Despite their conceptual differences, enjoyment is intricately linked with character liking. More importantly, character liking does not necessarily coincide with one’s enjoyment. For instance, one might like a character but not enjoy a particular episode of a show (Nabi & Krcmar, 2004). Thus, enjoyment is thought to be a distinct construct from character liking. That said, both media enjoyment and character liking have been found to play key roles in narrative persuasion (Bilandzic & Busselle, 2011; Slater et al., 2006; Vorderer et al., 2004). Character Liking Preceding Enjoyment Raney (2004) asserted that enjoyment depended on liking the story personae. Likewise, Vorderer et al. (2004) and Cohen (2001) outlined similar process models, suggesting that positive affective dispositions toward characters (presumably through empathy, parasocial interaction, identification, etc.) resulted in more enjoyment. Bilandzic and Busselle (2011) provided empirical evidence that character identification predicted higher levels of media enjoyment, adding support to the notion that character liking might precede enjoyment. Theoretically, these studies outline a process wherein one is thought to make affective and cognitive appraisals of story personae which, in turn, affect one’s level of enjoyment. While the narrative literature offers many antecedents for increased character liking, which might also affect enjoyment and attitudes (e.g., empathy, transportation, engagement), they are predicated on the assumption that exposure elicits certain responses story characters that subsequently affect enjoyment and attitudes (Green & Brock, 2002; Raney, 2004; Slater et al., 2006; Vorderer et al., 2004). Here, we accept the premise that other processes might be at work but limit our focus to the core relationships between character liking, enjoyment, and attitudes. In essence, we limit this study to two variables explicitly found in the humor literature. In doing so, we offer a first look at how these two literatures might be integrated to create deeper understandings of satirical narratives while acknowledging that future work should build broader information models with full processes, such as transportation, engagement, and empathy. Regarding the integration of the two literatures, Raney (2004) offers an interesting overlap with the political humor research. While examining the roles of characters and enjoyment, Raney (2004) suggests that enjoyment might occur through selective perception wherein audiences reinterpret the actions of their preferred characters in ways that self-affirm. This conceptually aligns with LaMarre et al.’s (2009) argument that audiences were motivated to interpret Colbert’s satire in keeping with their own ideological views. Put simply, both studies point to the idea that audiences interpret the protagonist in ways that that self-benefit, resulting in more favorable evaluations of the character. Subsequently, enjoyment is felt. This is especially likely to occur in a satirical context where the protagonist’s message is ambiguous and open to selective perception. Igartua (2010) also places great emphasis on character liking, situating it as a mediator between exposure and enjoyment. However, only correlational data are offered (see also Bilandzic & Busselle, 2011; Igartua & Páez, 1997). Clearly, there is some empirical evidence to support the theoretical proposition that character liking is enjoyment’s antecedent, acknowledging that much of the data are correlational and competing models are likely needed to rule out alternative explanations. Character Liking and Narrative-Consistent Attitudes Another interesting theoretical overlap can be found with Green and Brock (2002) and Slater (2002). Both studies suggest that character identification should reduce counter-arguing because one would not counter-argue someone they align with. If, for instance, one has strong identification with a story protagonist such as Colbert, then we would expect a decline in their motivation to counter-argue. Although for different reasons, political humor studies similarly find that humor leads to less counter-arguing (Nabi et al., 2007; Young, 2008). Reduced argument scrutiny should, in turn, lead to more congruent attitudes. Put differently, both the narrative persuasion and the political humor literature offer theoretical justifications for positive character appraisals (whether through identification or liking as a heuristic cue) to reduce counter-arguing and result in higher attitudinal alignment with the story character (Green & Brock, 2002; Slater et al., 2006; Weinberger & Gulas, 1992). Because Colbert occupied the protagonist role in his own satirical narrative, character appraisals should include relatively more positive evaluations (Raney, 2004; Zillmann, 2003). In turn, we expect that the more one likes Colbert’s character (as the protagonist), the more they will express attitudes consistent with those espoused by Colbert in the satirical narrative. Enjoyment and Narrative-Consistent Attitudes Theoretically, we find a strong association between character liking and enjoyment (Bilandzic & Busselle, 2011; Igartua, 2010). Likewise, political humor studies have illuminated a process similar to character liking wherein humor enjoyment is said to reduces one’s motivation to counter-argue (Baumgartner, 2007). Recalling that Stroud and Muddiman (2013) found support for the notion that enjoyment reduced one’s propensity to counter-argue the host and that prior studies suggest that humor appreciation will reduce one’s motivation to counter-argue (Young, 2008), there is enough theoretical support to hypothesize that enjoyment will also predict narrative-consistent attitudes. Put simply, we suspect that increased enjoyment of the satirical narrative will directly increase protagonist message agreement. Finally, we also suspect that enjoyment will partially mediate the relationship between character liking and narrative persuasion. If, as the literature suggests, character liking is so closely linked to enjoyment, and enjoyment similarly reduces one’s propensity to counter-argue then it follows that character liking’s effect on protagonist message agreement works through enjoyment (at least in part). Moreover, the political humor and narrative persuasion literature overlap in their theoretical conceptualizations of the role characters, and enjoyment might play on attitude formation. Specifically, we find enough support to suggest that among those exposed to satirical narratives, we expect the following relationships to manifest (see Figure 1): H1: Character liking positively predicts narrative-consistent attitudes among satirical narrative viewing groups. H2: Character liking positively predicts enjoyment among satirical narrative viewing groups. H3: Enjoyment positively predicts narrative-consistent attitudes among satirical narrative viewing groups. H4: Enjoyment partially mediates the relationship between character liking and narrative-consistent attitudes among satirical narrative viewing groups. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Hypothesized model of character liking, enjoyment, and attitudes toward corporations Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Hypothesized model of character liking, enjoyment, and attitudes toward corporations However, because some studies only offer correlational data (Igartua, 2010) and others rely on character identification measures rather than character liking appraisals (Bilandzic & Busselle 2011), we will also conduct a post hoc analysis that examines competing models in an effort to rule out plausible alternatives such as reciprocal relationships between enjoyment and character liking. Method Sample The data were collected from a convenience sample (N = 168) of U.S. citizens using Qualtrics and fielded through a university survey center that is expert in collecting a diverse, adult sample from the general population. Slightly more than half of the participants were female (male = 42.5%, female = 55.9%). The average age was 36.5 years, with a range from 18 to 71 years of age (M = 36.50, SD = 12.35). The majority of participants were White (79.5%), followed by African-American (9.8%), Hispanic (5.3%), Asian American (4.9%), and other (0.5%). The mean level of education for this sample was an Associate’s degree (12.6%). The average household income was between $25,000 and $49,999 (29.1%). The mean political ideology leaned slightly liberal (1 = extremely liberal, 7 = extremely conservative; M = 3.14, SD = 1.64). However, the data skewed toward Democrat party affiliation (Democrat = 54.3%; Republican = 11.0%, Independent = 31.5%, other = 3.2%). The mean for prior viewing The Colbert Report was “rarely” (M = 2.16, SD = 1.18). Data Collection All research was conducted online. The stimulus video clips were embedded in the online questionnaires. The online questionnaire started with an informed consent. Participants were randomly assigned to viewing groups. Random assignment was deemed effective, as there were no significant differences between the groups for age, education, income, gender, or race. Additionally, all participants could see and hear the video, and correctly identify the clips they viewed as being from The Colbert Report. After viewing the video clips, participants completed the survey instrument. Stimuli The main stimuli were clips of The Colbert Report during his ongoing parody of super PACs. Treatment groups were either exposed to the satirical narrative one, three, or five times, but all messages were consistent in terms of issues discussed, joke targets, and humorous content1. In each clip, the main protagonist was the show host (Stephen Colbert). The central issue was the Citizens United Supreme Court decision and how it allowed for the formation of political super PACs that negatively impact campaign finance in American elections. The major antagonists in the clips were corporations that use super PACs to affect election outcomes. The clips were approximately 2 min and 30 s each. Edited versions of the clips cannot be publically shared or posted online because of intellectual copyright and sharing laws. For copies of the clips, please contact the lead author. Preliminary analyses demonstrated that there was no significant difference between those who viewed the Colbert satire 1, 3, or 5 times. Furthermore, the character liking and enjoyment appraisals all require a minimal level of exposure to Colbert’s story persona to have interpretable results in a process model, meaning that there was no reason to compare them against a nonexposure control group. Thus, the three treatment groups were collectively analyzed and the control group was excluded from structural equation modeling analysis, resulting in a reduced sample size (n = 127). Still, because prior viewing could bias one’s appraisals, analyses controlled for prior viewing. Measures Character liking The latent variable for protagonist character liking used six items adapted from validated and reliable character liking measures (Busselle & Bilandzic, 2009; Raney, 2004). Personal agreement for each of the items was assessed using five-point scales ranging from 1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree, with the higher end of the scale indicating higher level of character liking. Items on the scale included “I like Colbert,” “I would like to be friends with someone who is like Colbert,” “I dislike Colbert (reversed),” “I despise Colbert (reversed),” and “Colbert is fascinating” (Cronbach’s α = 0.93, M = 3.82, SD = 1.01). Media enjoyment The latent variable media enjoyment used seven items adapted from validated and reliable enjoyment measures (Busselle & Bilandzic, 2009; Raney, 2004). Participants were asked how much they (1) strongly disagreed to (5) strongly agreed on a five-point scale with seven statements: “I had a good time watching this(these) clip(s),” “I liked watching this (these) clip(s),” “I felt good watching this(these) clip(s),” “it made me happy to see this(these) clip(s),” “I did not enjoy the subject matter of this(these) clip(s)” (reverse coded), “this(these) clip(s) was(were) enjoyable,” and “I would not recommend this(these) clip(s) to others” (reverse coded). The seven items formed a reliable scale (Cronbach’s α = 0.89, M = 3.61, SD = 0.94). Narrative-consistent attitudes The main dependent variable was narrative-consistent attitudes, which was measured by assessing attitudes toward companies that donate to super PACs. This also represented attitudes toward the antagonists (and primary joke targets) in the satire wherein negative attitudes (coded high) would be considered consistent with the narrative. Participants were asked to select the number on the scale that most represented their opinion of the statements (ranging from 1 to 7 where higher numbers are operationalized as higher narrative consistency). The attitudes were assessed asking participants to complete the phrase: “Companies that donate to super PACs are….” This phrase was set on a seven-point scale with the following anchors: “good (1)/bad (7)” and “honest (1)/corrupt (7).” The index was reliable (M = 5.03, SD = 1.23, Cronbach’s α = 0.92). Exogenous variables The control variables included age (M = 36.50, SD = 12.35), gender (male = 42.5%, female = 55.9%), income (average household income: $25,000–$49,999 = 29.1%), education (highest level of education on average: associate’s degree = 12.6%), race (White = 79.5%), ideology (1 = extremely liberal, 7 = extremely conservative; M = 3.14, SD = 1.64), and prior viewing of The Colbert Report (“How regularly do you watch The Colbert Report?” 1 = never, 5 = almost always; M = 2.16, SD = 1.18). Data Analysis To test the hypothesized model (Figure 1), a structural equation model was estimated using MPlus. MPlus is a versatile tool that generates standardized estimates and provides a number of goodness-of-fit measures. As input data for estimating the structural equation model, the raw data among all the variables from the participants were used in the present study. The model was estimated by the method of maximum likelihood (Figure 2; Table 1). Table 1 Standardized Estimates, Standardized Errors, and p-Values Are Reported Standard estimates Standard errors p-value Enjoyment → enjoy1 .900 .022 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy2 .879 .025 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy3 .775 .041 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy4 .785 .040 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy5 .698 .051 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy6 .872 .026 .000 Character liking → liking1 .903 .021 .000 Character liking → liking2 .867 .027 .000 Character liking → liking3 .814 .035 .000 Character liking → liking4 .736 .046 .000 Character liking → liking5 .871 .026 .000 Character liking → liking6 .830 .033 .000 Attitudes toward corporations → attcorp1 .905 .045 .000 Attitudes toward corporations → attcorp2 .939 .045 .000 Enjoyment → attitudes toward corporations −.635 .268 .018 Character liking → attitudes toward corporations .776 .315 .014 Character liking → enjoyment .992 .059 .000 Age → character liking −.165 .078 .035 Education → character liking .059 .079 .455 Income → character liking −.062 .078 .427 Sex → character liking .021 .077 .781 Race → character liking −.001 .079 .988 Ideology → character liking −.275 .079 .000 TCR prior viewing → character liking .492 .077 .000 Age → enjoyment −.012 .059 .843 Education → enjoyment .015 .058 .792 Income → enjoyment −.047 .057 .415 Sex → enjoyment −.008 .056 .891 Race → enjoyment −.012 .057 .840 Ideology → enjoyment −.137 .063 .030 TCR prior viewing → enjoyment −.087 .073 .233 Age → attitudes toward corporations −.082 .092 .372 Education → attitudes toward corporations .031 .090 .735 Income → attitudes toward corporations −.185 .090 .044 Sex → attitudes toward corporations −.055 .088 .533 Race → attitudes toward corporations .288 .089 .001 Ideology → attitudes toward corporations −.308 .107 .004 TCR prior viewing → attitudes toward corporations −.099 .115 .391 Standard estimates Standard errors p-value Enjoyment → enjoy1 .900 .022 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy2 .879 .025 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy3 .775 .041 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy4 .785 .040 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy5 .698 .051 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy6 .872 .026 .000 Character liking → liking1 .903 .021 .000 Character liking → liking2 .867 .027 .000 Character liking → liking3 .814 .035 .000 Character liking → liking4 .736 .046 .000 Character liking → liking5 .871 .026 .000 Character liking → liking6 .830 .033 .000 Attitudes toward corporations → attcorp1 .905 .045 .000 Attitudes toward corporations → attcorp2 .939 .045 .000 Enjoyment → attitudes toward corporations −.635 .268 .018 Character liking → attitudes toward corporations .776 .315 .014 Character liking → enjoyment .992 .059 .000 Age → character liking −.165 .078 .035 Education → character liking .059 .079 .455 Income → character liking −.062 .078 .427 Sex → character liking .021 .077 .781 Race → character liking −.001 .079 .988 Ideology → character liking −.275 .079 .000 TCR prior viewing → character liking .492 .077 .000 Age → enjoyment −.012 .059 .843 Education → enjoyment .015 .058 .792 Income → enjoyment −.047 .057 .415 Sex → enjoyment −.008 .056 .891 Race → enjoyment −.012 .057 .840 Ideology → enjoyment −.137 .063 .030 TCR prior viewing → enjoyment −.087 .073 .233 Age → attitudes toward corporations −.082 .092 .372 Education → attitudes toward corporations .031 .090 .735 Income → attitudes toward corporations −.185 .090 .044 Sex → attitudes toward corporations −.055 .088 .533 Race → attitudes toward corporations .288 .089 .001 Ideology → attitudes toward corporations −.308 .107 .004 TCR prior viewing → attitudes toward corporations −.099 .115 .391 Table 1 Standardized Estimates, Standardized Errors, and p-Values Are Reported Standard estimates Standard errors p-value Enjoyment → enjoy1 .900 .022 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy2 .879 .025 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy3 .775 .041 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy4 .785 .040 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy5 .698 .051 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy6 .872 .026 .000 Character liking → liking1 .903 .021 .000 Character liking → liking2 .867 .027 .000 Character liking → liking3 .814 .035 .000 Character liking → liking4 .736 .046 .000 Character liking → liking5 .871 .026 .000 Character liking → liking6 .830 .033 .000 Attitudes toward corporations → attcorp1 .905 .045 .000 Attitudes toward corporations → attcorp2 .939 .045 .000 Enjoyment → attitudes toward corporations −.635 .268 .018 Character liking → attitudes toward corporations .776 .315 .014 Character liking → enjoyment .992 .059 .000 Age → character liking −.165 .078 .035 Education → character liking .059 .079 .455 Income → character liking −.062 .078 .427 Sex → character liking .021 .077 .781 Race → character liking −.001 .079 .988 Ideology → character liking −.275 .079 .000 TCR prior viewing → character liking .492 .077 .000 Age → enjoyment −.012 .059 .843 Education → enjoyment .015 .058 .792 Income → enjoyment −.047 .057 .415 Sex → enjoyment −.008 .056 .891 Race → enjoyment −.012 .057 .840 Ideology → enjoyment −.137 .063 .030 TCR prior viewing → enjoyment −.087 .073 .233 Age → attitudes toward corporations −.082 .092 .372 Education → attitudes toward corporations .031 .090 .735 Income → attitudes toward corporations −.185 .090 .044 Sex → attitudes toward corporations −.055 .088 .533 Race → attitudes toward corporations .288 .089 .001 Ideology → attitudes toward corporations −.308 .107 .004 TCR prior viewing → attitudes toward corporations −.099 .115 .391 Standard estimates Standard errors p-value Enjoyment → enjoy1 .900 .022 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy2 .879 .025 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy3 .775 .041 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy4 .785 .040 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy5 .698 .051 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy6 .872 .026 .000 Character liking → liking1 .903 .021 .000 Character liking → liking2 .867 .027 .000 Character liking → liking3 .814 .035 .000 Character liking → liking4 .736 .046 .000 Character liking → liking5 .871 .026 .000 Character liking → liking6 .830 .033 .000 Attitudes toward corporations → attcorp1 .905 .045 .000 Attitudes toward corporations → attcorp2 .939 .045 .000 Enjoyment → attitudes toward corporations −.635 .268 .018 Character liking → attitudes toward corporations .776 .315 .014 Character liking → enjoyment .992 .059 .000 Age → character liking −.165 .078 .035 Education → character liking .059 .079 .455 Income → character liking −.062 .078 .427 Sex → character liking .021 .077 .781 Race → character liking −.001 .079 .988 Ideology → character liking −.275 .079 .000 TCR prior viewing → character liking .492 .077 .000 Age → enjoyment −.012 .059 .843 Education → enjoyment .015 .058 .792 Income → enjoyment −.047 .057 .415 Sex → enjoyment −.008 .056 .891 Race → enjoyment −.012 .057 .840 Ideology → enjoyment −.137 .063 .030 TCR prior viewing → enjoyment −.087 .073 .233 Age → attitudes toward corporations −.082 .092 .372 Education → attitudes toward corporations .031 .090 .735 Income → attitudes toward corporations −.185 .090 .044 Sex → attitudes toward corporations −.055 .088 .533 Race → attitudes toward corporations .288 .089 .001 Ideology → attitudes toward corporations −.308 .107 .004 TCR prior viewing → attitudes toward corporations −.099 .115 .391 Figure 2 View largeDownload slide Results of SEM of character liking, enjoyment, and attitudes toward corporations. Path entries are standardized SEM coefficients (betas) at p < .05 or better. Model controlled for age, gender, income, education, race, ideology, and prior viewing of The Colbert Report. Model goodness of fit: χ2 = 214.07; df = 150; p = .0005; RMSEA = .062, CFI = .958, TLI = .947, SRMR = .041. Explained variance: character liking R2 = 45.4%, enjoyment: R2 = 81.0%, attitudes toward corporations: R2 = 37.9%. Note. SEM = structural equation modeling Figure 2 View largeDownload slide Results of SEM of character liking, enjoyment, and attitudes toward corporations. Path entries are standardized SEM coefficients (betas) at p < .05 or better. Model controlled for age, gender, income, education, race, ideology, and prior viewing of The Colbert Report. Model goodness of fit: χ2 = 214.07; df = 150; p = .0005; RMSEA = .062, CFI = .958, TLI = .947, SRMR = .041. Explained variance: character liking R2 = 45.4%, enjoyment: R2 = 81.0%, attitudes toward corporations: R2 = 37.9%. Note. SEM = structural equation modeling Results Overall, the hypothesized mediation model fits the data (Figure 2, Tables 1 and 2), which indicates that our theorized model successfully reproduces the data (χ2 = 214.07; df = 150; p = .0005; RMSEA = .062, CFI = .958, TLI = .947, SRMR = .041). Standardized estimates, standardized errors, and p-values are reported in Table 1. Table 2 Indirect Effect of Character Liking on Attitudes Toward Corporations Indirect effect β Character liking → enjoyment → attitudes toward corporations −.630** Indirect effect β Character liking → enjoyment → attitudes toward corporations −.630** Note. Standardized regression coefficient reported: *p < .1, **p < .05, ***p < .001. Table 2 Indirect Effect of Character Liking on Attitudes Toward Corporations Indirect effect β Character liking → enjoyment → attitudes toward corporations −.630** Indirect effect β Character liking → enjoyment → attitudes toward corporations −.630** Note. Standardized regression coefficient reported: *p < .1, **p < .05, ***p < .001. To begin, the direct relationship between character liking and enjoyment was assessed. As predicted, character liking positively predicted enjoyment (a = .992, SE = .059, p < .001). Individuals who liked the character of Stephen Colbert increasingly enjoyed the narrative presented by the host. Moreover, the direct effects of character liking and enjoyment on narrative-consistent attitudes were assessed. The direct effect of character liking on attitudes toward corporations that donate (c’ path) was significant (c’ = .776, SE = .315, p = .014). Individuals who had more favorable judgments of Stephen Colbert held attitudes more consistent with the narrative. The direct effect of enjoyment on narrative-consistent attitudes toward corporations that donate was negative (b = .635, SE = .268, p = .018). Enjoying the parody mitigated the formation of narrative-consistent attitudes (discussed more below). To investigate whether enjoyment mediated the relationship between character liking and narrative-consistent attitudes, the indirect effect of character liking on narrative-consistent attitudes toward corporations that donate through enjoyment was created by multiplying ab = −.630 (SE = .275). The indirect effect is reported in Table 2. The indirect effect of character liking on attitudes toward corporations was significant (p = .022). The total effect of character liking was not significant (b = .147, SE = .123, p = .231). Overall, our model revealed an inconsistent mediation: c’ and ab are opposite in sign. In this case, the mediator—enjoyment—acts like a suppressor variable (MacKinnon, Fairchild, & Fritz, 2007; MacKinnon, Krull, & Lockwood, 2000): The more individuals liked Colbert’s character, the more they enjoyed the narrative and held narrative-consistent attitudes. However, higher enjoyment appears to have impeded narrative-consistent attitude formation. Consequently, the total effect of character liking is small, as the direct and indirect effect cancel each other out. As is typical of inconsistent mediation, the direct effect is larger than the total effect. In summary, the interplay between character liking and enjoyment of the narrative counteracted the formation of narrative-consistent attitudes. Post Hoc Analyses Because ample justification based on prior literature is still key for presenting the most appropriate model, the inconsistent mediation was a surprise finding, these variables have not been explicitly tested in a satirical narrative context (to our knowledge), and questions remain within the literature as to the casual direction between these variables, we also examined potential alternatives (Kline, 2016). Specifically, several alternative models with changing relationships between character liking, enjoyment, and narrative-consistent attitudes were tested as a means of better understanding potential causal inferences.2 None of these models improved our model fit (see Online Appendix for details of the competing models). Based on the model goodness-of-fit measures as well as R2-values and estimated coefficients, we believe that our hypothesized model is most appropriate (Stage, Carter, & Nora, 2004). Discussion The purpose of this study was to examine satirical narrative processing with a focus on formally testing narrative persuasion variables (character liking, media enjoyment) in satire processing models. To do this, we selected a contemporary satirical narrative that has also been examined using more traditional political entertainment and nonnarrative persuasion approaches (Hardy et al., 2014; LaMarre, 2013). Although many significant relationships were found (Figure 2), the results only partially supported the hypothesized model (Figure 1). When compared with alternative models in the post hoc analysis, the hypothesized model offered the best fit (see Online Appendix). Character liking predicted increased enjoyment and narrative consistent attitudes as suspected. However, unexpected difference emerged between character liking and enjoyment’s influence on attitudes. These data revealed a negative relationship between enjoyment and narrative consistent attitudes. The more one enjoyed Colbert’s satire, the less narrative consistency they expressed. This is an unusual finding for narrative persuasion, but in the context of campaign finance satire, it might make sense. Recalling Nabi et al.’s (2007) discounting hypothesis, labeling this as a joke was expected to reduce audience motivations to think about the message and lead to heuristic processing wherein enjoying the humor would create positive cues that resulted in message agreement. However, this assumes that the enjoyment itself is enough to cue positive associations with the message. Perhaps not. It might be the case that positive associations with the protagonist and joke-telling source (Colbert) were enough to increase message agreement with the host, but that felt enjoyment did not map onto a specific message cue that would affect message agreement. Thinking about Zillmann and Bryant’s (1994) conceptualization of media enjoyment as a purposefully chosen gratification or Tamborini et al.’s (2010) argument that enjoyment is based on the satisfaction of needs, there is reason to doubt that a state of felt enjoyment would necessarily be attributed to the message. Put simply, enjoyment might not cue message acceptance. Furthermore, the seriousness of the message might dampen the state one felt. Perhaps, there were countervailing forces at work wherein the seriousness of the topic dampened enjoyment. Subsequently, audiences experienced reactance and negative associations were cued. Another potential explanation is that because of the narrative structure people got lost in the story, enjoying Colbert but not really understanding his ultimate message. Message confusion or ambiguity would then lead to selective perception (LaMarre et al., 2009; Raney, 2004), which could mitigate the expected effect. As we did not measure counter-arguing or thought listing, we can only surmise about enjoyment’s negative relationship with narrative consistent attitudes. Still, this inconsistent finding suggests that future satire studies should look to better understand enjoyment. This points to an important revelation in satirical narratives. Namely, while satirical narratives can be both enjoyable and persuasive, these do not necessarily coincide. In this case, enjoyment mitigated message agreement, acting as a suppressor variable. Regardless of whether it stemmed from message confusion, some form of reactance, or even a U-shaped curve for enjoyment these results suggest that there is much to be explored. Another important finding here is that the best fitting model supports both the political humor and narrative persuasion literatures that conceptualize character liking as leading to enjoyment (Baumgartner, 2007; Raney, 2004; Vorderer et al., 2004). Because some of the alternative models also had acceptable fits, we must note that the model presented only represents the best fitting model for these data. Clearly, we need replication with other forms of satirical narratives before any solid conclusions can be drawn. Still, the model does support the literature and offers additional empirical evidence for the notion that exposure to humorous stories elicits character appraisals that, in turn, affect one’s enjoyment. However, as with any study, we were limited in ways that should be noted. Although we chose to focus on a process among those who were exposed to the satire, we did not find an exposure-level effect. While a preliminary analysis of viewing/not viewing did demonstrate a main effect, there was no meaningful difference among those who viewed 1, 3, or 5 clips of the narrative. As such, we did not include the exposure-level variable as a predictor and opted instead to simply analyze the three treatment groups together. Still, we found it curious that watching more of the satire did not have an increasing effect. Although the trend was headed in the suspected direction, statistically mere exposure was enough to produce the same results as watching three or five story clips. As such, future work should attempt to better understand the long-term effects of satire exposure. What does the exposure effect really look like over long-term viewing? Our study does not provide an answer to this as we had hoped, suggesting that future work should try to develop a more robust design. Moreover, these findings demonstrate the importance of examining differing types of satire and narratives to develop more robust theoretical models. The satire processing and narrative persuasion literatures include assumptions about how particular variables function that are not necessarily true in complex forms such as satirical narratives. Here, we found an important deviation from prior empirical examinations that warrants consideration. Future work should begin to examine whether other media engagement and narrative persuasion variables, such as parasocial relationships, character identification, perceived realism, transportation, and engagement, function differently in satirical narratives. Moreover, we should continue to examine hybrid forms of political messaging such as satirical narratives as a means of developing more robust theoretical processing models. Supplementary Data Supplementary Data are available at IJPOR online. Heather L. LaMarre is an Associate Professor in the School of Media and Communication, Temple University, where she studies the processing and effects of political and policy narratives. Christiane Grill is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Mannheim, where she studies political communication and public opinion. Footnotes 1The control group was exposed to a humorous cartoon (Tom and Jerry) for approximately 2 min and 30 s. 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Entertainment as media effect. In Bryant J. , Zillmann D. , (Eds.), Media effects: Advances in theory and research (pp. 437 – 461 ). Hillsdale, NJ : Erlbaum . © The Author(s) 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The World Association for Public Opinion Research. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png International Journal of Public Opinion Research Oxford University Press

Satirical Narrative Processing: Examining the Roles of Character Liking and Media Enjoyment on Narrative-Consistent Attitudes

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Oxford University Press
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© The Author(s) 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The World Association for Public Opinion Research. All rights reserved.
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0954-2892
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1471-6909
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Abstract

Abstract This study uses online survey data (n = 127) with an embedded media manipulation to examine relationships between character liking, media enjoyment, and narrative consistent attitudes with late-night political comedian, Stephen Colbert’s satirical campaign finance narrative. The data offer empirical support for the notion that narratively structured political satire processing models should consider relevant entertainment psychology and narrative persuasion concepts such as how audiences respond to the main characters and the role enjoyment plays in the process. Using structural equation modeling, media enjoyment significantly mediated the relationship between character liking and narrative consistent attitude formation (about the antagonist), but appears to have functioned as a suppressor variable. Competing models are offered in an Online Appendix. Since the Satire of the Trades, humorists have used comedic expression as a form of social and political commentary. In today’s global environment, the humorous depiction of politics is among the most popular media formats (Baym & Jones, 2012). From editorial cartoons to online parodies, many forms of humor continue to frustrate political campaigns and trouble elected leaders (Feinberg, 1967; Knight, 2004). Contemporary processing and effects studies have largely focused on cognitive perspectives (LaMarre, Landreville, & Beam, 2009; Nabi, Moyer-Gusé, & Byrne, 2007; Young, 2008) including examinations of satirical web outlets such as The Onion and JibJab (Baumgartner, 2007; LaMarre, Landreville, Young, & Gilkerson, 2014; Sheagley, O’Loughlin, & Lindberg, 2008). Additionally, investigations of satirical shows such as The Daily Show and The Colbert Report have solidified into a dominant research stream governed by an interest in political satire’s influence on democratic ideals (Boukes, Boomgaarden, Moorman, & de Vreese, 2015; Baumgartner & Morris, 2008). While there appears to be a strong focus on developing robust theoretical models applicable on a global scale, much of this work relies on traditional political communication and persuasion theories with a focus on expository, rhetorical, and other nonnarrative forms of political comedy. With few exceptions, various global perspectives almost completely overlook the potential roles of narrative processing constructs (e.g., character liking, media enjoyment) known to influence how one processes and responds to other types of political entertainment (Landreville & LaMarre, 2013). Although satire has historically been used to comment on policy concerns and illuminate government corruption in narrative and nonnarrative formats (Atkinson, 1992; Bates, 1906; Knight, 2004), few empirical examinations have focused on the processing and effects of satirically structured narratives. Satire as a form of narrative has been around since Ancient Greece (Bates, 1906), meriting our attention as a unique yet important format for delivering potentially persuasive political messages. The present work extends beyond nonnarrative forms of satire processing to investigate this unique hybrid of political satire and political narrative, referred to herein as satirical narratives. Satirical Narratives Greek playwright Aristophanes is often considered the father of political satire (Bates, 1906). As early as 425 BC, Aristophanes ridiculed Athenian Generals, providing social commentary on the absurdity of the Peloponnesian war. Aristophanes is said to have written 40 political satire plays regarding Athenian politics and culture. His plays were performed at festivals and in the Greek Agora where citizens would enjoy satirical depictions of villains, victims, and martyrs in stories regarding Athenian politics, war, and government corruption. After targeting important cultural figures such as Socrates (e.g., The Clouds, 423 BC) and the courts of justice (e.g., The Wasps, 422 BC), Athenian legislators passed a law to reign in satirical plays (Atkinson, 1992). Even in ancient Greece, political elites feared the influence political comedy might have on public sentiment. The combined power of narrative and humor (often found in satirical Greek plays) was thought to carry immense powers of persuasion among the citizenry (Atkinson, 1992; Bates, 1906). Moreover, satire began as a narrative form. Whether through the lens of a Greek tragedy or comedy, early satirical plays illuminated the essential elements of narrative including characters, plot, and setting (Hinyard & Kreuter, 2007; Jones, 2014). Owing to the prevalence of political satire on a global scale, the genre is no longer dominated by its original narrative form. However, satirical narratives still abound. From contemporary satirical plays (e.g., The Book of Mormon) and animated TV series (e.g., Southpark) to docudramas (e.g., Thank you for Smoking) and political film parodies (e.g., An American Carol), satirical narratives remain an important form of satire that provide social and political commentary through the lens of humorous storytelling. For instance, the longest running animated TV series, The Simpsons, includes an ongoing satirical environmental narrative. Threads of commentary regarding the ills of capitalism are woven throughout the series, juxtaposing the young environmental activist, Lisa Simpson against elite nuclear power plant owner, Mr Burns (Cantor, 1999). From ancient Greek plays to modern animated television shows, this format attempts to weave satirically structured political messages within engaging stories, creating a complex mix of elements for viewers to process. Colbert’s Super Political Action Committee Satire as a Form of Narrative Narratives have key elements: scene, plot, characters, conflict, and temporal sequencing that often includes a message or moral to be considered (Hinyard & Kreuter, 2007; Kreuter et al., 2007). Shanahan, Jones, and McBeth (2011) contend that policy narratives “must have at least one character and some reference to a public policy preference or stance” (p. 457). Shanahan and colleagues (2011) also conceptualize narratives as having generalizable structural elements that are evident across various contexts (e.g., setting; characters; plot). Generally speaking, these conceptualizations situate the narrative as a “story” with a unique set of structural elements that form a coherent message about a given topic (Hinyard & Kreuter, 2007; Kreuter et al., 2007). Applying these conceptual definitions of narrative to satire, we turn to The Colbert Report’s super PAC (political action committee) story about campaign finance in political elections as the context for this study (Jones et al., 2012). Subsequent to the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United ruling, which allows corporations to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to influence U.S. elections, Stephen Colbert started his own super PAC as a means of parodying the contentious court ruling. By regularly offering satirical and critical commentary on the legislative decision during his show, the host himself became a central character in the national campaign finance debate (Jones et al., 2012). In doing so, an ongoing satirical narrative in which he played a leading role emerged. Specifically, by regularly engaging in a type of satirical performance art about his own super PAC, Colbert became the protagonist of his own political story. Clearly, Colbert’s super PAC satire meets Kreuter and colleagues (2007) definition of narrative as “a representation of connected events and characters that has an identifiable structure, is bounded in space and time, and contains implicit or explicit messages about the topic being addressed” (Kreuter et al., 2007, p. 222). First, the ongoing saga represented a series of connected events (e.g., how to form a super PAC, how he can spend the money, etc.) with an identifiable structure bounded in space and time (e.g., the U.S. election cycle). In accordance with Shanahan et al.’s (2011) conceptualization of narrative, the storyline also offered characters including a protagonist (Colbert), antagonists (corporations donating to super PACs), and victims (the electorate). Additionally, the satire contained both implicit and explicit messages about campaign finance and super PACs, as well as moral propositions (i.e., money corrupts political elections) and preferred resolutions (i.e., campaign finance laws should be reformed) (Hinyard & Kreuter, 2007; Shanahan et al., 2011). As such, Colbert’s super PAC satire can be considered a form of narrative. However, this was all done through satirically structured storylines over a series of episodes, forcing viewers to reconcile what he said with what he meant in a complex setting (Young, 2008). This raises interesting questions regarding how viewers processed Colbert’s unique experiment in late-night political comedy. Although prior work has demonstrated that Colbert’s super PAC storyline led to increased issue knowledge (Hardy et al., 2014) and support for a campaign finance reform (LaMarre, 2013), we suggest that reconceptualizing this as a satirical narrative offers an interesting context for examining whether narrative persuasion constructs such as character liking and media enjoyment played a significant role in processing the satirical storyline. There is a strong theoretical framework for examining these potential variables, as contemporary political humor processing studies have repeatedly pointed to the important relationships between humorous media and concepts such as source liking and humor enjoyment (Nabi et al., 2007). Source Liking and Humor Enjoyment in Political Satire Although most narrative persuasion concepts have not been formally tested within the context of political satire narratives, empirical political humor examinations have included explicit references to related concepts that provide some theoretical insights regarding their potential influence. Baumgartner (2007) suggested that humor enjoyment could be the mechanism through which counter-argumentation is reduced and positive evaluations are elicited. Likewise, the author argued that source liking (conceptually similar to character liking) could increase attitudinal agreement with the show host (and story protagonist in the present case). Though not explicitly testing the roles of character liking and media enjoyment, Baumgartner (2007) clearly articulated their importance and suggested their intervening roles in late-night comedy’s influence on audience attitudes. Other cognitive-based empirical examinations of political satire have similarly pointed to the importance of show characters and humor enjoyment. Stroud and Muddiman (2013) concluded that enjoyment-motivated audiences to avoid counter-arguing the underlying premise of the message, as well as avoid counter-attitudinal information to the accepted message frame. Their results added support to two seminal satire processing studies, which had previously demonstrated reduced argument scrutiny and motivation to discount humorous political messages (Nabi et al., 2007; Young, 2008). This line of research offers strong theory-based empirical evidence that political satire processing often operates at a heuristic level wherein intervening variables such as show host liking and media enjoyment could serve as heuristic cues subsequently increasing message agreement. Moreover, political humor studies certainly offer the theoretical basis for examining whether these narrative persuasion concepts serve as key intervening variables. Applying this to a satirical narrative context, the theoretical argument for the integration of these variables in processing models becomes even stronger. Indeed, the entertainment psychology literature demonstrates strong evidence of their role in narrative persuasion. Character Liking and Enjoyment in Narrative Persuasion From an entertainment media perspective, character roles and media enjoyment share prominent positions in the literature (Bilandzic & Busselle 2011; Cohen, 2001; Igartua & Páez, 1997; Raney, 2003, 2004; Slater, Rouner, & Long, 2006; Vorderer, Klimmt, & Ritterfeld, 2004; see also Green & Brock, 2002; Slater, 2002). Character liking represents feelings of affinity, friendship, similarity, or imitation (Cohen, 2001; Raney, 2004). In general, this is thought to occur through a form of social comparison wherein one perceives media characters in comparison with one’s self, subsequently making judgments, ascribing traits, and forming attitudes toward the media characters based on empathy and moral evaluations. Audiences respond to media characters with a type of affective disposition represented on a continuum ranging from disliking to liking (Hoffner & Cantor, 1991). These appraisals form a summary judgment of liking or disliking for the media character. Moreover, character liking is an external form of social judgment wherein the audience members are positioned outside of the narrative as spectators (Igartua, 2010; Raney, 2004). This concept is related to but different from Cohen’s (2001) character identification wherein one is thought to go a step farther by seeing themselves in the role (high levels of identification include seeing oneself as aligned with the character such that they would likely make the same choices as said character). Because prior satire work has examined the show host more in terms of one’s ideological alignment or external evaluations of the host (Baumgartner & Morris, 2008; LaMarre et al., 2009), we stopped short of including character identification in this context. Rather, we limit this study to the narrative concept of character liking because it similarly focuses on summary judgments of the protagonist. Alternatively, media enjoyment is generally considered to be a positive, pleasurable response toward media content (Raney, 2003; Zillmann & Bryant, 1994). Although extensive research has addressed the theoretical conceptualization of media enjoyment, different perspectives remain within the literature (Nabi & Krcmar, 2004; Sherry, 2004; Vorderer et al., 2004). Namely, enjoyment has been conceptualized as an emotional (Vorderer et al., 2004; Zillmann, 2003), attitudinal (Nabi & Krcmar, 2004), and cognitive state (Raney, 2003; Raney & Bryant, 2002). Zillmann and Bryant (1994) considered media enjoyment a purposefully chosen gratification, while Sherry (2004) defined enjoyment in terms of a balanced state between relaxation and arousal. Despite their conceptual differences, enjoyment is intricately linked with character liking. More importantly, character liking does not necessarily coincide with one’s enjoyment. For instance, one might like a character but not enjoy a particular episode of a show (Nabi & Krcmar, 2004). Thus, enjoyment is thought to be a distinct construct from character liking. That said, both media enjoyment and character liking have been found to play key roles in narrative persuasion (Bilandzic & Busselle, 2011; Slater et al., 2006; Vorderer et al., 2004). Character Liking Preceding Enjoyment Raney (2004) asserted that enjoyment depended on liking the story personae. Likewise, Vorderer et al. (2004) and Cohen (2001) outlined similar process models, suggesting that positive affective dispositions toward characters (presumably through empathy, parasocial interaction, identification, etc.) resulted in more enjoyment. Bilandzic and Busselle (2011) provided empirical evidence that character identification predicted higher levels of media enjoyment, adding support to the notion that character liking might precede enjoyment. Theoretically, these studies outline a process wherein one is thought to make affective and cognitive appraisals of story personae which, in turn, affect one’s level of enjoyment. While the narrative literature offers many antecedents for increased character liking, which might also affect enjoyment and attitudes (e.g., empathy, transportation, engagement), they are predicated on the assumption that exposure elicits certain responses story characters that subsequently affect enjoyment and attitudes (Green & Brock, 2002; Raney, 2004; Slater et al., 2006; Vorderer et al., 2004). Here, we accept the premise that other processes might be at work but limit our focus to the core relationships between character liking, enjoyment, and attitudes. In essence, we limit this study to two variables explicitly found in the humor literature. In doing so, we offer a first look at how these two literatures might be integrated to create deeper understandings of satirical narratives while acknowledging that future work should build broader information models with full processes, such as transportation, engagement, and empathy. Regarding the integration of the two literatures, Raney (2004) offers an interesting overlap with the political humor research. While examining the roles of characters and enjoyment, Raney (2004) suggests that enjoyment might occur through selective perception wherein audiences reinterpret the actions of their preferred characters in ways that self-affirm. This conceptually aligns with LaMarre et al.’s (2009) argument that audiences were motivated to interpret Colbert’s satire in keeping with their own ideological views. Put simply, both studies point to the idea that audiences interpret the protagonist in ways that that self-benefit, resulting in more favorable evaluations of the character. Subsequently, enjoyment is felt. This is especially likely to occur in a satirical context where the protagonist’s message is ambiguous and open to selective perception. Igartua (2010) also places great emphasis on character liking, situating it as a mediator between exposure and enjoyment. However, only correlational data are offered (see also Bilandzic & Busselle, 2011; Igartua & Páez, 1997). Clearly, there is some empirical evidence to support the theoretical proposition that character liking is enjoyment’s antecedent, acknowledging that much of the data are correlational and competing models are likely needed to rule out alternative explanations. Character Liking and Narrative-Consistent Attitudes Another interesting theoretical overlap can be found with Green and Brock (2002) and Slater (2002). Both studies suggest that character identification should reduce counter-arguing because one would not counter-argue someone they align with. If, for instance, one has strong identification with a story protagonist such as Colbert, then we would expect a decline in their motivation to counter-argue. Although for different reasons, political humor studies similarly find that humor leads to less counter-arguing (Nabi et al., 2007; Young, 2008). Reduced argument scrutiny should, in turn, lead to more congruent attitudes. Put differently, both the narrative persuasion and the political humor literature offer theoretical justifications for positive character appraisals (whether through identification or liking as a heuristic cue) to reduce counter-arguing and result in higher attitudinal alignment with the story character (Green & Brock, 2002; Slater et al., 2006; Weinberger & Gulas, 1992). Because Colbert occupied the protagonist role in his own satirical narrative, character appraisals should include relatively more positive evaluations (Raney, 2004; Zillmann, 2003). In turn, we expect that the more one likes Colbert’s character (as the protagonist), the more they will express attitudes consistent with those espoused by Colbert in the satirical narrative. Enjoyment and Narrative-Consistent Attitudes Theoretically, we find a strong association between character liking and enjoyment (Bilandzic & Busselle, 2011; Igartua, 2010). Likewise, political humor studies have illuminated a process similar to character liking wherein humor enjoyment is said to reduces one’s motivation to counter-argue (Baumgartner, 2007). Recalling that Stroud and Muddiman (2013) found support for the notion that enjoyment reduced one’s propensity to counter-argue the host and that prior studies suggest that humor appreciation will reduce one’s motivation to counter-argue (Young, 2008), there is enough theoretical support to hypothesize that enjoyment will also predict narrative-consistent attitudes. Put simply, we suspect that increased enjoyment of the satirical narrative will directly increase protagonist message agreement. Finally, we also suspect that enjoyment will partially mediate the relationship between character liking and narrative persuasion. If, as the literature suggests, character liking is so closely linked to enjoyment, and enjoyment similarly reduces one’s propensity to counter-argue then it follows that character liking’s effect on protagonist message agreement works through enjoyment (at least in part). Moreover, the political humor and narrative persuasion literature overlap in their theoretical conceptualizations of the role characters, and enjoyment might play on attitude formation. Specifically, we find enough support to suggest that among those exposed to satirical narratives, we expect the following relationships to manifest (see Figure 1): H1: Character liking positively predicts narrative-consistent attitudes among satirical narrative viewing groups. H2: Character liking positively predicts enjoyment among satirical narrative viewing groups. H3: Enjoyment positively predicts narrative-consistent attitudes among satirical narrative viewing groups. H4: Enjoyment partially mediates the relationship between character liking and narrative-consistent attitudes among satirical narrative viewing groups. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Hypothesized model of character liking, enjoyment, and attitudes toward corporations Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Hypothesized model of character liking, enjoyment, and attitudes toward corporations However, because some studies only offer correlational data (Igartua, 2010) and others rely on character identification measures rather than character liking appraisals (Bilandzic & Busselle 2011), we will also conduct a post hoc analysis that examines competing models in an effort to rule out plausible alternatives such as reciprocal relationships between enjoyment and character liking. Method Sample The data were collected from a convenience sample (N = 168) of U.S. citizens using Qualtrics and fielded through a university survey center that is expert in collecting a diverse, adult sample from the general population. Slightly more than half of the participants were female (male = 42.5%, female = 55.9%). The average age was 36.5 years, with a range from 18 to 71 years of age (M = 36.50, SD = 12.35). The majority of participants were White (79.5%), followed by African-American (9.8%), Hispanic (5.3%), Asian American (4.9%), and other (0.5%). The mean level of education for this sample was an Associate’s degree (12.6%). The average household income was between $25,000 and $49,999 (29.1%). The mean political ideology leaned slightly liberal (1 = extremely liberal, 7 = extremely conservative; M = 3.14, SD = 1.64). However, the data skewed toward Democrat party affiliation (Democrat = 54.3%; Republican = 11.0%, Independent = 31.5%, other = 3.2%). The mean for prior viewing The Colbert Report was “rarely” (M = 2.16, SD = 1.18). Data Collection All research was conducted online. The stimulus video clips were embedded in the online questionnaires. The online questionnaire started with an informed consent. Participants were randomly assigned to viewing groups. Random assignment was deemed effective, as there were no significant differences between the groups for age, education, income, gender, or race. Additionally, all participants could see and hear the video, and correctly identify the clips they viewed as being from The Colbert Report. After viewing the video clips, participants completed the survey instrument. Stimuli The main stimuli were clips of The Colbert Report during his ongoing parody of super PACs. Treatment groups were either exposed to the satirical narrative one, three, or five times, but all messages were consistent in terms of issues discussed, joke targets, and humorous content1. In each clip, the main protagonist was the show host (Stephen Colbert). The central issue was the Citizens United Supreme Court decision and how it allowed for the formation of political super PACs that negatively impact campaign finance in American elections. The major antagonists in the clips were corporations that use super PACs to affect election outcomes. The clips were approximately 2 min and 30 s each. Edited versions of the clips cannot be publically shared or posted online because of intellectual copyright and sharing laws. For copies of the clips, please contact the lead author. Preliminary analyses demonstrated that there was no significant difference between those who viewed the Colbert satire 1, 3, or 5 times. Furthermore, the character liking and enjoyment appraisals all require a minimal level of exposure to Colbert’s story persona to have interpretable results in a process model, meaning that there was no reason to compare them against a nonexposure control group. Thus, the three treatment groups were collectively analyzed and the control group was excluded from structural equation modeling analysis, resulting in a reduced sample size (n = 127). Still, because prior viewing could bias one’s appraisals, analyses controlled for prior viewing. Measures Character liking The latent variable for protagonist character liking used six items adapted from validated and reliable character liking measures (Busselle & Bilandzic, 2009; Raney, 2004). Personal agreement for each of the items was assessed using five-point scales ranging from 1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree, with the higher end of the scale indicating higher level of character liking. Items on the scale included “I like Colbert,” “I would like to be friends with someone who is like Colbert,” “I dislike Colbert (reversed),” “I despise Colbert (reversed),” and “Colbert is fascinating” (Cronbach’s α = 0.93, M = 3.82, SD = 1.01). Media enjoyment The latent variable media enjoyment used seven items adapted from validated and reliable enjoyment measures (Busselle & Bilandzic, 2009; Raney, 2004). Participants were asked how much they (1) strongly disagreed to (5) strongly agreed on a five-point scale with seven statements: “I had a good time watching this(these) clip(s),” “I liked watching this (these) clip(s),” “I felt good watching this(these) clip(s),” “it made me happy to see this(these) clip(s),” “I did not enjoy the subject matter of this(these) clip(s)” (reverse coded), “this(these) clip(s) was(were) enjoyable,” and “I would not recommend this(these) clip(s) to others” (reverse coded). The seven items formed a reliable scale (Cronbach’s α = 0.89, M = 3.61, SD = 0.94). Narrative-consistent attitudes The main dependent variable was narrative-consistent attitudes, which was measured by assessing attitudes toward companies that donate to super PACs. This also represented attitudes toward the antagonists (and primary joke targets) in the satire wherein negative attitudes (coded high) would be considered consistent with the narrative. Participants were asked to select the number on the scale that most represented their opinion of the statements (ranging from 1 to 7 where higher numbers are operationalized as higher narrative consistency). The attitudes were assessed asking participants to complete the phrase: “Companies that donate to super PACs are….” This phrase was set on a seven-point scale with the following anchors: “good (1)/bad (7)” and “honest (1)/corrupt (7).” The index was reliable (M = 5.03, SD = 1.23, Cronbach’s α = 0.92). Exogenous variables The control variables included age (M = 36.50, SD = 12.35), gender (male = 42.5%, female = 55.9%), income (average household income: $25,000–$49,999 = 29.1%), education (highest level of education on average: associate’s degree = 12.6%), race (White = 79.5%), ideology (1 = extremely liberal, 7 = extremely conservative; M = 3.14, SD = 1.64), and prior viewing of The Colbert Report (“How regularly do you watch The Colbert Report?” 1 = never, 5 = almost always; M = 2.16, SD = 1.18). Data Analysis To test the hypothesized model (Figure 1), a structural equation model was estimated using MPlus. MPlus is a versatile tool that generates standardized estimates and provides a number of goodness-of-fit measures. As input data for estimating the structural equation model, the raw data among all the variables from the participants were used in the present study. The model was estimated by the method of maximum likelihood (Figure 2; Table 1). Table 1 Standardized Estimates, Standardized Errors, and p-Values Are Reported Standard estimates Standard errors p-value Enjoyment → enjoy1 .900 .022 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy2 .879 .025 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy3 .775 .041 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy4 .785 .040 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy5 .698 .051 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy6 .872 .026 .000 Character liking → liking1 .903 .021 .000 Character liking → liking2 .867 .027 .000 Character liking → liking3 .814 .035 .000 Character liking → liking4 .736 .046 .000 Character liking → liking5 .871 .026 .000 Character liking → liking6 .830 .033 .000 Attitudes toward corporations → attcorp1 .905 .045 .000 Attitudes toward corporations → attcorp2 .939 .045 .000 Enjoyment → attitudes toward corporations −.635 .268 .018 Character liking → attitudes toward corporations .776 .315 .014 Character liking → enjoyment .992 .059 .000 Age → character liking −.165 .078 .035 Education → character liking .059 .079 .455 Income → character liking −.062 .078 .427 Sex → character liking .021 .077 .781 Race → character liking −.001 .079 .988 Ideology → character liking −.275 .079 .000 TCR prior viewing → character liking .492 .077 .000 Age → enjoyment −.012 .059 .843 Education → enjoyment .015 .058 .792 Income → enjoyment −.047 .057 .415 Sex → enjoyment −.008 .056 .891 Race → enjoyment −.012 .057 .840 Ideology → enjoyment −.137 .063 .030 TCR prior viewing → enjoyment −.087 .073 .233 Age → attitudes toward corporations −.082 .092 .372 Education → attitudes toward corporations .031 .090 .735 Income → attitudes toward corporations −.185 .090 .044 Sex → attitudes toward corporations −.055 .088 .533 Race → attitudes toward corporations .288 .089 .001 Ideology → attitudes toward corporations −.308 .107 .004 TCR prior viewing → attitudes toward corporations −.099 .115 .391 Standard estimates Standard errors p-value Enjoyment → enjoy1 .900 .022 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy2 .879 .025 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy3 .775 .041 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy4 .785 .040 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy5 .698 .051 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy6 .872 .026 .000 Character liking → liking1 .903 .021 .000 Character liking → liking2 .867 .027 .000 Character liking → liking3 .814 .035 .000 Character liking → liking4 .736 .046 .000 Character liking → liking5 .871 .026 .000 Character liking → liking6 .830 .033 .000 Attitudes toward corporations → attcorp1 .905 .045 .000 Attitudes toward corporations → attcorp2 .939 .045 .000 Enjoyment → attitudes toward corporations −.635 .268 .018 Character liking → attitudes toward corporations .776 .315 .014 Character liking → enjoyment .992 .059 .000 Age → character liking −.165 .078 .035 Education → character liking .059 .079 .455 Income → character liking −.062 .078 .427 Sex → character liking .021 .077 .781 Race → character liking −.001 .079 .988 Ideology → character liking −.275 .079 .000 TCR prior viewing → character liking .492 .077 .000 Age → enjoyment −.012 .059 .843 Education → enjoyment .015 .058 .792 Income → enjoyment −.047 .057 .415 Sex → enjoyment −.008 .056 .891 Race → enjoyment −.012 .057 .840 Ideology → enjoyment −.137 .063 .030 TCR prior viewing → enjoyment −.087 .073 .233 Age → attitudes toward corporations −.082 .092 .372 Education → attitudes toward corporations .031 .090 .735 Income → attitudes toward corporations −.185 .090 .044 Sex → attitudes toward corporations −.055 .088 .533 Race → attitudes toward corporations .288 .089 .001 Ideology → attitudes toward corporations −.308 .107 .004 TCR prior viewing → attitudes toward corporations −.099 .115 .391 Table 1 Standardized Estimates, Standardized Errors, and p-Values Are Reported Standard estimates Standard errors p-value Enjoyment → enjoy1 .900 .022 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy2 .879 .025 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy3 .775 .041 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy4 .785 .040 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy5 .698 .051 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy6 .872 .026 .000 Character liking → liking1 .903 .021 .000 Character liking → liking2 .867 .027 .000 Character liking → liking3 .814 .035 .000 Character liking → liking4 .736 .046 .000 Character liking → liking5 .871 .026 .000 Character liking → liking6 .830 .033 .000 Attitudes toward corporations → attcorp1 .905 .045 .000 Attitudes toward corporations → attcorp2 .939 .045 .000 Enjoyment → attitudes toward corporations −.635 .268 .018 Character liking → attitudes toward corporations .776 .315 .014 Character liking → enjoyment .992 .059 .000 Age → character liking −.165 .078 .035 Education → character liking .059 .079 .455 Income → character liking −.062 .078 .427 Sex → character liking .021 .077 .781 Race → character liking −.001 .079 .988 Ideology → character liking −.275 .079 .000 TCR prior viewing → character liking .492 .077 .000 Age → enjoyment −.012 .059 .843 Education → enjoyment .015 .058 .792 Income → enjoyment −.047 .057 .415 Sex → enjoyment −.008 .056 .891 Race → enjoyment −.012 .057 .840 Ideology → enjoyment −.137 .063 .030 TCR prior viewing → enjoyment −.087 .073 .233 Age → attitudes toward corporations −.082 .092 .372 Education → attitudes toward corporations .031 .090 .735 Income → attitudes toward corporations −.185 .090 .044 Sex → attitudes toward corporations −.055 .088 .533 Race → attitudes toward corporations .288 .089 .001 Ideology → attitudes toward corporations −.308 .107 .004 TCR prior viewing → attitudes toward corporations −.099 .115 .391 Standard estimates Standard errors p-value Enjoyment → enjoy1 .900 .022 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy2 .879 .025 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy3 .775 .041 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy4 .785 .040 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy5 .698 .051 .000 Enjoyment → enjoy6 .872 .026 .000 Character liking → liking1 .903 .021 .000 Character liking → liking2 .867 .027 .000 Character liking → liking3 .814 .035 .000 Character liking → liking4 .736 .046 .000 Character liking → liking5 .871 .026 .000 Character liking → liking6 .830 .033 .000 Attitudes toward corporations → attcorp1 .905 .045 .000 Attitudes toward corporations → attcorp2 .939 .045 .000 Enjoyment → attitudes toward corporations −.635 .268 .018 Character liking → attitudes toward corporations .776 .315 .014 Character liking → enjoyment .992 .059 .000 Age → character liking −.165 .078 .035 Education → character liking .059 .079 .455 Income → character liking −.062 .078 .427 Sex → character liking .021 .077 .781 Race → character liking −.001 .079 .988 Ideology → character liking −.275 .079 .000 TCR prior viewing → character liking .492 .077 .000 Age → enjoyment −.012 .059 .843 Education → enjoyment .015 .058 .792 Income → enjoyment −.047 .057 .415 Sex → enjoyment −.008 .056 .891 Race → enjoyment −.012 .057 .840 Ideology → enjoyment −.137 .063 .030 TCR prior viewing → enjoyment −.087 .073 .233 Age → attitudes toward corporations −.082 .092 .372 Education → attitudes toward corporations .031 .090 .735 Income → attitudes toward corporations −.185 .090 .044 Sex → attitudes toward corporations −.055 .088 .533 Race → attitudes toward corporations .288 .089 .001 Ideology → attitudes toward corporations −.308 .107 .004 TCR prior viewing → attitudes toward corporations −.099 .115 .391 Figure 2 View largeDownload slide Results of SEM of character liking, enjoyment, and attitudes toward corporations. Path entries are standardized SEM coefficients (betas) at p < .05 or better. Model controlled for age, gender, income, education, race, ideology, and prior viewing of The Colbert Report. Model goodness of fit: χ2 = 214.07; df = 150; p = .0005; RMSEA = .062, CFI = .958, TLI = .947, SRMR = .041. Explained variance: character liking R2 = 45.4%, enjoyment: R2 = 81.0%, attitudes toward corporations: R2 = 37.9%. Note. SEM = structural equation modeling Figure 2 View largeDownload slide Results of SEM of character liking, enjoyment, and attitudes toward corporations. Path entries are standardized SEM coefficients (betas) at p < .05 or better. Model controlled for age, gender, income, education, race, ideology, and prior viewing of The Colbert Report. Model goodness of fit: χ2 = 214.07; df = 150; p = .0005; RMSEA = .062, CFI = .958, TLI = .947, SRMR = .041. Explained variance: character liking R2 = 45.4%, enjoyment: R2 = 81.0%, attitudes toward corporations: R2 = 37.9%. Note. SEM = structural equation modeling Results Overall, the hypothesized mediation model fits the data (Figure 2, Tables 1 and 2), which indicates that our theorized model successfully reproduces the data (χ2 = 214.07; df = 150; p = .0005; RMSEA = .062, CFI = .958, TLI = .947, SRMR = .041). Standardized estimates, standardized errors, and p-values are reported in Table 1. Table 2 Indirect Effect of Character Liking on Attitudes Toward Corporations Indirect effect β Character liking → enjoyment → attitudes toward corporations −.630** Indirect effect β Character liking → enjoyment → attitudes toward corporations −.630** Note. Standardized regression coefficient reported: *p < .1, **p < .05, ***p < .001. Table 2 Indirect Effect of Character Liking on Attitudes Toward Corporations Indirect effect β Character liking → enjoyment → attitudes toward corporations −.630** Indirect effect β Character liking → enjoyment → attitudes toward corporations −.630** Note. Standardized regression coefficient reported: *p < .1, **p < .05, ***p < .001. To begin, the direct relationship between character liking and enjoyment was assessed. As predicted, character liking positively predicted enjoyment (a = .992, SE = .059, p < .001). Individuals who liked the character of Stephen Colbert increasingly enjoyed the narrative presented by the host. Moreover, the direct effects of character liking and enjoyment on narrative-consistent attitudes were assessed. The direct effect of character liking on attitudes toward corporations that donate (c’ path) was significant (c’ = .776, SE = .315, p = .014). Individuals who had more favorable judgments of Stephen Colbert held attitudes more consistent with the narrative. The direct effect of enjoyment on narrative-consistent attitudes toward corporations that donate was negative (b = .635, SE = .268, p = .018). Enjoying the parody mitigated the formation of narrative-consistent attitudes (discussed more below). To investigate whether enjoyment mediated the relationship between character liking and narrative-consistent attitudes, the indirect effect of character liking on narrative-consistent attitudes toward corporations that donate through enjoyment was created by multiplying ab = −.630 (SE = .275). The indirect effect is reported in Table 2. The indirect effect of character liking on attitudes toward corporations was significant (p = .022). The total effect of character liking was not significant (b = .147, SE = .123, p = .231). Overall, our model revealed an inconsistent mediation: c’ and ab are opposite in sign. In this case, the mediator—enjoyment—acts like a suppressor variable (MacKinnon, Fairchild, & Fritz, 2007; MacKinnon, Krull, & Lockwood, 2000): The more individuals liked Colbert’s character, the more they enjoyed the narrative and held narrative-consistent attitudes. However, higher enjoyment appears to have impeded narrative-consistent attitude formation. Consequently, the total effect of character liking is small, as the direct and indirect effect cancel each other out. As is typical of inconsistent mediation, the direct effect is larger than the total effect. In summary, the interplay between character liking and enjoyment of the narrative counteracted the formation of narrative-consistent attitudes. Post Hoc Analyses Because ample justification based on prior literature is still key for presenting the most appropriate model, the inconsistent mediation was a surprise finding, these variables have not been explicitly tested in a satirical narrative context (to our knowledge), and questions remain within the literature as to the casual direction between these variables, we also examined potential alternatives (Kline, 2016). Specifically, several alternative models with changing relationships between character liking, enjoyment, and narrative-consistent attitudes were tested as a means of better understanding potential causal inferences.2 None of these models improved our model fit (see Online Appendix for details of the competing models). Based on the model goodness-of-fit measures as well as R2-values and estimated coefficients, we believe that our hypothesized model is most appropriate (Stage, Carter, & Nora, 2004). Discussion The purpose of this study was to examine satirical narrative processing with a focus on formally testing narrative persuasion variables (character liking, media enjoyment) in satire processing models. To do this, we selected a contemporary satirical narrative that has also been examined using more traditional political entertainment and nonnarrative persuasion approaches (Hardy et al., 2014; LaMarre, 2013). Although many significant relationships were found (Figure 2), the results only partially supported the hypothesized model (Figure 1). When compared with alternative models in the post hoc analysis, the hypothesized model offered the best fit (see Online Appendix). Character liking predicted increased enjoyment and narrative consistent attitudes as suspected. However, unexpected difference emerged between character liking and enjoyment’s influence on attitudes. These data revealed a negative relationship between enjoyment and narrative consistent attitudes. The more one enjoyed Colbert’s satire, the less narrative consistency they expressed. This is an unusual finding for narrative persuasion, but in the context of campaign finance satire, it might make sense. Recalling Nabi et al.’s (2007) discounting hypothesis, labeling this as a joke was expected to reduce audience motivations to think about the message and lead to heuristic processing wherein enjoying the humor would create positive cues that resulted in message agreement. However, this assumes that the enjoyment itself is enough to cue positive associations with the message. Perhaps not. It might be the case that positive associations with the protagonist and joke-telling source (Colbert) were enough to increase message agreement with the host, but that felt enjoyment did not map onto a specific message cue that would affect message agreement. Thinking about Zillmann and Bryant’s (1994) conceptualization of media enjoyment as a purposefully chosen gratification or Tamborini et al.’s (2010) argument that enjoyment is based on the satisfaction of needs, there is reason to doubt that a state of felt enjoyment would necessarily be attributed to the message. Put simply, enjoyment might not cue message acceptance. Furthermore, the seriousness of the message might dampen the state one felt. Perhaps, there were countervailing forces at work wherein the seriousness of the topic dampened enjoyment. Subsequently, audiences experienced reactance and negative associations were cued. Another potential explanation is that because of the narrative structure people got lost in the story, enjoying Colbert but not really understanding his ultimate message. Message confusion or ambiguity would then lead to selective perception (LaMarre et al., 2009; Raney, 2004), which could mitigate the expected effect. As we did not measure counter-arguing or thought listing, we can only surmise about enjoyment’s negative relationship with narrative consistent attitudes. Still, this inconsistent finding suggests that future satire studies should look to better understand enjoyment. This points to an important revelation in satirical narratives. Namely, while satirical narratives can be both enjoyable and persuasive, these do not necessarily coincide. In this case, enjoyment mitigated message agreement, acting as a suppressor variable. Regardless of whether it stemmed from message confusion, some form of reactance, or even a U-shaped curve for enjoyment these results suggest that there is much to be explored. Another important finding here is that the best fitting model supports both the political humor and narrative persuasion literatures that conceptualize character liking as leading to enjoyment (Baumgartner, 2007; Raney, 2004; Vorderer et al., 2004). Because some of the alternative models also had acceptable fits, we must note that the model presented only represents the best fitting model for these data. Clearly, we need replication with other forms of satirical narratives before any solid conclusions can be drawn. Still, the model does support the literature and offers additional empirical evidence for the notion that exposure to humorous stories elicits character appraisals that, in turn, affect one’s enjoyment. However, as with any study, we were limited in ways that should be noted. Although we chose to focus on a process among those who were exposed to the satire, we did not find an exposure-level effect. While a preliminary analysis of viewing/not viewing did demonstrate a main effect, there was no meaningful difference among those who viewed 1, 3, or 5 clips of the narrative. As such, we did not include the exposure-level variable as a predictor and opted instead to simply analyze the three treatment groups together. Still, we found it curious that watching more of the satire did not have an increasing effect. Although the trend was headed in the suspected direction, statistically mere exposure was enough to produce the same results as watching three or five story clips. As such, future work should attempt to better understand the long-term effects of satire exposure. What does the exposure effect really look like over long-term viewing? Our study does not provide an answer to this as we had hoped, suggesting that future work should try to develop a more robust design. Moreover, these findings demonstrate the importance of examining differing types of satire and narratives to develop more robust theoretical models. The satire processing and narrative persuasion literatures include assumptions about how particular variables function that are not necessarily true in complex forms such as satirical narratives. Here, we found an important deviation from prior empirical examinations that warrants consideration. Future work should begin to examine whether other media engagement and narrative persuasion variables, such as parasocial relationships, character identification, perceived realism, transportation, and engagement, function differently in satirical narratives. Moreover, we should continue to examine hybrid forms of political messaging such as satirical narratives as a means of developing more robust theoretical processing models. Supplementary Data Supplementary Data are available at IJPOR online. Heather L. LaMarre is an Associate Professor in the School of Media and Communication, Temple University, where she studies the processing and effects of political and policy narratives. Christiane Grill is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Mannheim, where she studies political communication and public opinion. Footnotes 1The control group was exposed to a humorous cartoon (Tom and Jerry) for approximately 2 min and 30 s. 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International Journal of Public Opinion ResearchOxford University Press

Published: Mar 21, 2018

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