Jokes as vector of globalization?

Limor Shifman, Hadar Levy, and Mike Thelwall (2014), Internet Jokes: The secret Agents of Globalization?Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication.

Prezi used for the presentation. 

This article is about the globalization and in a lesser way about the Americanization. It focuses on jokes and their translation on internet and how it could be a vector of globalization. 

This study searches to spotlight how internet users, in addition of books, television, and so on, are part of the globalization, here under the spectrum of jokes. 

I. Definition.

4 concepts are addressed in this article.

1. User generated content:

 Internet offers to users all the necessary tools for sharing content worldwide, for translating content and by this way spreading ideas in many different languages. 
This study call this "User-generated globalization", and defines this as "a cross-national diffusion of content by internet Users."

In other way, what Internet Users creates and shares are a vector of globalization. Indeed, it helps to spread a culture, a way of thinking worldwide. 

2. Globalization / Americanization:

Globalization is "the process of international integration from the interchange of world views, iedeas, and any other aspects of culture". 
In other terms, it is the homogenization of every country's culture through sharing any side of each culture. It implies a multilateral sharing.

Americanization differs from globalization. Americanization is a linear influence of USA above other culture. It's a one-sided sharing through media, film, music... 

3. Glocalization:

Glocalization is a word made of two others, globalization which is a concept we saw above, and “local”. This portmanteau identifies the process of a specific globalization where the content is adapted to local area

The best example of a glocalization would be McDonald which concept is global, but products are adapted to each area to fulfill the different taste. 
Another example would be the €. One side is for the global product: the currency of the European Union and the other is for the local: a customized side according to each country. 

4. The megaphone effect:

This is the last concept but one of the most important. 
The megaphone effect (Bloch and Lemish) defines that a content may spread worldwide ONLY after it becomes popular in the USA

II. The study:

This study decided to focus on jokes for several reasons. Jokes are a vector of cultural stereotypes, reflects norms and fear... Their translation may help sharing one’s culture, especially American’s one, as show the Megaphone Effect. 

Also, those translations doesn’t involve any economic, aren’t driven by profit and thanks to this differs from other transnational content. Another reason is also that once a joke has been translated and adapted to a country, through local markers, the true origin of the text may become less clear. Jokes undergo glocalization in some ways.
 Jokes, thanks to all of this, are a subtle way of globalization. 

The aim of this study was therefore to see whether or not translated joke were catalyzing process of “user-generated globalization”.

For that purpose, four research questions lead their study.

1. To what extend do popular jokes in English diffuse cross-linguistically on the web.

Translated jokes are common, more common than English Jokes in Non-English websites.  The study shows that the highest rate of URL where those jokes appear (translated or not) is held by Portugal, followed by Russia… And the lowest rates are held by Japan and Korea. The study explains this with two explanations.

Firstly, the practice of joke-telling is different in those cultures. There is a gap between the Asian humor and the western one which could explain this low rate of translation. The second explanation is that Japanese and Korean are the most-distant languages from English (as found by another study held by Lindemann and Hart Gonzalez). 

This linguistic distance is then another reason of those rates.  They concluded that the volume of translations may be related to the language proximity

2. Do popular Internet Jokes in English that are also found in other languages appear first in English and only then in these languages?

The searchers found that the first date of appearance of English version of the jokes on Internet was anterior to the appearance of the joke in any other language. They linked this result to the “megaphone effect” seen previously. 

I will just express some reserves here:
They checked some jokes which appeared on internet during the 90s. The first Internet provider appeared in the USA in 1989 (The World), whereas for example in France the use of internet by public started in 1994 and mostly at the beginning of the 21th century. Here, a bias could exist due to the lack of infrastructure outside of USA, leading to the fact that jokes appeared first in English because of an earlier democratization of the Internet.

However, the search on this question showed that a joke had to be a global hit in English before spreading worldwide.

3.      Do some comic themes spread globally more successfully than others and, conversely, are there some topics that do not translate widely?

This question is about finding whether or not some joke spreads more than other. And indeed, it happens. The study found that themes which every country can relate too spread more than those with local cultural marker. Jokes about consumption spread more than those embedded with local marker inherent to America (such as Rednecks for example). 

It seems logical that a joke which can be understood in every western civilization will spread globally more than a joke foreign country can’t relate to (even western).

Translation-resistant jokes are embedded with local markers, what prevents it to spread globally, while global hit presents markers that are cross-national.

4.      To what extent do translated versions of the jokes introduce culture-specific elements, and which practices of localization do they apply. 

One third of the jokes examined presented some cultural changes. The changes were made according to three methods:
  1. off the shelf localization” , where local American or English markers are modified to concord to the targeted culture. It’s a case of domestication to make the jokes more “local” although it comes from overseas.
  2.  “custom-made localization”.  Here the aim is to personalize the joke with marker which are uniquely belonging to the one country, often with semantic expression that can’t be translated but have specific meaning (like French slang: “Amerlocs”). 
  3. cutaway localization”: the less used method which consists into cutting some American part of the joke. 


The study concludes on the fact that jokes translation serves globalization
Indeed, most of the jokes remains the same (2/3) even after the translation, which allow ideas and controversial positions held by jokes to travel across the globe. The last third where modifications were found is still an agent of glocalization. 

Even after being domesticated, jokes spread a global content coated in a local package.

They also conclude that the way of diffusion was English to any other languages, conclusion I already emitted some reserves about (see above, question 2).

Class discussion: 

Do you think that at equal size of population and level of technology, the “megaphone effect” would remain? 
(USA is the 3rd country in the world according to its superficies and also the 3rd according to its population. If all country had the same size, same amount of population and same access to technology and internet, would this effect remain?)

  • Yes, it would remain. The megaphone effect is different from the soft power of the country. USA have a strong soft power.
  • This effect would lower a little bit, but still remain
  • Megaphone effect is a matter of learning language. It would remain as English is the most influent language in the world, but still lower
  • The megaphone effect would disappear as every country would have the same importance. Then, it would reappear again according to the most influent country