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Abstract

Comedy (owarai) and comedic variety (baraeti) television programming have developed into a mainstay format for Japanese broadcasters since the 1980s. Low production costs and compressed schedules have helped sustain the appeal of comedic formats for broadcasters in an era of diminishing advertising revenue and tightening budgets. However, popular commentators have noted that deferral to these structural constraints, coupled with the relentless demand for broadcast content, have resulted in a profusion of low-brow (teizoku) programs competing to corner the market on cheap laughs. Such programs have been both popular with audiences, according to industry ratings research, and subject to frequent criticism within public discussions mediated by newspapers, magazines, talk television and, more recently, social media. These comic programs regularly feature coarse speech and crude behavior which become salient foci within mediatized expressions of concern that find such rough (ranbō) interactional displays unsavory, meaningless, and potentially harmful. Such critical perspectives on comic television often emerge in response to the double image of Japanese comic television as both a professionalized expressive form and a normative source of citational resources used to facilitate engaging sociality in everyday settings. Children overwhelming figure as the explicit focus of concern and regularly feature in critical discussions as particularly vulnerable to comic television’s viral enticements. The focus on children hinges on rigorously institutionalized ideologies of childhood dependence that cast children as naturally unequipped to operate as fully responsible social actors. Regular expressions of concern cast children as prone to imitate transgressive comic forms drawn from television, even as they lack the mature communicative awareness to reanimate them without causing embarrassment, offense or emotional harm to those around them. Such presumptions of interactional immaturity regularly defer responsibility for the problematic behavior and speech of children onto other, more mature, agents, such as mothers who figure as the paramount caregiver in children’s lives. The stark division of labor associated with postwar Japan’s ‘maternal society’ firmly laid the responsibilities of childcare on mothers, thus freeing up fathers to engross themselves in economic labor to sustain the household as well as serve corporate and national interests. This gendered formation hangs in large part on the robust ideological linchpin of maternal love, which casts mothers as naturally inclined, and instinctually equipped, for the work of child rearing. Ultimately, the dissertation argues that such mundane public discussions about comic television serve as a potent regulatory nexus that entangles anxieties over comic programming with broader social concerns surrounding children in ways that invigorate established maternal norms and render them powerfully salient in the everyday lives of mothers. Individual chapters examine the interdiscursive contours and consequential entailments of a set of discussions that coalesce around the double-edged semiotic potentials afforded by mediatized comic forms. In each case, the analysis traces the ways that these ideologically laden discussions project normative expectations for mothers who are tasked with safeguarding the hearts, minds, and productive futures of their children.

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