DOI: 10.1177/20563051241228584 ISSN: 2056-3051

Digital Affect Culture and the Logics of Melodrama: Online Polarization and the January 6 Capitol Riots through the Lens of Genre and Affective Discourse Analysis

Megan Boler, Yoon-Ji Kweon, Míchílín Ní Threasaigh
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Communication
  • Cultural Studies

Drawing on our 3-year digital ethnography of cross-partisan debates in the context of the 2020 US election and January 6 Capitol insurrection, this essay examines the affective and discursive dimensions of online polarization, contributing new understandings of how genre functions as a system of norms that shapes emotional performance online. Through a cross-disciplinary theoretical framework, we demonstrate melodrama’s role as a fundamental storytelling structure responsible for the production of polarized cross-partisan debate on social media platforms. Our multi-method analysis of 5000 posts from Twitter, Facebook and Gab reveals users’ adherence to melodramatic group identities, enforced through emotional policing and mimetic identification with political influencers. Adopting roles of victim and villain, users channel emotions into archetypal and ritualized narratives of good and evil that in turn polarize political debate. Finally, this essay outlines our innovative methodology of “affective discourse analysis”, a multi-method approach to tracking and coding the social materiality of emotion through digital linguistic practices.

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