Where is the conservative comedy? A modest research proposal.
I’m pretty skeptical of most of the research that shows deep psychological differences between liberals and conservatives. The worst of these are those purporting to show that liberals and conservatives are different on an actual genetic level. This is often reported in the press in a terribly credulous manner that makes it seem even worse, but it’s just very difficult to believe. It just stretches the limits of credibility to posit that there are inherent differences in humankind that translate cleanly into specific issue positions that happen to be salient for 21st-century Americans.
That being said, there is one thing that does give this credence: the lack of good conservative comedy. Kevin Drum points this out, and this is something that has long puzzled me. All good political comedy is liberal, and the conservative media’s attempts to cultivate comedy have been horrible attempts. Most good non-political comedy is rife with liberal attitudes; I really can’t even think of a successful comedy or TV show in the recent past that seems compatible with a culturally conservative mindset, which when it appears at all is the butt of jokes. It’s not exactly the most important issue in politics, but it is something crying out for some good rigorous study for a political scientist who wants to see a lot of mass-media coverage. Conservatives chalk it up to liberal media bias, but that demands a level of liberal media domination and conspiracy that’s hard to believe. Big Media is a business after all, and it is hard to believe they would pass on stuff that would have a huge natural audience. Something about the situation really does suggest that there’s something about the conservative worldview that doesn’t mesh well with humor, which is also something fairly hard to believe.
I’d love to see some rigorous testing on this. It’d be difficult to figure out how to test well, since any sort of field or survey experiment would require a lot of discretion by the researcher about what counts as funny. A simple experiment of this nature would test whether liberals and conservatives reacted differently to a stimulus – but humor is so subjective that it will be difficult for a researcher to defend his selection of jokes as biased. It is very likely they will select something more geared to appeal to liberals, most likely subconsciously. An observational study might be more convincing – for example, looking at the consumption of comedy amongst demographically matched liberal and conservative households could be very revealing. I wonder if Nielsen publishes that data…