The media item chosen for this essay is Just a Minute – a flagship radio comedy show broadcast on BBC Radio 4. It is based on a 4-member panel format, where contestants have to speak on any given topic for a full minute without ‘hesitation’, ‘repetition’ or ‘deviation’. Having premiered at 1967 as a weekly show the program is still running today. It is one of the longest running in the history of radio and comedy. (Crisell, 2002, p.26) The main reason for its success is due to how it allows endless creativity and humour within a simple framework of rules. Though the three-point rules are simple to understand, the panellists seldom find them easy to follow during the impromptu situations they find themselves in. Though it is a competitive game-show format, winning is less important than amusing and entertaining the audience. The audience for the show falls into two categories: radio listeners and in-studio attendance. Hence there is rich, dynamic social interaction taking place during the program. This essay will explore various sociological dimensions at play during the program. Relevant sociological theories are referenced to highlight how the chosen media program is an agent of socialization.
Just a Minute as an Agent of Socialization:
One of the special features of Just a Minute (JAM) is its no-holds-barred atmosphere for social interaction. Humour is a great agent for socialization for it takes away usual inhibitions about sensitive topics. In the show one of the main sources of humour emerges from gender stereotyping, man-woman relationships and sex life. Some of these topics are not usually discussed in normal social settings. But in the vibrant, encouraging atmosphere of JAM, panellists take a free-ranging approach to all topics – sensitive or otherwise. (Crisell, 2002, p.26) This facilitates interaction among the panellists in ways that would not otherwise be possible. The panellists also get feedback from listeners on radio, albeit with a lag. After all, the continued patronage to the program is due to radio audience approval of the panellists as well as their sense of humour. Hence, an indirect channel of socialization is open between the featured panellists and the radio audience. In this sense, the format, rules and comic-focus of the program serves as a great agent of socialization.
Socialization with respect to JAM is not just confined to the panellists. The radio listeners and in-studio audience are also integral to the social dynamics. The in-studio audience plays a bigger role in terms of its real-time feedback to humour. The spontaneous laughs, shouts of approval and appreciation, as well as boos of disapproval act as a constructive feedback mechanism. Hence we could attribute a degree of socialization between the panellists and the in-studio audience: “the audience’s every gurgle, or at least everything that survives the editing process, will be broadcast all over the country. As the show’s producer, and indeed Parsons himself, reminds us when he strides onto the stage, we are very much part of the show, and the need to be very vocal indeed is impressed upon us.” (Lezard, 2000, p. 12) The demographic profile of the in-studio audience can be loosely called multi-ethnic. Largely drawn from the Middle England group that listens to Radio 4, there is diverse representation within this group. For example, there are men in formal attire sitting side by side with those who are in casual wear. There are those who look as though
“they would shoot up like pheasants if the National Anthem were to be played; and those who, in Orwell’s phrase, would rather steal from the collection plate. Some of them have teenage children, or younger…As it turned out, those congregated at Buxton seemed to enjoy the show, and I overheard a few of them going over their favourite routines during the interval.” (Heilman, 2003, p.47)