Last weekend, we had a profound, subtle, and well informed--not to mention "cool"--discussion of the politics and culture of what became precisely defined as "rock." This weekend’s topic is the place of television in American political and even liberal education. Arguably the most profound form of culture we actually share with at least our more ordinary students is television. There’s more there there than in popular music. Learned professor Paul Cantor (in his book GILLIGAN UNBOUND) has found theological depth in the X-FILES, complex moral psychology with a libertarian spin the in THE SIMPSONS, and the display of the Socratic conception of the soul in GILLLIGAN’S ISLAND.
And Cantor and the brilliant Diana Schaub have disagreed over whether STAR TREK is about life at the end of history described by Kojeve and Fukuyama or a defense of the noble meritocratic principles of the American founding.
In teaching the Tocquevillian view of the way individualism creeps in a democracy, what better resources do we have than Larry David’s wonderfully ironic SEINFELD and CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM? Philosophic pop culture expert Thomas Hibbs’ criticizes SEINFELD as a nihilistic "show about nothing," but others disagree, reminding Hibbs that the show gets us to laugh at more than with pathetically self-absorbed human beings.
I could go on to say a lot about the conservative wisdom--even praised by the humor-challenged Crunchy Cons--of KING OF THE HILL and patriarchy night on HBO--which featured both THE SOPRANOS and the riveting, excellently performed and directed BIG LOVE. But mostly I’m out of touch and have little to say about, for example, the use of philosophers’ names on LOST (about which my students have asked me fairly often).
Can we conservative liberal educators afford not to be conversant about the most popular and accessible form of popular culture--a medium that is mostly, of course, but far from completely a wasteland?