Benign violations in the suburban ensemble dramedy

Wyatt Moss-Wellington

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Peter McGraw and Caleb Warren’s benign violation theory (BVT) argues that humour is produced when three conditions are met: we perceive a situation as potentially violating, we perceive it also as benign, and the two perceptions occur simultaneously. This model is applied as a means to analyse comedy in screen media. BVT is motivated to describe the cognitive dissonances inherent to comedy spectatorship, and to perform hermeneutic readings of screen humour using a particular case study in dramedy cinema: the suburban ensemble film, including works such as The Kids Are All Right, Little Miss Sunshine and American Beauty. After surveying some of the key humorous stimuli recurrent across the genre, I then turn to other comedic texts that deal with family and domestic studies with a striking lack of pathos–in particular the cartoon series Family Guy. This comparison underscores an analysis of the ethics of benign violations in narrative media that is centred on the resolution of its fundamental affective dissonance, and the way this resolution might guide later critical thought. The article ultimately demonstrates the uses of BVT as a hermeneutic tool, and one that might help us isolate an ethics of comedy in media.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2-14
Number of pages13
JournalComedy Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Benign violations
  • affective
  • dramedy
  • ethics
  • family
  • incoherence
  • suburbia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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