Henri de Jongste
[Topics in Humor Research 9] 2020
► pp. 127–166
Chapter 7. Playing with private mental models
The collective senders frequently play with the private mental models that the TV viewers are expected to attribute to the interactants or agents involved in the sitcom. One way in which the collective senders can do this is by manipulating their own private mental model on communicative level 1, without the intervention of the characters. The possibilities for direct humorous interaction on level 1 are very limited, however, because of the role of the collective senders as the ultimate source rather than the observable authors of the sitcom scenes. What they can do, is deliberately and recognisably misrepresent the situational context of the sitcom itself. The location, for example, the industrial estate in Slough is shown at length at the beginning of each episode. The slowly moving images of the office building, the roundabout and the bus station suggest that these merit our attention. In reality, what we see stresses the ugliness of the office environment and its lack of glamour, which is likely to figure in the collective senders’ private mental model as well as in ours. In the background, a lyrical theme song featuring an oboe emphasises the contrast between the images and the true assessment of the environment. Far more frequently than interacting with the TV viewers directly, however, the collective senders deploy the role performances of the characters on communicative level 2 for humorous private mental-model manipulation. Here, they have several options. They can show character behaviour or its residue, which indicates that the characters assign a flawed meaning to a component of the situational context in their private mental models. This leads to sincere, but ineffective or inappropriate role performances in the characters’ world. Alternatively, the characters may misrepresent their private mental models on the ground of a manipulative or a humorous intent. The diminishment required is then typically located in the characters’ lack of success in realising this intent. We will use Matsumoto’s template, as discussed in Chapter two, to investigate where the flaws in the interactants’ or in the agents’ private mental models on level 1 and on level 2 might be located.