Polysemic Scaffolding: Explicating Discursive Clashes in Chappelle’s Show

Document Type

Article - Merrimack Access Only

Publication Title

Communication, Culture & Critique


International Communication Association

Publication Date


Abstract/ Summary

This article explicates the discursive foundations that bubble up multiple meanings in racial humor, describing three prominent discursive clashes at the heart of Chappelle’s Show’s polysemic comedy: Egregious stereotyping versus subtler mediated racism, inverted racial stereotypes versus traditional stereotypes, and serious versus nonserious discourse. Throughout the article, I make a case for ‘‘polysemic scaffolding,’’ a method that positions polysemy as a taken-for-granted interaction among text, author, and audience, and instead seeks to understand the discursive patterns that will eventually have their polysemic meanings activated. This article underscores the importance of not only undertaking polysemic criticism, but also of uncovering the discursive scaffolding upon which the polysemy is based.