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The Social, Political, and Psychological Affordances of Pandemic Humor and Satire in the United States of America and Iran

Massih Zekavat

Pages 521 - 540



This publication is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons License Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivatives 4.0.

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This essay compares and contrasts the responses of U.S.-American and Iranian citizens to the current health crisis by investigating a corpus of humorous items, collected through a survey tool on the website of the University of Amsterdam between March and July 2020, during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The analysis shows that humor was used as a coping and adaptive strategy in both contexts. Individual coping is more evident in the United States, where political criticism is frequently relegated to the media and press. This difference is partly due to censorship and similar impediments to the freedom of expression in Iran where the (traditional) media and press are either run or strictly regulated by the government. Two more themes were conspicuously more prevalent in U.S.-American humor: first, racism and xenophobia, especially directed against Asians; second, hoarding and scarcity of basic commodities, particularly toilet paper. While U.S. Americans and Iranians were frustrated by the inadequate responses of public officials, they found different strategies and outlets to express their frustrations. Economic and cultural differences also influenced the unfolding of the health crisis and its consequences in these two contexts, which explains the prominence of certain themes and motifs in the corpus.

Key Words:humor; satire; the United States of America; Iran; adaptive function; coping; COVID-19 pandemic

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