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Photo Courtesy of National Communication Association (NCA).

Communication Studies Professors Carey Noland and Michael Hoppmann will be presenting their work at the upcoming National Communication Association (NCA) convention, which takes place in mid-November. They will be presenting at the Top Paper Session for NCA’s American Studies Division, sharing findings from their paper entitled Stop! You’re Killing Me: America’s Response to the Obesity Epidemic through Comedy. Their paper centers on comedian Jim Gaffigan and explores, using the McGraw and Warren’s Benign Violation Theory, what deadly assumptions about food addictions and obesity he relies on – and how one of his famous routines, “McDonalds,” links to prominent, dangerous discourses regarding obesity in the United States.

Our work was mostly an opportunity of transdisciplinary cooperation.

“What can an argumentation theorist with a healthy background in humor theories (me) contribute to the expertise of a health communication scholar (Professor Noland)?” explained Professor Hoppmann.

Using the McGraw and Warren’s Benign Violation Theory helped Professors Noland and Hoppmann explain how Gaffigan creates humor by relying upon his audiences’ shared assumptions about food addictions and obesity. The theory served as a descriptive tool to shine a spotlight on the perception of norms surrounding food addictions and healthy eating habits.

“We figured that trying to use one of the most recent humor models, the Benign Violation Theory, on an artifact dealing with the obesity epidemic and health in general might offer a valuable insight into norms that Americans not only claim to have, but actually hold,” continued Professor Hoppmann. “The beauty of using someone’s laughter as a litmus test for whether norms are being held, and as how important and/or fragile they are being perceived, is that laughter is (usually) an immediate reaction, that has the potential to be a lot more honest than self-reporting or other forms of qualitative analysis.”

Their work will appear as a chapter in The Dark Side of Stand-Up Comedy published by Palgrave Macmillan and edited by P. Opplinger and E. Shouse. Professors Hoppmann and Noland are exploring ways to continue their research in different areas or other venues.

The Department of Communication Studies will have a strong presence at this year’s NCA conference. In addition to Professors Noland and Hoppmann’s contributions, Professor Tom Nakayama is being recognized as a Distinguished Scholar, one of NCA’s most significant awards. Communication Studies student Brooke Stanley (alongside alumnus Seth Queeney) will be presenting her work on the Top Paper Session for NCA’s Student Section. A former Communication Studies postdoctoral researcher (postdoc), Maggie Williams, will also be presenting her work on the Top Papers Session – for the Urban Communication Association. Her paper is entitled “Ubering to Class in a Transit Desert: Understanding the Impact of Mobility on Educational Access.” Last, a current postdoc, Donica O’Malley, received the dissertation award from NCA’s American Studies Division; her dissertation is titled “From Redhead to Ginger: Othering Whiteness in New Media.” Congratulations to all of the faculty and students who are representing Northeastern in this prestigious national conference!