Henri de Jongste
[Topics in Humor Research 9] 2020
► pp. 69–79
Chapter 4. Mental models and The Office
In this chapter, we will look more closely at the various mental models at play in The Office and at the situational contexts in which these are constructed. Primarily, the TV viewers need to create mental models of their viewing experience, and they do so in a specific situational context. Even though each viewing experience is unique, we can assume that the situational contexts in which people typically watch a sitcom like The Office show specific similarities. Therefore, they influence the mental models constructed by the TV viewers in similar manners. An analysis of the typical situational context in which the TV viewers watch the sitcom can show how this works. One of the components of the situational context is the collective senders as agents/interactants who co-operate with the viewers on what we will call communicative level 1 (the level of real-world interaction; the situation in which we communicate). The scenes that the collective senders present to the TV viewers as quasi-autonomous interaction between the characters in the sitcom world (the fictional level; the situations about which we communicate) are situated on a different level, a level that we will call communicative level 2. The sitcom scenes need to be embedded in the TV viewers’ mental models on both levels: as situations in their own right on level 2, and as creations of the collective senders – their behavioural residue – on level 1. The camera crew has a special role in this process, as they are both part of the fictitious world on level 2 as (fake) documentary makers, and of the real world on level 1 as the people who film the actual sitcom scenes. This enables the collective senders to merge the two levels and to show characters who, in contrast to other forms of drama, seem to be aware of the mental models created of their role performances by the TV viewers.