Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Philosphy on the March: Philosophy Meets Popular Culture

As many of you probably know there are a host of books on popular culture and philosophy out there in the publishing marketplace these days. I read Buffy and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale, edited by James South, a professor of philosophy at Marquette University, several years back and found it typical of the ilk. These books, many of them published by Open Court, are filled with a host of essays which use TV programmes to analyse various currents in philosophy. In other words, they are more about philosophy than about the narrative, visual, or production aspects of TV programmes, things I have always assumed any good analysis of a TV programme should do.

I have always found this pop cult and philosophy genre a rather curious creature in that it, rather imperialistically, subsumes television programmes within the seemingly voracious field of philosophy regardless of whether the specific television programme warrants it or not. Buffy does, in part, but it deserves much better than the essays in Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale. Ironically, and you should all know how much I love ironies by now, there was no attempt to connect BtVS to Kierkegaard in South's collection despite the subtitle. Nor is their any attempt to analyse the existentialism that Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse, has said was a major influence on him and which, as a result, found its way into Whedon's television shows and films most specifically the Objects in Space episode of Firefly. But then so much criticism today avoids such empirical production analysis.

Anyway isn't that a nice segue back to the collection Buffy and Philosophy? I found many of the essays in that book horrible particularly the essays by Neal King and Michael Levine and Steven Jay Schneider and a few moderately enlightening and educational, like the essay by Karl Schudt on the Nietzschean will to power in the character of the slayer Faith. I suppose, however, if one is a philosophy geek who reads TV programmes through the prism of philosophy one might appreciate edited collections on philosophy and popular culture like those published by Open Court even if they are heavily watered down.

I suppose this attempt to bring philosophy and popular culture together is rather similar to Robert Oppenheimer's successful attempt to bring together two of the things he loved most in the world, physics and New Mexico, physics, in the form of the atomic bomb, an atomic bomb Oppenheimer became convinced, made him the destroyer of worlds. The conjoining of philosophy and popular culture is quite similar to Oppenheimer's conjoining of physics and New Mexico since the philosophy meets popular culture genre, by enabling philosophy to colonise popular culture, has, like the a-bomb, become the destroyer of worlds, in philosophy's case the destroyer of popular culture worlds.

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