Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Under the Big Top: Life at Honest Weight

In the last few days I have been reminded how happy I am not to be a member of the Honest Weight Food "Coop", aka, the Honest Weight Food Corporation. Recently, two members of the Board resigned. The two who resigned, Kate Doyle and Rebekah Rice, wrote letters to the letters to the editor section of one of the Coop 'newspapers", the Coop Voice, stating their reasons why the resigned. Long story short: Finances. A day or so later these letters disappeared rather like commisars in the USSR and Board members in the HWFC to be replaced by a statement about the need to avoid conflict at the "Coop". Now, however, the letters are back again, by popular demand the Voice says, showing, I suppose, that repressed history inevitably reemerges at some point.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Genre and Academia: The Case of Deborah Jermyn's Prime Suspect

Genre, a repetitive style, is at the heart of popular literature, film, and television. It turns out it is also at the heart of much of modern academic life. This was made very clear to me recently as I was reading Deborah Jermyn’s BFI TV classic monograph on the ITV detective show Prime Suspect. All the usual genre suspects from film and television studies are present in Jermyn’s monograph (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010) including a discussion of realism in Prime Suspect, a discussion of the representation of gender in Prime Suspect, and an exploration of the detective and crime genre as it relates to Prime Suspect. Given that such repetition can prove tedious and tiresome to some of us after awhile it was a welcome relief when Jermyn turned to discussions of things that are often far to peripheral in contemporary academic film and television studies including the role creator Lynda LaPlante played in creating Prime Suspect, the difficulties LaPlante met while working on and writing the show, the role real life DCI Jackie Malton played in bringing greater realism to Prime Suspect, and the increasingly important role actor Helen Mirren, who played DCI Jane Tennison, the central character in Prime Suspect, played in the production of the show as it went on. Jermyn’s Prime Suspect is a good if repetative paint by the theories of the moment in academia book. Prime Suspect itself, which I have been re-watching on blu ray is, in its first, third, fourth series first episode, and fifth series extraordinary.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Stupid is as Stupid Does: The Triumph of Moronicity in American Life

The most remarkable thing, perhaps, about contemporary social media is the displays of utter stupidity one finds on it on a daily basis. Take this gem from Facebook today.

A Facebook poster, who frighteningly teaches in the Palmer Independent School District, stated today that George Stephanopoulos, currently the moderator of ABC television's This Morning on Sunday and co-host of ABC's Good Morning America, is a communist. What is remarkable about this statement is its total idiocy. Such a moronic assertion reveals that this poster has no idea what Marxism is and that, most likely, his source for this statement is some cynical or moronic demagogue who manipulates Americans for political and economic gain for a living or who is an idiot him or her self.

As anyone who has taken an introductory sociology or introductory social or cultural anthropology course knows, if they remember anything about their college days other than the partying, is that Marxism is a symbol system in which economics is the key symbol around which all other Marxist symbols revolve. Marxism maintains that economics is central to human life and that economics is the motor of human history. Ironically, I suspect that if one left out the fact that this is a Marxist argument most American neoliberals would agree with this statement.

The notion that a media figure like Stephanopoulos is a communist too is utterly moronic. If Stephanopoulos was a communist it is, first off, unlikely that ABC would hire him. Stephanopoulos may know a bit about Marxism. After all he attended Columbia University in Manhattan and took a degree in political science. I seriously doubt, however, that he would describe himself as a devoted Marxist or that he, like 99% of the American population, spends much time thinking about social theory.

The poster goes on to make another immensely moronic statement, specifically that Dale Hansen, sports anchor at Dallas TV station WFAA, is a communist because he supports NFL players in their ongoing protest and recognised those protests for what they are, a protest against racial inequality and the police killings of unarmed Blacks in contemporary America. That far too many believe such tripe proves once again the truth of Giles's statement that the earth is doomed...

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Attack of the Five Minute Monster From the Deep

Apparently Prager "U"s (brought to us by radio talk show host Dennis Praeger and his fellow travellers) mantra is give me five minutes and we will give you the intellectual history of the universe. Such a notion is, of course, absurd as anyone who has dealt with reality knows. In fact, demagogues like Jonah Golderg, one of Praeger "U's" many talking heads who have recently been appearing on my Facebook page thanks, no doubt, to weird human algorithms or algorithims become missionaries to heathens like myself, might be seen as latter-day Pauly Shore's starring in their own American sitcom passion plays if they didn't actually appear to believe the demagoguery that comes out of their mouths.

What folks like Goldberg do is what demagogues, apologists, and polemicists have always done and will always do. They create caricatured and stereotyped and, of course, unnuanced straw men to then batter into dust in the liberal/commie/nazi/socialist/anarchist wind with their conservative hammers and sickles. They, for instance, don't interrogate and excavate the history of terms they talk about such as social justice and they really don't engage those who have written about justice from other points of view like Michael Sandel and Alasidair MacIntyre. Instead they confine their "analysis" to a caricature and stereotype of whatever they are "analysing" and which they have already demonised. They don't reflect on their sacred statements such as that which asserts that all states, be they monarchical, fascist, corporate, "democratic", or oligarchic, are the same, tyranical. They confine their "analysis" to a caricature and stereotype of "government" or "states" that they have already demonised in their holy writ, oral and written. They don't see academia as it is. Engineers and physicists are hardly revolutionaries bent on destroying conservative fairy tales. They don't see reality as it is. Like it or not the US, as documents show, aided and abetted the overthrow of Chile's president.

In the end Prager U is yet another fundamentalist theocratic religion. We can actually count the ways that it is in its five-minute presentations and in the comments on the various five minute pontifications on the Prager U Facebook page. There’s the belief amongst many of the faithful that once the priestly authorities have spoken there is no need for further exploration of a topic. There’s the belief amongst many of the faithful in the inerrancy of the sacred texts of the religion. All hail the power of Hayek’s name. There are those five-minute Prager U catechisms that socialise or try to socialise the faithful, new, converts, or old, into how and what true believers should think. There are those ahistorical and anti-historical attitudes of many of the faithful. There’s the belief among many of the faithful that true believers need to mission to the many heretics outside the Prager church. There’s even a willingness among many of the red faced emotional true believing faithful that, should evangelism fail, heretics should symbolically and even perhaps actually be burned at the inquisitorial stake. Prager U is a religion. Prager U is a theocratic religion just like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam before it. Everyone, by now, should expect this inquisition.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

War Children, It's Just a Nuclear Bomb Away...

History seems to repeat itself in acts of insanity again and again. I was reminded of this today when I saw so many Democrats on Facebook climbing all over themselves to support the Trump government and the US military industrial complex's North Korea policy.

The posts of these Democratic hawks are always the same. They are characteriesed by confusion, conflation, and cliches. They, for instance, condemn anyone who speaks out about the American imperial demonisation not realising that condemning the imperial warmongering against North Korea IS NOT a statement of support for the North Korean monarchical regime. It is an attack on a practise that is as old as the rise of large scale agricultural "civilisation", the demonisation of the enemy "other" in preparation for war broadly defined.

Their posts are confused about technological capabilities. Yes North Korea has nuclear weapons. They apparently got the ability to make nukes from Pakistan. Yes North Korea can launch nuclear weapons. We don't know how many nuclear weapons North Korea has. We do know that the US, the only country to actually use nuclear weapons in war, has hundreds and has the capability to hit North Korea again and again. We really don't know, however, about the capabilities of North Korean weapons. We have, of course, heard all this before, specifically about Iraq. Iraq's nuclear weapons, of course, were fictional. Iraq's real missiles could barely hit Israel.

Their posts forget the doctrine of mutual assured destruction that was at the heart of American imperial Cold War policy. In this Strangelovian scenario one had nuclear weapons so someone else didn't use nuclear weapons against you. The underlying assumption was that nuclear weapons would and could not be used by any actor with them because it would lead to mutual assured destruction. It is certainly reasonable, in a world where the US has invaded Grenada, Libya, and Iraq twice, to pick a few of many examples of overt attack, to assert that North Korea is playing by the same rules in order to protect itself from a country that has the largest military in the world by far, the United States. Not allowing another country the same weapons of "self-defence" you have, by the way, is a clear example of ethnocentric and nationalist hypocrisy.

You might hear someone claim that the North Koreans are not "rational", whatever that means, and are not playing by MAD rules as the US and USSR were. This, however, is an assumption, driven by ideology not a reality. It is also an assumption that is problematised by the fact that some of us are old enough to remember the days when Soviets were accused of being "irrational".

Finally, there is the same old ideologically driven binary in form amnesia about the fact that the US is the latest in a long line of imperialist powers that stretches back to ancient China and the city-states of ancient Mesopotamia. Meanwhile, the American govenrment and the American and European media play the masses as suckers...

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

‘Note to self, religion freaky’: When Buffy Met Biblical Studies

Paper presented at the Buffy Symposium: Get to the Point: Issues at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer
SUNY Oneonta
Oneonta, New York
7 November 2009

“While the wide arc of the globe is turning
We feel it moving through the dark”
B-52s, "Revolution Earth"

No doubt some of you are scratching your head at the subtitle of my paper and saying to yourself “When Buffy Met Biblical Studies, when did Buffy meet Biblical Studies”? Some of you might be thinking to yourselves “I recall a few instances where the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer wove religious issues into the programme. There was the religious tyrant Genevieve Holt who ran that brutish children’s home in “Where the Wild Things Are” (4:18). There were Willow’s occasional references to her Jewishness (“Bad Eggs”, 2:12, “Passion”, 2:17, “Amends”, 3:10, “The Body”, 5:16, “Hell’s Bells”, 6:16, “Help”, 7:4). There was the time when Riley was on his way to church (“Who Are You”, 4:16). There were the several references to Wicca (“Hush”, 4:10). And there was that line that Buffy famously uttered in response to something Giles said to the Buffster as he and she were on their way into a crypt to see what Spike’s minions were looking for and which, of course, serves as the title of my paper “note to self, religion freaky” (“What’s My Line, Part 1”, 2:9). But Buffy meeting Biblical Studies? Come on!”

Let’s see if I can explain why I chose this title. As with any “intellectual” or “academic” fan boy or fan girl paper this paper will, if you scratch hard enough below the surface, tell you something about me and about the social, cultural, and ideological contexts I came of age in. When I first matriculated at college I was a Biblical Studies major. I even had romantic visions of a once upon some time in the near future when I would be teaching Biblical Studies at a major college or university somewhere in the English speaking world.

Though my academic fairy tale has not come true—it took me a long time to recognise that I didn’t want to spend a significant proportion of my academic life studying languages, that my interests in religion were broader and more cultural and theoretical than Biblical Studies allowed, and that trying to find a job in academia with a very specialised degree in a smallish field would be difficult. So I ended up in cultural anthropology and later history. Talk about job opportunities! I did, nevertheless, learn a lot during my intellectual journey through the labyrinth of Biblical Studies. One of the things I learned was that the Torah/Pentateuch/Five Books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) could not have been written by the man “tradition” claimed had written those books, Moses.

It is Baruch Spinoza, a Jew living in seventeenth century Holland, who is arguably the father of modern “scientific” Torah Studies. In his Theological-Political Treatise Spinoza brought Renaissance methods to bear on the Pentateuch questioning whether Moses actually wrote the five books of the Torah. Spinoza instead attributed their authorship to a historian writing hundreds of years after the event.

Spinoza’s assertion about the authorship of the Torah would really take hold in intellectual culture and eventually the academy in the late eighteenth century and the nineteenth. Under the impact of the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution, and the Enlightenment (a holy trinity I view as three in one) a number of scholars, many of them German (something American evangelist Billy Sunday would make hay of when he argued that the Allies were God’s instrument to punish heretical Germany for its higher biblical criticism), came to the same conclusion Spinoza had years earlier. Arguing that the Torah could not have been written until urbanism, the monarchy, and a priestly caste had arisen in Ancient Israel they argued that the five books of the Torah could not have been written by Moses. Instead they maintained that the Torah was the product of several sources, the J or Y source, the document which used the term Yahweh for god, the E source, the document which used the term Elohim for god, the P source, the priestly document which contained regulatory and ritual sources relating to the priesthood in Ancient Israel, and the D source, the book II Kings 22 says King Josiah “discovered” in the temple in Jerusalem in 622 BCE. The Deuteronomist would also, claim “scientific” biblical critics, play an important role in the editing of the Books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. Scholars date J to the tenth century BCE, an era of increasing urbanism, professionalization (the development of a priestly caste) and bureaucratization (the development of priest/scribes) in Ancient Israel, E to the eighth century BCE, D to the seventh century BCE, and P to the sixth.

I am sure many of you at this point are still scratching your heads at this point and still wondering, at least to yourselves, what all of this has to do with Buffy Studies? Let me see if I can explain.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as I am sure we all know, came on the air as a midseason replacement on the WB network in March of 1997. Almost immediately the show generated not only an intense and devoted fan base but also an impressive amount of scholarly and critical intellectual analysis. In fact, no TV show anywhere in the known universe has generated the academic discourse Buffy has at this point. This academic analysis, it turns out, has read Buffy, to paraphrase the title of a Clint Eastwood film, about every which way it can. Academics have used Buffy as a platform from which to praise the show for its postmodernist, feminist, social ethical, girl power, “undemonising”, liberal, radical, and conservative themes and damn it for its liberal, conservative, manichean, paternalist, racist, sexist, and classist ones.[1]

A few examples of the latter:

For Neal King Buffy the Vampire Slayer is not so much about the girl next door as the proto- if not outright vigilante fascist down the street who leads the forces of “good” against a host of “evil” others. For King, Buffy, with its dualistic distinction between good humans and evil vampires, demons, monsters, and witches is nothing more than another ugly ethnocentric manichean fairy tale about us the “good” and them the “bad”. In King’s mental world the Scoobies, Buffy’s companions in the war against evil, are the jackbooted and brownskirted or brownshirted defenders of a vicious human nationalism that won’t stop goose slaying their way through Sunnydale until every “evil” vamp, demon, monster, and witch in their way is dead (note the “political correct” liberalism here).[2]

To Michael Levine and Steven Jay Schneider Buffy is just another unconscious Freudian reality tale starring the proverbial girly girl next door. Schneider’s and Levine’s Buffy, like every other woman in the universe apparently, is yet another virgin/whore object of the ever present voyeuristic male gaze, males who want either to marry her—fortunately or unfortunately this ‘m’ word breeds limpness in males—or seek no more than the zipless happy with her making her, in the process, into just another one of the many wenches who serve to satisfy their insatiable lusts. She, in turn, is the stuff Freudian dreams are made of. She is Buffy the frigid and Buffy the slutty (categories ironically parodied by Buffy in the first episode of the show “Welcome to the Hellmouth” 1:1).[3]

For a number of other commentators the prejudicial ugliness of Buffy the Vampire Slayer lies in its racism, sexism, middle classism, and ageism. For Elyce Rae Helford Buffy reveals different types of racist, sexist, and bourgeois stereotypes in its depiction of anger in its three slayers—Buffy, Kendra, and Faith—undermining in the process any potentially positive moment (note the radiant utopian ideology here) of social change in the process (the text in the service of the status quo?). According to Helford, Buffy, the white, middle class slayer controls, redirects, and uses humour to diffuse her anger upholding, in the process, a middle class ladylike identity. Kendra, a black Jamaican slayer, on the other hand, rarely expresses her anger and never uses humour while working class Slayer Faith is rarely humourous, is almost always rebellious, expresses her anger openly, and is often sexually explicit while hiding, all the while, feelings of self-loathing. The characteristics of each slayer, claims Helford, and the differences between them mark Buffy off as insider to Kendra’s and Faith’s black and working class outsiders (note the concentration or race and class here both central symbols of much contemporary criticism).[4]

Others move beyond the supposed class bias of Buffy’s anger when condemning the show. For Helford Buffy’s portrayals of women are regressive. Buffy, she claims, markets cleavage to the masses in the form of simulated girl power. [5] For Lorna Jowett the death of Anya (Emma Caulfield) in the final episode of the series (“Chosen”, 7:22), a female character Jowett characterizes as “minor”, “disposable, and “powerless”, is a product of misogyny in the Buffy text.[6] For AmiJo Comeford the victimization of Cordelia Chase, in Buffy and its spinoff Angel, is evidence of sexism in Whedonverse texts.[7] For Alissa Wilts the death of Tara in “Seeing Red” (6:19) and Willow’s response to it—Tara and Willow were lovers—is yet another instance of the dead lesbian and the evil lesbian clichés in the media as well as a homophobia that occasionally rears its ugly head in the Buffyverse.[8] For Kent Ono and Vivian Chin Buffy’s vampires are really metaphors for the people of colour who are the genocidal fodder for the Scoobies white middle class vigilantism. For Lynne Edwards Buffy’s portrayal of the Jamaican Vampire Slayer Kendra draws on the tragic mulatta myth in which a fair skinned black women, usually of mixed racial heritage, tries to pass for white with tragic consequences and thus reveals the existence of racism in the Buffyverse.[9] For J.P. Williams Buffy’s portrayal of knowing teenagers, unknowing parents (Joyce Summers and Sheila Rosenberg, Buffy and Willow’s mothers respectively) and the killing of Jenny Calendar, the assertive techno-pagan computer science teacher who loves Buffy’s Watcher Rupert Giles and mentors Scooby Willow, is evidence that the programme harbours ageist prejudices against mothers and surrogate mother figures.[10]

It is here in the text centred criticisms of Buffy that, I think, Buffy meets Biblical Studies (of both the scientific and literalist varieties). Though the “documentary hypothesis” has been around since the late nineteenth century the only evidence for it is textual. The different names for god in the biblical text (Yahweh, Elohim) are believed to show that there was a Yahwist document and an Elohist document (and presumably it means that to modern humans the ancient Hebrews were unable to play with synomyms). The two creation stories in the Book of Genesis, for instance, are attributed to the P or Priestly source (Genesis 1:1, “When Elohim began to create heaven and earth” or, in he words of the King James version, “In the beginning Elohim created the heavens and the earth—is this a “sacred” tale which justifies the position of the priests in the Hebrew state?) and the Yahwist (Genesis 2:4b, “When Yahweh Elohim made earth and heaven…”).[11] Buffy’s interpreters King, Levine and Schneider, Helford, Jowett, Comeford, Wilts, Ono and Chin, and Edwards assume that historic Western prejudices consciously or unconsciously leave their mark on the Buffy text but they offer no extra-textual evidence for any of this. King elides the fact that there are historical debates over precisely what fascism is and he simply can’t accept that for whatever reason real evil exits, at least narratively, in the Buffyverse. Levine and Schneider offer no extra-textual evidence for the Freudianism they claim to find in Buffy. Ono and Chin offer no extra-textual evidence for their contention that Buffy is racist and that Buffy’s vampires are representations of ethnic and racial “others”. Helford does not engage the numerous interviews in which Buffy’s creator Joss Whedon claims that he meant Buffy to be “feminist”.[12] Nor does she, if we want to focus exclusively on the textual level, bring third wave feminist positions to bear on her second wave feminist contentions that Buffy is sexist. Comeford offers no evidence statistical or otherwise that Cordelia Chase is anymore victimised and hence damaged than say Angel or Spike or any other major character in the Buffy or Angel text, male or female.[13] Edwards ignores the fact that Kendra is never described as a mulatta in either the shooting script or the final script of “What’s My Line” (2:9 and 2:10).[14] Finally, Jowett’s attribution of Anya’s death to misogyny ignores Whedon’s statement in his commentary on the episode “Chosen” (7:22) that he killed Anya for narrative reasons—someone had to die—and that he chose Anya because Emma Caulfield had decided that five years of playing Anya was enough.[15]

Biblical Torah Studies and Buffy Studies are also similar in their attempts put their respective texts into broader contexts. The redaction of the Torah is said to be a product of urbanism, the rise of a monarchy, and the rise of a professional priestly caste. The Buffy text is thought to reveal, like a crystal ball (I owe this metaphor to my colleague Jonathan Nash), anything, we might want to know about, in this instance, American and presumably Western ethnocentric, political, gender, class, and age prejudices, class prejudices.

OK, some of you now might be saying to yourselves, yes I can see your point. There is, on some level at least, a similarity between Biblical Torah Studies and Crystal Ball Buffy Studies. Both of them centre their analysis on the text. But so what? What’s the big deal about this?

Now that I may have some of you with me I want to deconstruct a bit of the argument I have just been making and see if I can explain to you in the process what the big deal is about the connection between Biblical Torah Studies and Buffy Studies.

Yes there are similarities between Biblical Studies and Buffy Studies but there are also differences between them. Biblical Studies, unlike contemporary crystal ball textual criticism—which film critic David Bordwell calls symptomatic criticism—is grounded in classical critical approaches that go back to Plato and Aristotle which emphasise the close analysis of the text (lower criticism) and the analysis of the textual sources of that text (higher criticism)—Bordwell calls this form of criticism explicative criticism.[16] This form of exegetical criticism is very different from the crystal ball textualism that dominates so much literary, cinema, and television criticism today. In symptomatic criticism the sources of the text are not simply other texts but primarily the social and cultural contexts or discourses into which that text “fits”. Crystal ball textualists tend to skip the close analysis of the text as text altogether in favour of a social and cultural contextualisation of the text (the text as ethnocentric, racial, sexist, classist, ageist). This crystal ball approach to contexts is of an entirely different order and quality than those of Biblical Torah scholars in that urbanism and professionalization are extra-textual historical processes while the crystal ball textualist approach which sees ethnocentrism, racism, sexism, classism, and ageism as discourses that are both outside of and inherent to “texts” of all types (a kind of holy spirit of the textual world?).

The difficult trick, at least from a historical perspective, is how crystal ball textualism gets from text to context without an engagement with primary source materials. Crystal ball textualists rarely engage in primary source material analysis beyond the text as I noted. None of the essays on Buffy I have been examining in this paper, for instance, explore production material from Twentieth Century Fox or Mutant Enemy, Joss Whedon’s production company. None of them draw on interviews with any of Buffy’s creative personnel including Buffy creator Joss Whedon. Why? Since the 1960s the academic disciplines of Cultural and English Studies have experienced a theoretical sea change. Once enamored of auteurist textual criticism, today Cultural Studies and English Studies are dominated by scholars and critics who are less interested in authors, authorial intentions, and “texts” per se than in how “texts” of all kinds reflect underlying social, cultural, and psychological contexts. These changes have forced those in Cultural and English Studies to reconfigure the theoretical mental terrain in which they reside creating, in the process, a veritable theoretical smorgasbord feast of mix and match social theory from semiotic to structuralist, feminist to psychoanalytic, racist to classist, marxist to cognitive, and phenomenological to hermeneutic theory. As a result of this theoretical smorgasbord and the theoretical bricolage that has resulted from the synthesis of many of these theoretical perspectives questions of nationalism, race, gender, class, and age have become central to the contemporary crystal ball textual enterprise while primary source research isn’t even an afterthought for most crystal ball textualists because it isn’t regarded as essential. They assume that the author is dead and that it is society and culture that does its ethnocentric, racist, sexist, classist, and ageist work through the text via the medium of the “author”.[17]

In the final part of this paper I want to briefly explore another question: How valid are the interpretations of Buffy’s crystal ball textualists? Is Buffy really ethnocentric, racist, sexist, classist, and ageist as Buffy’s crystal ball textualist critics claim? It is important to note that not every commentator, not even every academic commentator, has read Buffy in these ways. Frances Early characterises Buffy as a transcendent female warrior. Patricia Pender raises questions about whether one can apply the canons of second wave feminism to third wave feminism television shows.[18] Joss Whedon says that he intended Buffy to be feminist and has directly contradicted Lorna Jowett’s contention that Anya was killed off in the final episode because she was a woman. I could also find counterexamples to the contention that Buffy is ethnocentric, racist, classist, and ageist but I have limited time.

So how do we square this contradictory circle? Should we throw up our hands and assert that Buffy is a contradictory text? Is Buffy both ethnocentric and non-ethnocentric, racist and non-racist, sexist and non-sexist ageist and non-ageist all at the same time? Or does crystal ball textualism, because it generally doesn’t engage in research in primary source material, open itself up to the criticism that it can say and has said virtually anything it wants as long as it recapitulates its pre-existing assumptions that ethnocentrism, racism, sexism, classism, and ageism are omnipresent in US and Western society and culture and hence its texts (the joys of tautology?)? Does the fact that few symptomatic critics do primary source research mean that there are absolutely no evidentiary checks and balances in crystal ball textualism because there is no checking or balancing of textual claims against primary source materials? While we can verify, extra-textually, whether there was an increase in urbanization, the monarchy, and professionalization in Ancient Israel can we do the same thing for the claims of crystal ball textual critics given that extra textual and textual “evidence” is collapsed in symptomatic criticism?

Academics really need to take a look in the mirror once in a while and reflect on the history of academia and the social and cultural forces that have played a role in structuring knowledges within the Ivy Tower. One of the questions we could pose while looking in this mirror is this: Do Biblical Torah Studies and Buffy Studies reflect social and cultural ideologies that reflect the evolution of notions of expertise and professionalism since the Enlightenment?

Students of the Torah, on some level, assume that the Pentateuch is a human document. Crystal ball textualists make certain assumptions as well. One can see these in their discussion of character in the Buffyverse. The Buffy papers I have been analysing all tend to counterpoint their own preferred socially and cultural constructed and (generally unexpressed) non-fascist, non-racist, non-sexist, non-classist, and non-ageist ideal depictions of vampires, demons, monsters, black women, working class women, mothers, and surrogate mothers against their fascist, racist, sexist, middle classist, and ageist opposites establishing, in the process, binary pairs of opposites one of which is coded as good, the other of which is coded as evil.[19] In this manichean mental world the only possible non-racist and non-sexist depiction of a black female Slayer, for instance, is one in which she is apparently never teased, never criticised, always central to the show, always disobedient of patriarchal authority, and alive for the entire run of the show, while the only non-ageist depiction of Jenny Calendar would be one in which see never betrays the Scoobies, always fights the patriarchal forces, trains Willow in how to be a witch, and never dies at the hands of Angelus. Such a Slayer and such a Jenny Calendar would invariably be rather shallow and one-dimensional characters which border on, if not become, caricatures and a stereotypes. Is this ideological exemplar criticism? Is this normative criticism grounded in notions of ideological correctness?[20] Do you really want to see such stereotyped and caricatured characters in a TV show?

As I noted the questions I have been asking raise questions about the nature of symptomatic criticism. Is it a kind of ideologically correct enterprise? If it is a kind of ideologically correct textual enterprise does this raise questions about the dispassionate and descriptive nature of such criticism? What if our crystal ball textual slayers aren’t in possession of the Du Lac cross of right textual analysis? When crystal ball textualists read a text are they revealing their own biases and prejudices and giving us insight, in the process, into their own social and cultural contexts? Does this raise questions about the readings themselves? Are the readings of crystal ball textualists, in other words, a species of reader response or audience analysis? Are they reflective of the academic obsessions of the day—ethnocentrism, racism, sexism, classisim, and ageism?

So what can be done to move Buffy Studies beyond this virtually exclusive focus on the text, which, by the way, I am not saying is an entirely bad thing if the focus is exegetical and we move beyond the text toward more empirical terrain that is verifiable by checking and balancing interpretations against primary source material (exegesis-hermeneutics-homiletics).[21] We need to understand that television is people (the men and women who made Buffy happen including creators, writers, producers, craftspeople, actors, executives), a business (the industrial society and culture in which Buffy developed and which includes personnel connected to the networks and the studios), technology (technological factors that impacted Buffy), forms (the genres and languages Buffy deploys), representations (What does Buffy tell us about the US society and culture and the wider world), and something viewers react to (Who watches Buffy? Where? Under what conditions? How have viewers, real viewers not just academic readers, responded to Buffy).[22] We need to understand television’s modes of production, means of production, relations of production, hierarchies of power, star system, production system, technologies, stylistic, representational, and narrative practices, and histories. We need to understand the relationship of the television industry to other corporate entities both nationally and globally and the role television plays in structuring and replicating ideologies. We need to understand what TV’s writers thought they were writing, what TV’s directors thought they were directing, what TV’s producers thought they were producing, what TV’s craftspeople thought they were crafting, what TV’s actors thought they were acting, and what a TV’s readers thought they were reading.

These are not the only things we need to recognise about television. We need to recognise that there are the budgetary constraints within which TV operates. According to writer Drew Goddard and director David Solomon the episode “The Killer in Me” (7:13) had a budget which didn’t allow for the appearance of more than a few Potentials because of this lack of money. David Fury and James Contner claim that most of the budget for season six was, in fact, spent on “Once More with Feeling” (6:7). We need to recognise that there are constraints related to availability of actors in the Hollywood community and the salaries actors draw. According to writers David Fury and Drew Goddard Mutant Enemy, Joss Whedon’s production company, had trouble finding competent British actors to play British parts in the Buffyverse. We need to recognise that there are constraints associated with the roles network executives play in the casting a television series. According to Buffy creator Joss Whedon WB executives balked at having the womanly Riff Reagan who played the role of Willow in the pilot play the role of Willow in the series.[23] We need to understand the role contingency sometimes plays in television production. According to Kristine Sutherland the fact that she was living in Italy for most of season four meant that her character Joyce only appeared limitedly during season four. This allowed the writers to move Buffy into a dorm at the University of California in Sunnydale and to explore Buffy’s feelings of displacement. The decision by Seth Green (Oz) to move on to the “greener pastures” of the movie world forced the writers to make changes to season four and allowed the writers to take Willow’s sexuality in new directions. The decision by Anthony Stewart Head (Giles) to spend more time in England with his daughters during season six and less time on the show allowed the writers to focus even more strongly on the growing up and responsibility themes of that season and the show.[24] Bianca Lawson’s decision not to take the part of Cordelia allowed her to play the part of Kendra and Charisma Carpenter to take the role of Cordelia Chase.[25] Drew Goddard’s decision to write a scene between Eliza Dushku (Faith) and James Marsters (Spike) in “Dirty Girls” (7:18) was an attempt to showcase the two together in order to see if they had the necessary chemistry so that Mutant Enemy might propose a series built around them to network executives.[26] The decision by Joss Whedon to finally write a musical episode of Buffy (“Once More with Feeling”, 6:7) was predicated on the skills of Joss’s actors and James Marsden’s persistence in asking Joss to write a musical.[27] I have already noted that Whedon’s decision to kill Anya in the final episode of the series, “Chosen (7:22), was occasioned by Emma Caulfied’s decision not to renew her contract because of her wish to move onto other acting roles and challenges.[28] And we need to realise that TV writers don’t always express their own viewpoints in their work. Whedon has discussed how he has his characters take stands that he doesn’t necessarily agree with for the sake of narrative structure. We need more studies, in other words, like those of Julie D’Acci on Cagney and Lacey and Matthew Pateman on Jane Espenson’s scripts on Buffy, Angel, and Firefly.[29]

I know I have posed a lot of questions already in this brief paper but I want to close this paper with four more: Isn’t it about time that we proclaim the death of the death of the auteur? Isn’t it about time that give a renewed emphasis to exegesis? Isn’t it about time that we renew our emphasis on primary source research? And isn’t it about time that, if we are going to make claims about how texts are read that we actually ask people beyond the ivy walls who read Buffy how they “read” the Buffy text (survey and ethnographic work perhaps?)? All four are indeed a big deal.

Thank you.

End Notes
1. I am indebted to a number of books and articles written about Buffy. These include Roz Kaveney; “She Saved the World. A Lot: An Introduction to the Themes of Buffy and Angel” in Roz Kaveney; Reading the Vampire Slayer: The New, Updated Unofficial Guide to Buffy and Angel (London: Tauris, new edition, 2004), pp. 1-82, Deborah Thomas; “Reading Buffy” in John Gibbs, Ian Garwood, and Deborah Thomas; Close Up 01 (London; Wallflower, 2006), Ian Shuttleworth; “They Always Mistake Me for the Character I Play!: Transformation, Role Playing, and Identity in the Buffyverse (and a Defence of Fine Acting)” in Roz Kaveney; Reading the Vampire Slayer: The New, Updated Unofficial Guide to Buffy and Angel (London: Tauris, new edition, 2004), pp. 233-276, Jeffrey Pasley; “You Can't Pin a Good Slayer Down: The Politics, If Any, of Buffy the Vampire the Slayer and Angel” (2003) (http://jeff.pasleybrothers.com/writings/buffy.htm), Douglas Kellner; “Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Spectacular Allegory: A Diagnostic Critique” (http://www.gseis.ucla.edu/faculty/kellner/), and Gregory Stevenson; Televised Morality: The Case of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Lanham, MD: Hamilton Books, 2003).
2. Neal King; “Brownskirts: Fascism, Christianity, and the Eternal Demon” in James B. South (ed.); Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale (Chicago: Open Court Press, 2003). Interestingly and perhaps ironically one of Xander’s fears in “Nightmares” is Nazis.
3. Michael Levine and Stephen Jay Schneider; “Feeling for Buffy: The Girl Next Door” in James B. South (ed.); Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale (Chicago: Open Court Press, 2003). The virgin/whore dichotomy is not the only thing that comes in for parody in the Buffyverse. There’s also Willow’s spurting knowledge monologue (“The Freshman” 401), for instance, which parodies Freudianism itself.
4. Elyce Rae Helford; “My Emotions Give Me Power: The Containment of Girls Anger in Buffy” in Rhonda Wilcox and David Lavery (eds.); Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Lanham, MD.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002). For other studies of Faith see Sue Tjardes; “’If You’re not Enjoying it You’re Doing Something Wrong’: Textual and Viewer Constructions of Faith the Vampire Slayer” in Frances Early and Kathleen Kennedy (eds.); Athena’s Daughters: Television’s New Women Warriors (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2003), pp. 66-77, Karl Schudt; “Also Sprach Faith: The Problem of the Happy Rogue Slayer” in James South (ed.) Buffy and Philosophy: Fear and Loathing in Sunnydale (Chicago: Open Court, 2003), pp. 20-34, and Greg Forster; “Faith and Plato: ‘You’re Nothing! Disgusting Murderous Bitch!’”, in James South (ed.) Buffy and Philosophy: Fear and Loathing in Sunnydale (Chicago: Open Court, 2003), pp. 7-19.
5. Elyce Rae Helford; “Introduction” in Elyce Rae Helford (ed.); Fantasy Girls: Gender and the New Universe of Science Fiction and Fantasy (Lanham, MD.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000), pp. 1-9.
6. Lorna Jowett; Sex and the Slayer: A Gender Studies Primer for the Buffy Fan (Middletown, CT, 2005), p. 37.
7. AmiJo Cornford; “Cordelia Chase: Sunnydale Cheerlader and LA ‘Rogue Demon Huntress’: The Feminine Myth Deconstructed”, paper given at the Slayage Conference on the Whedonverses, Henderson State University, Arkadelphia, Arkansas, 5-8 June 2009. A version of this essay, Comeford; “Cordelia Chase as Failed Feminist Gesture”, has recently appeared in Keven Durand (ed.); Buffy Meets the Academy: Essays on the Episodes and Scripts as Texts (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009), pp. 150-160.
8. Alissa Wilts; “Evil, Skanky, and Kinda Gay: Lesbian Images and Issues” in Lynne Edwards, Elizabeth Rambo, and James South (eds.); Buffy Goes Dark: Essays on the Final Two Seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Television (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009), pp. 41-56.
9. Kent Ono; “To Be a Vampire on Buffy the Vampire Slayer” in Elyce Rae Helford (ed.); Fantasy Girls: Gender and the New Universe of Science Fiction and Fantasy (Lanham, MD.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000), pp. 163-186 and Vivian Chin; “Buffy? She’s Like Me, She’s Not Like Me—She’s Rad” in Frances Early and Kathleen Kennedy (eds.); Athena’s Daughters: Television’s New Women Warriors (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2003), pp. 92-104. Buffy’s critics have not come to a consensus about the meaning of Buffy’s vampires. For Holly Chandler (“Slaying the Patriarchy: Transfusions of the Vampire Metaphor in BtVS”, Slayage: The Online International Journal of Buffy Studies 9 (2003)) they are are symbolic of patriarchy. For Cynthia Fuchs they are metaphors for interracial relationships (“Life After Death”, PopPolitics). For Mimi Marinucci they are metaphors for rape (“Feminism and the Ethics of Violence: Why Buffy Kicks Ass” in James South (ed.) Buffy and Philosophy: Fear and Loathing in Sunnydale (Chicago: Open Court, 2003), pp. 61-75. 10. Lynne Edwards; “Slaying in Black and White: Kendra as Tragic Mulatta in Buffy” in Rhonda Wilcox and David Lavery (eds.); Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Lanham, MD.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002), pp. 85-97, AmiJo Comeford; “Cordelia Chase: Sunnydale Cheerleader and L.A. ‘Rogue Demon Hunteress’, the Feminist Myth Deconstructed”, Paper presented at Slayage3: International Conference on the Whedonverses, Henderson State University, Arkadelphia, Arkansas, June 2008, J.P. Williams; “Choosing Your Own Mother: Mother-Daughter Conflicts in Buffy” in Rhonda Wilcox and David Lavery (eds.); Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Lanham, MD.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002), pp. 61-72.
11. All Biblical quotations are from the New Jewish Publication Society version of the Tanakh (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, second edition, 1999) unless otherwise noted. I have adapted these translations to make them more literal.
12. One such statement can be found in Joss Whedon; Commentary: “Welcome to the Hellmouth”, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete First Season on DVD.
13. The damaged man motif in Whedon’s work almost certainly derives from literary artists like Jane Austen and film auteurs like Anthony Mann. By the way, Whedon’s teacher at Wesleyan University, Jeannine Basinger, has written the only English language monograph on Mann (Jeannie Basinger; Anthony Mann (CT: Wesleyan University Press, new and expanded edition, 2007).
14. What’s My Line Shooting Script; Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Complete Second Season DVD and What’s My Line, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Complete Second Season DVD.
15. Lorna Jowett; Sex and the Slayer: A Gender Studies Primer for the Buffy Fan (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2005), p. 37, and Joss Whedon,; Commentary: “Chosen” (722), Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Complete Seventh Season on DVD.
16. David Bordwell; Making Meaning: Inference and Rhetoric in the Interpretation of Cinema (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989). See Kevin Durand; “Canon Fodder: Assembling the Text”, pp. 9-16 and Brent Linsley; “”Canon Fodder Revisited: Buffy Meets the Bard”, pp. 17-24, both in Kevin Durand (ed.); Buffy Meets the Academy: Essays on the Episodes and Scripts as Texts (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009) for interesting attempts at initiating an exegetical criticism of Buffy.
17. This theoreticisation of English and Media Studies represents a kind of rapid pace jump cut version of theoretical ontogeny recapitulating theoretical phylogeny. What took around a hundred years in sociology, anthropology, psychology, and philosophy to occur has taken less than thirty or forty years in contemporary Cultural and English Studies. For an intellectual history of cultural studies and the polemics associated with it see Patrick Brantlinger; Crusoe’s Footprints: Cultural Studies in Britain and the America (London: Routledge, 1990). For examples of the uses of theory in Cultural, English, Media Studies and its effects see Stephen Greenblatt and Giles Gunn (eds.); Redrawing the Boundaries: The Transformation of English and American Literary Studies (NYC: MLA, 1992), Ralph Cohen (ed.); The Future of Literary Theory: New Essays of Twenty-Five Leading Critics and Theorists Chart the Course of Criticism in the 1990s and Beyond (London: Routledge, 1989), John Hill and Pamela Church Gibson (eds.); The Oxford Guide to Film Studies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), Toby Miller and Robert Stam (ed.); A Companion to Film Theory (Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), Robert Allen (ed.); Channels of Discourse, Reassembled: Television and Contemporary Criticism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992), Toby Miller (ed.); Television Studies (London: BFI, 2002), and Robert Allen and Annette Hill (eds.); The Television Studies Reader (London: Routledge, 2004). For the new language of literary criticism see Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin; Critical Terms for Literary Studies (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, second edition 1995).
Since the mid-1970s ideological correctness rather than auteurism and aesthetics has largely become, for many, the measure of all textual criticism. For many in these disciplines literature, films, and television programmes are read through the prism of certain master theoreticians who define the various subcultures that form around them (a type of ideological canonisation). Analysts in these various subcultures spend their analytical days scouring literature, film, or television programmes for confirmations of the claims of the theorists they canonise. For some this takes the form of showing the relevance of such theoretical perspectives as structuralism, semiotics, deconstruction, Lacanian psychoanalysis, or poststructuralism for example, in media texts. For others it takes the form of showing how such texts reflect the hegemonic ideological realities of social and cultural life. For still others it takes the form of finding contradictions to the dominant discourse within mainstream films or television programmes (see Christine Acham; Revolution Televised: Prime Time and the Struggle for Black Power (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004) for one of many examples of this type of practice). Some do all three. By the way, I am not saying there is no truth to theories that media texts can reflect dominant prejudicial discourses or resistance to the discourses that be (though I would want us to reflect on the romantic academic discourses which may underlie the resistance perspective and which see texts as a medium of possible revolutionary change). I am claiming that both of these approaches have become almost formulaic in English, Communication, Media, Film, Television Studies, and even in Sociology, Anthropology, and History in recent years and that both concentrate on textual matters to the exclusion of production and consumption issues. My point is that such interpretations often emphasise resistance at the expense of inequalities of power, status, authority, gender, age, and race or inequalities of power, status, authority, gender, age, and race at the expense of resistance. It should also be noted that although these forms of criticism often condemn auteurist theories they continue to play in a kind of modified auteurism. For instance, practitioners of each of these perspectives continue to write monographs on such favoured auteurs as David Lynch, artists who, it is claimed, disrupt dominant narrative flows in some way, shape, or form or who explode the prejudices of gender, age, and race at the heart of media texts in the West. For an example of this kind of anti-auteurist auteurism which is grounded in the celebration of particular artists see the essays in Erica Sheen and Annette Davison (eds.); The Cinema of David Lynch: American Dreams, Nightmare Visions (London: Wallflower, 2004).
18. Joss Whedon,; Commentary: “Chosen” (722), Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Complete Seventh Season on DVD. Frances Early; “The Female Just Warrior Reimagined: From Boudicca to Buffy.” In Frances Early and Kathleen Kennedy (eds.); Athena’s Daughters: Television’s New Women Warriors (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2003), pp. 55-65, Frances Early; “Staking Her Claim: Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Transgressive Woman Warrior.” Journal of Popular Culture 35.3 (2001): 11-28, and Patricia Pender; “‘I’m Buffy and You’re . . . History’: The Postmodern Politics of Buffy the Vampire Slayer” in Rhonda Wilcox and David Lavery (eds.); Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Lanham, MD: Rowman Littlefield, 2002), pp. 35-44, and Pender; “‘Kicking Ass is Comfort Food’: Buffy as Third Wave Feminist Icon” in Stacy Gillis, Gillian Howie, and Rebecca Munford (eds.); Third Wave Feminism: A Critical Exploriation (New York: Palgrave-McMillan, 2004), pp. 164-174. For other Buffy as feminist views see Patricia Pender. “Whose Revolution Has Been Televised?: Buffy and the Transnational Sisterhood of Slayers”, Paper presented at SCBtVS: The Slayage Conference on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Nashville, Tennessee, May 2004., Mimi Marinucci; “Feminism and the Ethics of Violence: Why Buffy Kicks Ass” in James South (ed.) Buffy and Philosophy: Fear and Loathing in Sunnydale (Chicago: Open Court, 2003), pp. 61-76 Jessica Prata Miller; “’The I in Team’: Buffy and Feminist Ethics” in James South (ed.) Buffy and Philosophy: Fear and Loathing in Sunnydale (Chicago: Open Court, 2003), pp. 35-48, Catherine Siemann; “Darkness Falls on the Endless Summer: Buffy as Gidget for the Fin de Siecle” in Rhonda Wilcox and David Lavery (eds.); Fighting the Forces: What’s at Stake in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Lanham, MD.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002), pp. 120-132, Thomas Hibbs; “Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Feminist Noir” in James South (ed.) Buffy and Philosophy: Fear and Loathing in Sunnydale (Chicago: Open Court, 2003), 49-60, and A. Susan Owen; “Vampires , Postmodernity, and Postfeminism”, Journal of Popular Film and Television 27.2 (1999): 24-31.
19. One almost gets the sense of a Catch-22 here. One gets the impression that no portrayal or representation of people of colour on television would be acceptable to some critics for a variety of reasons. Additionally, one wonders whether the middle class serial killers of films like Scream would raise the ire of film and television critics for its portrayal of the white middle class as serial killers.
20. Margaret Atwood responded to critics of her femme fatale in Robber Bride on similar grounds. Atwood pointed out that critics of the book by condemning her for writing a female character that was at best ambiguous and at worst villainous seemed to suggest that the only way she could make them happy would be to never make a female character villainous. This would mean that only female characters who were saintly, powerful, and strong (i.e. stereotypes and caricatures) would be acceptable to these critics.
21. It is refreshing that analyst Joshua David Bellin recognises and admits the problem associated with a lack of documentary evidence in film and television analysis in his introduction to Framing Monsters: Fantasy Film and Social Alienation (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2005). On p. 10 Bellin writes that he cannot “prove” that King Kong reflects a social unease about race in 1930s America, particularly since Merriam Cooper, Kong’s director, denied the film was anything more than an entertainment.
22. Michael Temple and Michael Witt (eds.); The French Cinema Book (London: BFI, 2004).
23. Drew Goddard and David Solomon; Commentary: “The Killer in Me”, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Complete Seventh Season on DVD), David Fury and James Contner; Commentary: “Grave”, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Sixth Season on DVD); David Fury and Drew Goddard: Commentary: Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Complete Seventh Season on DVD). On the objections of studio executives to Riff Reagan as Willow see Miles, Pearson, and Dickson; Dusted, “The Unaired Pilot”, pp. 9-10 and Keith Topping; The Complete Slayer: An Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Every Episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (London: Virgin, 2004). Joss has spoken on several occasions about the financial and ideological constraints within which Buffy had to operate. He notes financial constraints in his commentary on “Welcome to the Hellmouth”(101). Joss has mentioned the ideological constraints under which Buffy operated on a number of occasions. Whedon notes that the WB was uncomfortable with the sexual hand symbols in his commentary to “Hush” (410), the length of Xander’s stare during Willow and Tara’s off screen kiss in his commentary to “Restless” (4022), and Willow and Tara’s onscreen kiss in his commentary to “The Body” (5016). Joss Whedon; Commentary: “Restless” Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Fourth Season on DVD, Joss Whedon; Commentary: “Welcome to the Hellmouth”, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete First Season on DVD, and Joss Whedon; Commentary: “The Body”, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Complete Fifth Season on DVD.
24. Kristine Sutherland; Interview; Season Four Overview, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Complete Fourth Season.
25. Lorna Jowett; Sex and the Slayer: A Gender Studies Primer for the Buffy Fan (Middletown, CT, 2005), p. 200, note 8.
26. Drew Goddard; Commentary: “Dirty Girls” (7018), Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Complete Seventh Season on DVD. There are rumours that Eliza Dushku nixed the show because of its picaresque qualities.
27. Joss Whedon; Commentary: “Once More, With Feeling”, Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Complete Fifth Season on DVD) says that he tailors everything to his actors.
28. Joss Whedon; Commentary: “Chosen” (722), Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Complete Seventh Season on DVD and Whedon quoted in TV Guide Insider 23 May 2003.
29. Joss Whedon; Commentary: “Conviction” (5001), Angel: Complete Fifth Season on DVD, Julie D’Acci; Defining Women: Television and the Case of Cagney and Lacey (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994) and Matthew Pateman; “’Shallow Like Us’: a Bit of a Chat About a TV”, Paper presented as keynote address at SC3: the Slayage Conference on the Whedonverses, Henderson State College, Arkadelphia, AR, June 2008. Rob Thomas, the creator of Veronica Mars (UPN 2004-2006, CW, 2006-2007), makes similar observations in his editorial comments in Neptune Noir (Rob Thomas (ed.); Neptune Noir: Unauthorized Investigations into Veronica Mars (Dallas: Benbella, 2006)). In this book Thomas reminds us that American television operates within specific institutional and narrative contexts, that TV’s creators have to negotiate their way through these multiple contexts, and that chance occurrences can sometimes take a television show in directions it creator or creators hadn’t foreseen. Thomas discusses how difficult it is to get a show on the air (pp. 1-7), how he wanted action to define character in the Veronicaverse (p. 34), how budgetary factors affected VM (p. 34), how suggestions from network and studio executives can be positive as well as negative (p. 46), and how he wanted Veronica to achieve realism in its characters motivations, reactions, and behaviours (p. 94). He notes that the chemistry between Kristen Bell and Jason Dohring and the acting skills both brought to the show were factors that led VM’s writers to develop the sometimes tortured romantic relationship between them (p. 170).

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Passing of the Illusion of Conscious Capitalism? The Coop as Opiate of the Bourgeoisie

Recently I read an interesting article in the Guardian which argued that the economic troubles of Whole Foods Market was yet another nail in the coffin of the notion of conscious or conscience capitalism, the notion that capitalism can be tamed and can even be made humane. This article, of course, has not gone without challenge. A commentator in a publication I had never heard of NewCo Shift argued that the discontents of Whole Food actually proved the opposite, namely that conscious capitalism was alive and well and that Whole Foods had played a major and important role in the expansion of conscience capitalism.

Frankly, I don't see much in the way of conscious or conscience capitalism out there. Sure there is Mondragon. But Mondragon survives and thrives by playing the neoliberal game if only in part. Sure there are so-called cooperatives out there. But the term "cooperative" these days is a misnomer since most "cooperatives" these days are structured and run like the neoliberal corporations they mimic.

Let's take the Honest Weight Food Cooperative, aka, Honest Weight Food Corporation of Albany, New York, as an example of conscious or conscience capitalism. Here is what that passes for "conscience" capitalism these days:
1. The Corp doesn't pay workers a living wage.
2. The Corp doesn't provide all of its workers with health care and a pension.
3. The Corp's elite are characterised by a phobia about floor staff that rivals that of the Koch's and their KochSucker politician flunkies.
4. The Corp pays administrative armchair bureaucrats at the highest levels way too much, particularly relative to its floor staff. It justifies this by quoting that Capitalist maxim: if we don't we won't get the best and the brightest.
5. The Corp sells items made in that human rights and worker friendly nation of China.
6. The Corp sells junk food with little to no nutritional value.
7. The Corp sells capitalist snake oil in its "Wellness Department".
8. The Corp does business with the "whole foods" distributer version of Gilded Age Standard Oil.
9. The Corp does business with Paylocity and JPMorgan Chase Bank, that exemplar of "conscious capitalist" banking.
10. The Corp is run by devotees or groupies of a ludicrous and ahistorical ideology, neoliberalism. The Corp justifies all this with the same failed mantra other neo-liberals justify what they do: it is market forces man. All hail the power of the market's name.
11. The Corp sells fruit and vegetables from Chile and Argentina and from Dole and Del Monte, two huge corporations whose tactics across time and space have been questionable to say the least.
12. Only a fraction of the member workers actually vote regularly at membership meetings.

If all this is what is meant by conscious or conscience capitalism don't you know that you can count me out. Such an animal, conscious or conscience capitalist delusion aside, mirrors the neoliberal world that is its broader context. It will never and can never change bah humbug or kindler and gentler neoliberal capitalism to more humane and humaniatian forms. As a mirror of neoliberalism the coop movement as it has "evolved" is part of the problem not the solution to the problem of inhumane greed ridden narcissistic up yours capitalism.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

An American Right Wing Bestiary

Antilects: those made moronic by anti-intellectual flats demagogues.

BahHumbugers, bahs: Republican heirs of Ebenezer Scrooge before he saw the light who get all orgasmic about tax breaks for the wealthy and cuts in welfare for the needy poor.

Bastiloids: right wingers who believe that the masses should eat straw.

Becrats: those who work in mass bureaucracies, the organisational form that dominated modernity and, at least for the moment, dominates postmodernity. Modern bureaucracies, as Weber noted, dominate the economic, political, and cultural domains of the modern world because they are or the masses believe they are, efficient, effective, and based on merit. In reality, as later social scientists have noted, bureaucracies not only have formal rules but also informal rules. Bureaucracies, as Weber and Michels noted, are inherently hierarchical, inegalitarian, and inconsistent with real democracy.

Biff: a right wing bully boy with anti-intellectual tendencies.

Birchbarkers: devotees of the now widespread John Birch Society brand of small government and anti-whoever happens to be the "enemy" flavour of the month "Americanism".

Brownbacks: flats who think, despite evidence to the contrary, that cutting taxes on the wealthy, cutting corporate taxes, and cutting welfare and education, will lead to economic recovery and growth.

Bucks: William F. Buckley style right wingers. As Gore Vidal showed in 1968 beneath the Bucklerian intellectual and Downton Abbey anglophilic exterior often lurks a narrow minded ethnocent.

CakeHoles: those who eat up right wing smak as though it was desert.

CareCaps: those who genuinely believe or who manipulate those who genuinely believe through branding that there is a form of mass capitalism that is genuinely humane and democratic. There isn't, of course. Many contemporary "coops" are examples of the fiction or the delusion that caring mass capitalism exists. Carecaps are a latter day version of welfare capitalists.

Corpkakes: bureaucrats who work in that most dominant economic institution in the modern and postmodern worlds, the corporation. It is, of course, to corporations that most politicians in the modern and postmodern world cowtow to and give obeisance to. Those who control corporations are members of the modern and postmodern aristocratic feudal estate.

Couch Patriots: a right winger who screams and yells about how much they love the US. Are they therefore the first in line to volunteer for the military in times of war? You must be joking.

Covfefer: 1. a right winger who makes a mistake and refuses to fess up to it making his predicament, in the process, even worse than it would have been if he or she had just fessed up to the mistake in the first place. 2. someone who has an ideological driven lack of comprehension skills.

Dedheads: Neoliberals of the Democratic Party variety.

Dims: Democrats.

Draks: capitalists who figuratively drink the blood of those they exploit. Exploitation, of course, is the raison d'etre of mass capitalism. It is at the heart of the constructed being (ontology) of mass capitalists.

Droogies: right wing ethnocent thugs.

Drumpfs: right wingers who can just barely put together two coherent Twitter sentences in a row.

Duals: those who, as a result of cultural constructions, think in either/or, dualistic, or binary ways. Right wingers, in particular, are prone to this kind of thinking.

DuckandCovers: flats who believe it is possible to win a nuclear war.

Eskies: right wing Christians who think the world is going to end. Eskies have been waiting for the second coming for a couple of thousand years but that hasn't deterred them from predicting that it will happen soon every ten years of so.

Ethnocents: those afflicted with a cultural disorder and who believe that their group (class group, status group, clique, race, ethnicity, tribe, clan) is god's or nature's gift to the universe. Ethnocentrism is a type of smak common among many right wing groups. Ethnocents generally think in either/or, binary, or dualistic ways.

Excepts: those who think, as a result of a cultural disorder, that they or their group, however it is defined, are god's or nature's chosen people or group and that nobody else or nothing else is like them. Excepts, of course, are drugged up on smak. In reality humans are humans everywhere and in every time and in every place because it is the powerful, who, thanks to the rise of agriculture, modernity, and postmodernity, who have constructed economic, political, and cultural realities for the rest of us.

FetishFreaks: Humans are the ultimate fetishisers. In fact, they are the only known species in the animal world that engages in fetishisation. So what is fetishisation? Fetishisation is making the particular, the historical, universal or transcendental. There are several types of FetishFreaks. There are FetishFreaks who fetishise their own language. There are FetishFreaks who fetishise a particular style of writing. There are FetishFreaks who universalise their own Victorian (mis)understanding of a stone age meaning system or religion. There are FetishFreaks who universalise Victorian notions of the family, sexuality, gender, and childhood. There are FetishFreaks who transcendentalise a particular economic system, modern mass capitalism.

Flats: Those afflicted with a cultural disorder who deny realities like climate change and evolution. Flatism is a form of anti-intellectual, because it rejects reality, intellectual, because it is a form of logic, smak.

Fuks: Those afflicted with a cultural disorder who think that the government has no right to own land. This variety of smak, of course, is simply ideological cover for crass human greed and the need for power.

Goaters: those afflicted with the cultural disorder of blaming everyone but themselves for their own problems. Generally scapegoaters blame the wrong people or forces for their problems. Goating is a type of smak.

Gobshites: those who spout smak.

Groupies: devotees of right wing gobshites such as Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, and Glenn Beck.

Headdeads: anti-Semites.

homophobsters: those who fear anything other than a Father Knows Best version of gender.

Hoosiers: poor White trash from Kentucky and Tennessee who couldn't and can't compete with slave labour.

KochSuckers, Kokes: devotees of the Koch Brothers and their libertarian ideology. Kochism is a variety of smak.

Krakbabies: groupies of Ayn Rand.

Krakheads: devotees of Randianism of whatever sectarian variety. Krakheadism is a variety of smak.

Krochs: those who knowingly spout smak for manipulative purposes but who don't believe the shite that comes out of their gobs

LiBetards: Libertarians who don't realise something Max Weber recognised a hundred or so years ago, namely, that mass bureaucracies dominate the modern world. General Electric is a bureaucracy. Ohio University is a bureaucracy. The US government is a bureaucracy. Honest Weight Food "Cooperative" is a bureaucracy. The Methodist Church is a bureaucracy. The Republican Party is a bureaucracy.

Libs: devotees of an ideology that arose during the Renaissance in city-states like Florence and during the Enlightenment in geographies including Scotland, England, and France. Libs come in various stripes though those liberals who call themselves conservatives these days have either forgotten this or don't want to be reminded of this. There are nationalist libs. There are bah humbug libs. There are compassionate libs. There are social insurance or progressive libs. There are libertarian libs. There are Habermasian can't we just talk to each other civilly libs.

Menteeles: those, secular and religious, who, thanks to a cultural disorder, think in literal, selectively literal that is, misognyst, nationalist, and ethnocentric ways.

Messiahnists: those dudes and dudettes afflicted with the cultural disorder of believing that they are on a mission to save their universe, however they define it, from evil blue meanies.

Misogies: dudes and dudettes who think that males are god's or nature's gift to the world. Misogyny is a form of smak.

Mopeds: young sophomoric right wingers of all varieties with a case of arrested development.

Nazoids: White supremacists. Such racism, of course, is a form of culturally constructed smak. Synonyms: Skinheads, OyGoys.

NeoDicks: the new Republican Party that arose in the wake of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and desegragation. Neodicks are the contemporary heirs of the Dixiecrats, the Southern wing of the Democratic Party.

Noids: those with a cultural disorder and who believe that someone, for example, "foreigners", some "ethnic" group, some "racial" group, "liberals", "communists", "anarchists", another "nation", "atheists", or "staff" at a local faux cooperative, are dangerous and out to get them.

Nouveaus: those vulgar elites who are part of the 1%. Nouveaus are known for their conspicuous consumption of expensive things they know very little about. They buy Picassos not for arts sake but because they are expensive. They live in places that, for them, mimic the palaces of the Ancien Régime or the great English manor houses. In reality the domiciles of the nouveau rich and famous are vulgar simulations of Ancien Régime palaces and English manor houses. Donald Trump and his New York City Trump Tower are exemplary of nouveau vulgar conspicuous consumption.

Olies: those who rule the United States and much of the rest of the world. The 1%.

PiedPipes: demagogues.

Ponces: those mass capitalists who inheret their wealth and who live off their inheritances. Many confuse this with working for a living. Ponces are a variety of whores.

Poshies: the old blue blood economic elite who are part of the 1%

Pragereggers: intellectual devotees or groupies of the Buckleyish Prager U site.

PragerKeggers: those at the Prager U site who slur those with whom they disagree.

Pussy Grabbers: right wing misogies like Bill O'Reilly, Roger Ailes, and Donald Trump.

Putinistas: right wingers who go all orgasmic over and want their leader to emulate tsars like Vladimir Putin.

Qballs: the science fiction and fantasy right.

Racists: those filled to the brim with that variety of ethocentrism which maintains that one "race" is better than other "races". Such fictions are common amongst right wingers and particularly those of the Republikrat and Nazoid persuasion. Note the binary thinking here.

Rebot: a fake online right wing demagogue and missionary.

Reptards: Republicans.

Retreads: the alt right. The alt right thinks it is something new but in reality it is just another iteration of the old Christian anti-Semitic and anti-leftie right, Buckley style fascism, and red faced libertarianism.

Sheep: those addicted to smak.

Skitzoiddroids: Right wingers who whinge and whine about liberal and left wing whinging and whining while doing nothing but whinging and whining themselves. A form of political and ideological correctness. Synonym: hypocrites.

Slaggs: Right wing libertarians.

Slots: casino capitalists.

Sluts: devotees or groupies of the god Mammon.

Smak: the hallucinatory opiate of the right wing masses spread by demagogues of the right wing variety.

Smakalists: right wing media workers like those connected to the Daily Mail, the Sun, and Fox News who purvey smak. The smak that smakalists purvey is often meant to manipulate the already believing moronic red faced masses.

Smakheads: Neoliberals of the Bah Humbug Republican variety.

SoDars: those who believe a form of ethnocentrism that maintains that rich people are god's or nature's gift to the universe. Like the notion that monarchs were made monarchs by god, Social Darwinism, which rationalises and justifies rule by the rich, is a form of smak.

Sweeneys: right wing family values demagogues who get caught in compromising positions with someone other than their wives or husbands.

Theologs: economists drugged up on smak who justify, rationalise, and fetishise, through their apologetics and polemics, market based and libertarian economic theories. Dogmatism is a type of smak.

Utopes: purveyors of the notion that mass capitalism and its mass global markets will bring heaven on earth. That which utopianists purvey, utopianism, is a variety of smak. Synonyms: Fantasists, Fabulists.

Whores: those vampyre capitalists who make money off of other peoples money. Many confuse this with working for a living.

Xenos: those drugged up on smak and as a result believe that "foreigners", however they are defined, are threats to their very existence.

Xhuks (pronounced chucks with a hard ch): White evangelical Christian right wingers who worship the false idol of a whitewashed United States of America.

Zionators: Christians who support the contemporary state of Israel because they believe the Temple in Jerusalem must be rebuilt before Jesus comes again. For them the only good post apocalyptic Jew is a converted Jew or a dead Jew.

Zombies, zombs: those uncritical devotees of right wing smak.

Friday, May 12, 2017

You Are Now Entering the No Bullshit Zone: My Letter of Application to Teach College History

Dear Search Committee,

In this letter of application for the position of teacher of History at your university I have decided to be brutally honest instead of playing that nice little etiquette game we usually play when one applies for an academic position and when one considers those who apply for an academic position.

I have found during my years of teaching History and Sociology that it is more difficult to teach general education classes in History than to teach general education courses in Sociology for a variety of different reasons. Many students, for example, find History boring for understandable reasons given how History is taught in secondary schools and in many colleges in the US. Many students rightly, in my opinion, find memorising names and dates with little in the way of broader theoretical context and discussion, history as trivial pursuit in other words, as irrelevant to their lives and their future lives as they see them.

I share these student concerns about the relevance of the academic discipline of History to them and have other concerns about the point of studying History as it is practised in the ivy walls of the academy. First, I think that academic History is far too often boosterist in form. I think, in other words, that History is far too often the academic version of vanity motorcar plates or citizens of a particular community trying to sell the supposed virtues of their particular town to tourists or to those who might move to it. Mormons, for instance, tend to write Mormon History. Mennonites largely write Anabaptist History. Jews by and large write Jewish History. Those who romanticise the working class tend to write working class history. As Max Weber realised long ago, it is questionable whether anyone can write dispassionately about someone or something they value. And the truth about History is that those who write History too often value that which they are studying and writing about and celebrate it as one more step in the progressive march of time.

Second, academic History as practised is not as atheoretical or anti-theoretical as it thinks it is. Mormon diaries and journals, for instance, don't say that I became a Mormon because the Erie Canal transformed the Burned Over District, that I became a Mormon because Jacksonians democratised American political culture and I hated democracy, they don't say I became a Mormon because I hailed from a geography with a Puritan heritage, or that I became a Mormon because I was poor. Mormons say they became a Mormon because they believed Joseph Smith was a prophet because of the Book of Mormon or because he was receiving revelations from on high. One would think that the fact that History is inherently theoretical would lead Historians to foreground theory and have students, particularly postgraduate students, take mandated courses in theory so that the theory they engage in is a sophisticated and reflexive theory. That History doesn't do this says something important, in my opinion, about the dismal state of the discipline.

Third, I have a problem with the notion, a notion fed by the boosterism and lack of theoretical rigour and sophistication, common among many Historians that anything and everything, regardless of significance, is worthy of analysis even if it has been done before. It is this, in my opinion, which makes academic History so amenable to and vulnerable to the vanity analysis, to history for the sake of ethnic, religious, national, or cultural pride, noted above. One can, as Weber does, of course, raise the question of whether all intellectual and academic analysis is in some way, shape, or form grounded in the values of the person doing the analysis, and I think it is. There is, however, a world of difference between a vanity analysis that is significant, a recent study which concluded that women in 19th century Albany, New York were engaged in business in numbers heretofore not understood, for instance, and a vanity analysis that is not significant, a study which concluded that Jews in World War II Cairo divorced, for example. It is the degree of significance that makes the former important, important because it turns upside down the common academic historical tale of a lack of businesswomen in 19th century America and the latter study which doesn't tell us anything we don't already know.

Fourth, I don’t think that History is exceptional or unique. History is really no different from many of those other academic “disciplines” that arose in the modern world of mass consumer capitalism, mass nation states, mass centralised bureaucracies with their large numbers of mass professionals, and mass culture. Historians interpret, though they don’t necessarily foreground this, primary source materials through the same economic, political, cultural, geographic, and demographic frames that arose in the 19th and 20th centuries and which are today commonly used, if in a much more reflexive fashion, by Sociologists, Anthropologists, and many in the Humanities to make sense of human life, human society, and human culture.

Like any culture academic History has its own sacred symbols, namely its archival research, and its devotion to totalism and wholism, the notion that it is useful to research and write about every aspect of every local history even if it has been done before, the endless papers and books written over and over again on labour movements, specific ethnic groups, and specific religious groups or denominations, for example. This totalism as practised by Historians, is, by the way, hardly unique. American Anthropology with its quadrifurcation into Biological Anthropology, Social Anthropology, Linguistics, and Archaeology, is a product of the same social theoretical mania that began in the 19th century for a complete accounting of every aspect of human life. Like all cultures academic History has its own sacred practises or rites of passage, archival research, through which all of its postulants have to pass before they can earn a postgraduate degree, and a narrative writing style marked by the, some might say, excessive use of examples. And like all bureaucracies academic History has attempted, with some success, to mark off or set boundary markers around knowledges that they, or so they tell themselves and try to get others to believe, and only they, can, using their sacred symbols, analyse and interpret authoritatively and accurately. When viewed dispassionately, however, History’s emphasis on primary source material is no different than Ethnography’s emphasis on specific societies and cultures, its primary source material, Physics’ emphasis on the stuff of the universe, its primary source material, or Biology’s emphasis on species, its primary source material. Academic History thus, unlike Anthropology with its study of human evolution, its study of the remains of human evolution and human life, and its study of dynamic human society and culture via ethnography and ethnology or Sociology, with its quantitative and qualitative analysis and its theoretically sophisticated study of human society and culture, does not and cannot have anything unique about it.

Because academic History is not unique, a compelling case can be made that History is not and should not have ever been an academic discipline. History in its non-academic sense, history as looking critically at the past and its artifacts, should, in my opinion, be a way of thinking about and a method for approaching everything from particle physics to the rise of nanoscience, and from film to television. History thus has no specific methodology or realm of knowledge. History, in this sense, is a methodology. History is the long-standing notion that, that what came before may have an impact on what happened afterwards. History is, in other words, a notion of cause and effect.

Two fictions—that History is distinctive and that vanity History is worthy History—have made me particularly skeptical of the notion that academic History is a distinctive discipline and skeptical of so much of the History undertaken and produced in name of academic History. And it is these two fictions that have led me to conclude that History is a truly dismal humanity and social science.

Some of you may be chomping at the bit to ask me the obvious question: why, given your empirical analysis above do you even want to teach History? That is a great question and there are several answers to that question. I have, for good or ill, a Ph.D in History. My pension is vested at SUNY. I have my health insurance after retirement from SUNY. I like to travel. I like to experience new experiences. I would like to make more money. I would, by the way, if I could do it over again take a doctoral degree in Sociology or the Social Sciences because I like teaching something, Sociology, that is far more relevant to students and I like teaching something that has a reflexive and critical core.

If you are looking for a more traditional non-traditional reason for why I am applying for a job in History you can, of course, consider the usual suspects. I have a PhD. In History, specifically American History, and have taught American, Comparative, World, Western, and European Histories. Or you can, more importantly in my opinion, consider hiring me because I am not your typical academic Historian. You can consider hiring me because I because I believe it is essential to put history into its broader theoretical, methodological, intellectual, and empirical contexts. Such a history, I think, at least potentially, makes for a far more interesting and generalisable History than is often taught in Introductory American History classes. You should hire me because I want to try an experiment. I want, in other words, to make History relevant to the lives of students I teach..

Yours sincerely,
Dr. Ronald Helfrich Jnr.

Friday, May 5, 2017

You are Now Entering the No Bullshit Zone: My "Philosophy" of "Education"

Imagine that you are a graduate student or a graduate professor at one of America's leading research universities, at one of those universities that belong to the Association of American Universities. Imagine that you are taking a seminar on the production of bullshit at one of those prestigious universities. Imagine that you were given an assignment to write a seminar paper on who or what produces the most bullshit per square inch or per capita in the modern and postmodern world. What or who would you say is the leading producer of bullshit in the modern and postmodern Western world in your scholarly paper?

Some of you might argue that it is government and politicians who are the leading purveyors of bullshit in the modern and postmodern world. Others of you might argue that it is capitalists and corporations with their advertisements which are the modern version of snake oil. Still others of you might argue that the leading purveyor of bullshit in the modern and postmodern world are those leaders and followers of stone age religions and their religious institutions who seem to have mastered the demagogic rhetoric of both politicians and capitalists simultaneously.

All three of these are arguably superb choices for the winner of the master bullshiters of the universe contest. None of them, however, would be my choice for the leading producers of bullshit per square inch and per capita in the modern and postmodern world. My choice would be academia and academic bureaucrats. Faux coops and the leaders of faux coops would come in a very close second in my rankings of who bullshits the most in our modern and postmodern best of all possible worlds.

In this my first foray into the no bullshit academic zone I want to introduce you to one of the documents of academia that produces some of the highest bullshit quotient in academia, the philosophy of teaching letter one might be asked to write when applying for an academic position. Instead of bullshitting, however, I have decided not to play the nudge nudge wink wink bullshit game most play when applying for an academic position. So tighten your seatbelts for it is going to be a bumpy ride.

Dear Search Committee,
So you want my philosophy or thoughts on teaching in higher education, eh? Well OK. Before I begin, however, let me note that I, unlike, I suspect, most of those who teach in colleges and universities these days whether tenured faculty, wanna be tenured faculty, or the ever growing contingent of contingent faculty, have taken a philosophy of education class. As an undergraduate at Indiana I took several graduate level courses in education including a philosophy of education course. In my philosophy of education course we talked about educational and schooling ideas from Socrates to Plato and from Aristotle to Dewey. In my class we talked about ideals of education and schooling, in other words, so let me start there, with my ideal philosophy or practise of education.

My ideal of education and schooling actually and perhaps ironically comes from a real world example, from the sadly far too few experiences I had as an undergraduate at Indiana University in Bloomington and a graduate student and teacher at Ohio University in Athens. At IU some of my classes would occasionally hold class at restaurants near campus. The same thing happened at OU and it particularly happened in the classes I took with the brilliant Algis Mickunas. I recall with great delight the occasional class meetings Mickunas held at one of the many downtown pubs in Athens. Dr. Mickunas would talk about the subject of the class on a particular class—I took classes on Marxism, Semiology, and Phenomenology—to which we would listen amidst the wonderful informal atmosphere, and then we students would talk about what we heard. To me this almost Socratic, Platonic, and Aristotelian practise is the ideal, an ideal that lends itself to real education, to real learning, to real critical learning, something that cannot fully take place, in my opinion, in the highly bureaucratised and standardised settings of American colleges and universities where the emphasis is on socialisation and getting a job rather than on critical thought.

While I am still reveling in my ideal educational model let me note that my second favourite model of the philosophy of education is the Oxbridge model. When I was an undergraduate at Indiana I spent a term at Jesus College, Cantab where I experienced first hand a variant on the classical Greek education model, Oxbridge tutorials. I liked the directed reading and directed discussion aspects of the Oxbridge model and treasure not only what I learned at Camb but also how I learned.

I do, of course, live in the “real world” of neoliberalism’s making. I can, of course, be pragmatic and recognise that in the context of American neoliberal schooling practises tutorial “philosophies” and practises of education will never play in contemporary cost conscious American colleges and universities where the Prussian model has, since the 1980s, become even more Prussian, even more big bang for the increasingly limited buck. Such a bureaucratic and administration heavy schooling model, by the way, is, in my opinion, slowly but surely strangling liberal arts education in the United States.
So let’s talk a little “real world”. When I teach whatever it is I teach—history, sociology, communications, media studies, cultural anthropology, the humanities, the social sciences, I have taught them all—my “educational and teaching philosophy” in approaching whatever classes I teach, can, I think, be summed up briefly and succinctly: I try to teach critical thinking. I try to teach, at least in part, that critical ability to apply deductive and inductive logic and theory to the evidence in order to distinguish proverbial rot from that proverbial what is not rot, something which I think should be at the heart of liberal arts education.

How do I try to do this? In the classes I teach I do talk about and engage or try to engage students in the substance of the course I am teaching whatever that course. At the same time I also emphasise how social scientists and practitioners of the humanities approach the substance of whatever class I teach. I introduce students to the economic perspectives that the social sciences and humanities look at empirical evidence through, the political perspectives they look at empirical evidence through, the cultural perspectives they look at empirical evidence through, the geographical perspectives they look at empirical evidence through, and the demographic perspectives they look at empirical evidence through.

Finally, let me assure you that you should not worry about my sanity. I know that what I have said about critical thinking in this document has little relevance in much of the real academic world of go to school because it can get you a wonderful job in the wonderful world of neoliberal America. But hey, sometimes a boy has to dream.

Yours sincerely,
Dr. Ronald Helfrich

Saturday, April 15, 2017

We Believe in One God, the Invisible Hand, and His One and Only Son, the Invisible Hand

It is an undeniable fact that meanings and meaning or symbol systems are at the heart of human life, human experience, and the human construction of “reality”. Most humans, of course, don’t want to admit that they construct the "reality" that they mistake for reality. They don’t want to admit that that which they think is “real” is, in actuality, a social and cultural construction, because that would mean that those norms, rules, regulations, values, behaviours, and intellectual models, that they have come to believe in, have followed, and have come to see as universals are nothing more than ideological particulars fetishised usually by the powerful.

I was recently reminded of just how central meanings and meaning systems were and are in everyday human life by a post by Libertarians on Facebook. The post, topped off with one of those typically silly memes that dominate social media today, had a smiling Milton Friedman, one of the high priests of the Church of Laissez Faire, proclaiming that “If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in five years there’d be a shortage of sand.”

Putting aside the fact that there is no evidence that Freidman ever said this, something that any analyst of the libertarian mind might revealing, I think the belief among some of the faithful that Friedman did say this and the meanings inherent in this statement provides analysts with a key symbol that allows meaning archaeologists to explore the libertarian mind.

So what does this key or central symbol tell us about the libertarian mind? The fact that this statement, whether it is meant as a joke or not, is empirically wrong—the 9 million square mile Sahara Desert is part of Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Western Sahara, Sudan and Tunisia—reveals that those who lead and those who worship in the Church of Laissez Faire are akin, in terms of their mentalities, to the faithful of religious communities in general. This statement is a statement of faith, of dogma, of theology, rather than a statement of fact.

At the heart of the Libertarian Faith is fetishised ideologies masquerading as universal verities, universal verities expressed in its creed, “We Believe in the One Free Market” and endlessly in its catechisms, “We Believe in the One Free Market”. Befitting a religion, the Church of Laissez Faire has its own Torah. Its Exodus is the tale of how the Invisible Hand created the world. Its Numbers is the tale of how its Invisible Hand deus ex machina instantiated the Logos, his son the Invisible Hand, in the world it created, in the form of mechanical self operating mathematical formulae. Its Leviticus is the tale of how access to the Logos is only possible through the medium of the holy Laissez Faire Priesthood. Its Exodus is the tale of how the knowledge of the Logos was lost thanks to monopolising monarchs and heretical Keynesians. Its Deuteronomy is the tale of how the Logos was resurrected by the holy Laissez Faire priesthood in those years after they returned from the wildernesses of monarchical mercantilists and the Keynesian welfare states after the 1970s.

Libertarianism is like religious meanings systems in a variety of ways. Like any religion the Libertarian faith has its orthodox, the Holy Laissez Faire priesthood, and its heretics, Keynesians, Communists, Socialists, and, most prominently these days “liberals”, ironic since libertarians too are liberals. Like any religion the Libertarian faith has its scapegoats, usually, these days, an evil “liberal” government in thrall to crony capitalism. Like any religion the Libertarian faith has been subject to sectarianism. You have, for example, your Straussians, your Friedmanians, your Randians, your Christian Libertarians, your Steinerians, your Rothbardians, and your Blockians, to name just a few. Like any religion the Libertarian Faith ignores evidence that contradicts its statements of faith, such as, for example, the fact that the Saharan Desert is still there despite being the part of several governments and despite the realities of climate change it helped bring about.