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Title: ENGL 6310/7310 Popular Culture Studies

ENGL 6310/7310 Popular Culture Studies Fall
2011 PH 300 M 240-540 Dr. David Lavery
(No Transcript)
My colleagues (I teach in an English Department),
convinced television is a sinister force destined
to destroy literacy and dumb down culture and
appalled at my traitorous introduction of its
study into hallowed halls that once echoed with
the language of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Keats,
Conrad, and Faulkner, were not amused when I
suggested we tout our rich-in-popular culture
course offerings in new promos, updating the old
curricular formula, inviting study of Beowulf to
Buffy (and Virginia Woolf, Too). Not convinced
by recent arguments to the contrary like Steven
Johnsons Everything Bad is Good for You How
Todays Popular Culture is Actually Making Us
Smarter, televisions antagonists, in their
ignorance, would have us believe the vast
wasteland offers nothing (with the exception of
an occasional Masterpiece Theatre) to the
literary minded.
Though I am under no illusion they will listen,
allow me to survey contemporary television in
search of but one manifestation of the
literariness the rabid book-loving-TV-haters
imagine absent from the medium the allusion.
Allusions, of course, are direct or indirect
references in a work of art, usually without
explicit identification, to a person, place or
event or to another work (Abrams 8). Wherever
they appear, allusions are, of course, part of
that vast and intricate system of intertextuality
carefully examined in Jonathan Grays recent
book. Allusions are not, of course, limited to
the literary, even though they carry with them,
because of their bookish past, a kind of literary
It would, of course, be easy to find in the
wasteland allusions to other inhabitants of the
wasteland. When Ed Hurley and Agent Cooper visit
One-Eyed Jacks in Twin Peaks using the aliases of
Barney and Fred, the teleliterate (Bianculli)
picking up on a reference to The Flinstones is
much easier than understanding the series vatic
mysteries. When, on Lost, a British businessman
buys the Slough branch of the Wernham Hogg paper
company, we may not immediately recognize the
momentary diegetic intersection with the BBCs
Office, but the allusionary crossing is there to
follow nonetheless. I want to examine here not
televisions incestuous televisual allusions but
its literary ones. For with surprising
regularity, the wasteland invokes not just
Eliots Wasteland (Wilcox) but the whole world
of literature to which it remains a seldom
respected heir.
First, consider series like Seinfeld (NBC,
1989-1998), Twin Peaks (ABC, 1990-1992), and
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (WB, 1997-2001 UPN,
2001-2003)all series famous for being rife with
popular culture references. Its so sad. All of
your knowledge of high culture comes from Bugs
Bunny Cartoons, Elaine laments to Jerry in the
Season Four Seinfeld episode The Opera, but the
series itself exhibits more than a cartoony
awareness of the literary, giving us references
to Death of a Salesman (Jerry repeatedly refers
to George as Biff), The Great Gatsby,
Moby-Dick, Salman Rushdie, Tropic of Cancer and
Tropic of Capricorn, and Tolstoy and War and
Twin Peaks hardly limited itself to movie,
television, and music references, though full of
them. Remember that discussion of the Heisenberg
indeterminancy principle at the Double R Diner?
By the series premature end, the attentive
Peaker had no doubt noticed that Edmond Spensers
Fairie Queene (Windom Earle and Leo Johnsons
verdant bower), the Arthurian legends
(Glastonbury Grove, King Arthurs burial site, is
home to the Black Lodge as well), and Knut Hamsun
(the Nobel-Prize winning Norwegian novelist and
fascist, much admired by Ben Horne), have all set
up housekeeping in Twin Peaks.
In seven seasons under the creative control of
fanboy/comic book geek/pop culture genius Joss
Whedon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was crammed with
references to television, comics, film, music,
and literature. The poetry of Robert Frost,
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Emily Dickinson
a plethora of books and writersAlice in
Wonderland, The Call of the Wild, Brave New
World, Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, William
Burroughs, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,
Of Human Bondage, Heart of Darkness, C. S.
Forester, Uncle Toms Cabin, Vanity Fair, The
Open Road, Where the Wild Things Are, Uncle Toms
Cabin, Ann Rice and a variety of playsOedipus
Rex (hilariously performed in a talent show in
Season One), The Merchant of Venice, Othello,
Waiting for Godot, Death of a Salesman (a dream
version with a cowboy and a vampire), all these
and more put in cameo appearances in Sunnydale.
In Buffys most extraordinary allusional moment,
in the astonishing Restless, an episode made of
four dream sequences, Willow inscribes Sapphos
lesbian poem Mighty Aphrodite on her lover
Taras naked back.
Not surprisingly, the Buffy spinoff Angel makes
abundant use of literary allusions as well. I
will limit myself here to only one. In a Season
One episode the series titular hero, an
over-two-centuries-old vampire, is forced to
briefly masquerade as a docent in an art museum.
Luckily he has personal knowledge of the painting
before which he stands
And this brings us to Manet's incomparable La
Musique Aux Tuileries, first exhibited in 1863.
On the left one spies the painter himself. In the
middle distance is the French poet and critic
Baudelaire, a friend of the artist. Now,
Baudelaire . . . interesting fellow. In his poem
Le Vampyre he wrote Thou who abruptly as a
knife didst come into my heart. He, ah, strongly
believed that evil forces surrounded mankind. And
some even speculated that the poem was about a
real vampire. (He laughs) Oh and, ah,
Baudelaire's actually a little taller and a lot
drunker than he's depicted here.   Perhaps the
first mention on television of the French
symbolist poet and drug enthusiast, but then
again Angel may well have been the first
television character who knew Baudelaire
Literary allusions crashed on mystery island
along with the survivors of Oceanic 815 in ABCs
huge international hit Lost. Not only are well
known philosophersEnglands John Locke and
Frances Jean-Jacques Rousseauevoked by
character names, several books become images in
the frame, including Henry James The Turn of the
Screw, Flann OBriens The Third Policeman,
Madeline LEngles A Wrinkle in Time, and Richard
Adams Watership Down, and still othersLewis
Carrolls Alice in Wonderland, James Hiltons
Lost Horizon, and Daniel Defoes Robinson
Crusoeare clearly brought to mind.

Seen in Not in Portland
Books on The Island/In the Diegesis

Seen in Maternity Leave
Books on The Island/In the Diegesis

Seen in A Tale of Two Cities
Books on The Island/In the Diegesis

Books on The Island/In the Diegesis
Seen in Catch-22

Seen in Par Avion
Books on The Island/In the Diegesis

Seen in The Man from Tallahassee
Books on The Island/In the Diegesis

Seen in Eggtown
Books on The Island/In the Diegesis
Seen in Maternity Leave
Books on The Island/In the Diegesis

Seen in Flashes Before Your Eyes
Books on The Island/In the Diegesis

Seen in The Long Con
  • An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
  • The Damn Thing
  • A Psychological Shipwreck

Books on The Island/In the Diegesis

Seen in Every Man for Himself
Books on The Island/In the Diegesis

Seen in Hes Our You
Books on The Island/In the Diegesis

Seen in Orientation
Books on The Island/In the Diegesis

Seen in Orientation
Books on The Island/In the Diegesis

Seen in 316
Books on The Island/In the Diegesis

Seen in Confidence Man
Books on The Island/In the Diegesis

Seen in Numbers
Books on The Island/In the Diegesis

Seen in Eggtown
Books on The Island/In the Diegesis

Ancestor Texts
Ancestor Texts
Ancestor Texts
  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone
  2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows


Ancestor Texts

Ancestor Texts

Ancestor Texts

Ancestor Texts

Ancestor Texts

Ancestor Texts
Ancestor Texts

Ancestor Texts
Ancestor Texts

Lost Philosophers John Locke

Lost Philosophers David Hume

Lost Philosophers Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Lost Philosophers Jeremy Bentham
Since, until recently, television routinely kept
its episode titles to itself, it has been easy to
miss the many literary references to be found
there, then and now. Consider, for example, the
final episode of the short-lived but watershed
ABC series My So Called Life (1994) entitled In
Dreams Begin Responsibilitiesa somewhat obscure
allusion to a book of the same name by the
American poet and writer Delmore Schwartz
or the Steinbeck-evoking pun in the title of an
upcoming Veronica Mars episode The Rapes of
Graff (compare to The Simpsons The Crepes of
or The Gilmore Girls Say Goodbye to Daisy
Miller, with its reference to the Henry James
novella (one of a score of literary show titles
in the series)
or The Betrayal, Seinfelds famous backward
episode, which takes its title from Nobel
Laureate Harold Pinters similarly-themed (though
opposite in tone) play of the same name.
Taking great pride, and capitalizing on a great
branding opportunity, in being not TV, HBO
programs are just as rich in literary allusions
as in nudity and vulgarity. Not surprisingly,
Deadwood, created by former Yale University
English professor David Milch and written in a
language indebted to both Shakespeare and the
Victorian novel, offers many a literary reference
(did Alma Garrett just compare Miss Isringhausen
to Cotton Mather?).
But it is on HBOs flagship series The Sopranos,
where the literary allusions by far outnumber the
whacks, the wiretaps, and the lapdances, that the
not-TV allusions find their true home. (The
following catalog is limited to Seasons Four and
Five only.)
  • Mr. Wexler explains to Carmela that A. J. has
    turned in a surprisingly cogent draft on George
    Orwells fable Animal Farm.
  • With Rosie Apriles depression in mind, Janice
    laments Ah, Bartleby. Ah, humanity, quoting the
    final lines of Melvilles novella.
  • Another Melville novella puts in an appearance
    when A. J. has to write a paper on Billy Budd,
    an assignment which leads to a later discussion
    (evoking the iconoclastic critic Leslie Fiedler)
    about its possible gay subtext. (His next reading
    assignment is Thomas Manns Death in Venice.)
  • Meadow tells her mother she read half the canon
    while lying by the pool.
  • Tony B. confesses to Christopher that some very
    sorry people once called him Ichabod Crane (the
    main character in Washington Irvings The Legend
    of Sleepy Hollow).
  • New York underboss Johnny Sack cites
    Shakespeares Macbethcreeps in this petty
    pacein complaining about his long wait for the
    overboss to die.
  • In after-extra-marital sex pillow talk, Mr.
    Wexler tells Carmela Soprano about Heloise and
    Abelard, after she finds their letters as reading
    material in the English teachers bathroom.

  • One of Tonys captains speaks enviously of the
    earning potential of the Harry Potter books.
  • Ready to embark on a trip to Europe, Meadow
    recommends her parents read Henry James in order
    to learn more about the restorative nature of
  • A. J. buys a paper on Lord of the Flies on the
    Internet. Carmela reads Flauberts Madame Bovary.
  • Melfi quotes Yeats poem The Second Coming to
    an uncomprehending Tony.
  • A fifth season episode takes its title from
    Flauberts A Sentimental Education.

Machiavelli. Nicolo (14691527) Italian writer,
statesman, and political theorist, author of The
Prince. Tony recalls (after reading Sun Tzu) his
encounter (via Carmela's Cliff Notes version)
with "Prince Matchabelli" (3.6).
Quasimodo Bobby Bacala insists that he predicted
9/11 (4.1). The hunchback bell ringer in Victor
Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame
(1831) Nostradamus See Quasimodo
(4.1). Nostradamus (15031566), born Michel de
Nostredame, is one of the world's most famous
authors of prophecies. He is most famous for his
book Les Propheties, which consists of rhymed
quatrains . . . grouped into sets of 1., called
Centuries (from Wikipedia.com).
Northern Exposure (1900-1995) was always a
supremely literary television series. In the
Season Three episode "Cicely" (3 23), for
example, we learn that Franz Kafka once visited
the small Alaskan town, where he was first
inspired to write "Metamorphosis." In Season
Fives Una Volta in L'Inverno" (5 17),
septuagenarian store owner Ruth Anne Miller sets
out to learn Italian so she can read Dantes
Divine Comedy in the original. Season Sixs "Up
River" (6 8) evokes Conrads Heart of Darkness
(not to mention its cinematic reimagining in
Apocalypse Now), with Ed Chigliak playing Harry
Marlow/Benjamin Willard and Joel Fleischman as
Kurtz. And from first episode to last, morning DJ
Chris Stevens radio monologues are full of
references to great writers and thinkers.
Deconstruction at Bat Baseball vs. Critical
Theory in Northern Exposures The Graduate.
Critical Studies in Television 1.2 (Autumn 2006)
33-38. Republished in Baseball/Literature/Culture
Essays. Ed. Ronald E. Kates and Warren Tormey.
Jefferson, NC McFarland, 2008 98-104.
As Robert J. Thompson has observed, Sometimes
Northern Exposure wasn't just like reading a good
book, it actually presented people reading good
books. Throughout one entire episode Season
Twos "War and Peace", for example . . . Chris
Stevens . . . reads passages from War and Peace.
In the meantime, according to the producers' plot
synopsis, the residents of Cicely "experience
Tolstoyesque nightmares and Dostoyevskian
passions." Chris, an intellectual dilettante who
seemed to be taking all of his on air rambling
patter from a college syllabus, went a long way
in giving the show its cerebral if somewhat
self-important veneer. At one time or another
during the course of the series, Chris made
references to works by Hegel, Kierkegaard, Kant,
Nietzsche, de Tocqueville, Jefferson, Whitman,
Baudelaire, Melville, Shakespeare, Jung, Jack
London, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and many other
authors. No nerd, Chris was just as fluent with
Raymond Chandler or Def Leppard, but it was his
perpetual name-dropping and passage citing from
the Great Books that seemed to announce, as
John Falsey and Joshua Brand the series
creators had often boasted, that Northern
Exposure wasn't written for the "mass audience."
No single installment of Northern Exposure seemed
less directed to a mass audience than "The
Graduate," written by Sam Egan and directed by
James Hayman, an episode, very near the end of
the series run, concerned with Chris defense of
his thesis, in partial fulfilment of an M.A. in a
University of Alaska extension program. Indeed,
the intended audience for "The Graduate" would
seem to be not someone with a Nielsen box but the
faculty of an English department. Chris has, it
seems, penned a deconstructionist/post-colonial
reading of the Ernest Lawrence Thayer classic
"Casey at the Bat" and finds himself forced to
navigate the Scylla and Charybdis of his openly
adversarial committee members. Professor Dick
Schuster, a traditional literary scholar who (in
his own words) wants to treat "a poem as a poem
and not just a code," dislikes reading presentist
political implications into a poem from 1888, and
refuses to grant a "diploma for glibness, nor
even erudition." Prof. Aaron Martin, on the
other hand, an advocate for "interpretive
freedom" and "hermeneutic license," is a young
Turk, impressed by the candidates outlaw status
(a high school drop-out, Chris had once done hard
time back in West Virginia) and predisposed to
the thesis understanding of the big guy at the
plate as a combination Nietzschean übbermensch
and emblem of American manifest destiny. As
Chris orals begin, we get a taste of the
opposing forces.
At the outset, Professor Schuster reminds Chris
that "brevity is the soul of wit," and Martin
counters his senior colleagues quotation of
Alexander Pope by evoking Dorothy Parkers
"Brevity is the soul of lingerie." In response to
Schusters question, Chris successfully defines
"objective correlative," identifies T. S. Eliot
as the source of the term, and recites William
Carlos Williams Red Wheelbarrow as an example.
Then Martin asks a question that would seem like
a parody if it werent frighteningly
representative "In what way does the relativism
embodied in Melville"s duality of evil presage
the moral ambiguities of twentieth century
colonialism?" "Heaven help us," Schuster groans,
but Chris answers in the spirit of the question,
proclaiming radical notions about the "whole
paradox of colonialism, the benevolent
imperialist, the hubris of the first world, the
marine corporal with a Zippo in Nam who had to
burn down the village in order to save it."
Though I cannot be absolutely certain, I would
venture to say that this may have been the first,
and perhaps the only, time "objective
correlative" was ever discussed in prime-time. It
may also have been the network television debut
of the word "presage." At this point, however,
tensions are only simmering. No one is taking
Chris to task for his mangled metaphorshow
precisely does one bring a "great white whale to
its knees"?or his ideas. Prof. Martin is
pleased, deeming Chris rant "right on," and
Professor Schuster bites his tongue, not yet
ready to go to war.
After Martin and Schuster hit up Maurice for
endowing a chair (clearly an ongoing discussion),
talk turns to Derrida and Barthes, and the death
of the author (a moment in literary history
praised by Martin as a releaser of all the hidden
meanings buried in a text), and Chris expresses
for the first time misgivings about his
poststructuralist way of approaching literature,
wondering what happens to "beauty is truth, truth
beauty" (Keatsfrom "Ode on a Grecian Urn") under
such an episteme. Banter between Martin and
Schuster becomes increasingly confrontational,
and this time its personal. To the formers
accusation that his senior colleague clings to
old ideas in order to remain department chair,
Schuster responds with sarcastic glee You better
get used to those faculty apartments. When
Schuster scolds Martin that You and your
carjacking protégé . . .have put 2000 years of
accumulated knowledge into a rhetorical Osterizer
and grinded it all into oblivion. he
characterizes Schusters old- fashioned mindset
as bigotry with panache. As Chris looks on in
wonder, they go for each others throats but are
separated by the powerful Minnifield, who angrily
(and hilariously) reminds them "Gentleman, its
only literature.
Earlier Chris had offered a toast to academia
"in a world of ever more compromise and
pettiness, the last refuge for ideas and idealism
for their own sake." At Maurices Chris begins to
realize his naiveté and sees for the first time
that the hostility critical theory has spawned
may be a sublimation of such non-intellectual
petty matters as who holds the department chair,
or secures the office with a window, or gets the
best housing. As the cliché we all know has it,
the competition is so fierce because the rewards
are so small.
(No Transcript)
Television doesnt get any better, or any more
literary, than this. Shakespeare, of course, gets
all the best lineshis "They got Eddie!" lament
upon the death of Poe, his anachronistically
fatal quotation of Dickens A Tale of Two Cities.
But it is Chris who comes away terrified but
enlightened by his dream-shattering ouroboric
recognition that the canon-terminating sniperand
take note how well the metaphor worksis really
himself. The next day, "Chris in the Morning" is
all about his doubts. As Ray Charles wails the
appropriately titled "Tell me What I Say" in the
background, Chris acquaints all of Cicely (and
the television audience as well) with his growing
methodological concerns. "You analyse something
too much you just grind it into dust," he has
come to think, wondering if his whole pursuit of
a degree may have been a misguided venture "I
should never have opened that matchbook. We are
looking for people who like to think. But such
musings are, in fact, rhetorical, for Chris has
concocted a new plan for his thesis defense.
Anyone who has been around universities for a
time has probably heard Academic Legends about
theses and dissertation defencesthe one making
the rounds when I was working on my M.A., for
example, about the doctoral candidate at the
University of Minnesota who lost his lunch all
over the conference table. Thesis and
dissertations have even found their way into
films. In Irvin Kershners The Eyes of Laura Mars
(1978), for example, released the year I finished
my own dissertation, a serial killer is revealed
to be a detective (played by Tommy Lee Jones)
driven to psychopathy by his inability to even
finish his treatise. Earlier in the decade, in
Richard Rushs forgotten semi-classic Getting
Straight (1970), Elliott Gould plays a deeply
confused graduate student named Harry Bailey who
inadvertently brings to his thesis defense at
Berkeley a hollowed-out book filled with pot and
then, as riots erupt outside and his committee
becomes embroiled in a debate over Leslie
Fiedler-esque ideas about the homoerotic subtext
of The Great Gatsby, goes nuts. After insisting
that the major verse form in English is, in fact,
the limerick (and reciting a particularly profane
one), Bailey jumps up on the conference table and
brings the defense to an end by planting a sloppy
kiss on the lips of his committee chair.
(No Transcript)
"Whats the meaning of this?" Schuster asks,
appropriately enough, as they arrive at
Minnifield Field, and Chris, punning, replies
that he wants to take another swing at Thayers
meaning. To Martins surprised rejoinder, "I
thought you were beyond authorial reference,"
Chris asks him to take a bat and go to the plate.
As Chris recites the poem from memory, Martin
goes down on strikes three snow-covered pitches
later, the last two whiffs, just like the Mighty
Casey. Striding toward his vanquished examiner,
Chris intones Thayers final lines Oh,
somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining
bright, The band is playing somewhere, and
somewhere hearts are light And somewhere men are
laughing, and somewhere children shout, But there
is no joy in Mudvillemighty Casey has struck
out.   Pointing to Martins stomach, he explains
"Thats what Casey at the bat is aboutthat
feeling in your gut."
"I thought you were beyond authorial reference."
Its one of those meta-media moments that make a
proselytiser for television, especially what I
have been calling of late "television
creativity," squirm with joy on my couch potato
couch. Mirroring in its development its
antecedent media literature and the movies, both
slow to discover the author/auteur and then
surprisingly anxious to finish him off,
television, you see, is supposed to be made in
anonymity. Only now, as we speak, are TV auteurs
emerging. Only now are we beginning to recognize
the creative human beings who make television, a
medium, nearly everyone agrees, supremely
friendly to the writers who produce such
brilliant fare as The Graduate while toiling
largely in obscurity. I know next-to-nothing
about Sam Egan, its author, which doesnt seem
quite fair, since he seems know a lot about
meabout us. But I do know this like me he
believes that deconstruction has had its turn at
bat, its innings even, and has now struck out.
Allusions, the great literary scholar M. H.
Abrams, observes, imply a fund of knowledge that
is shared by an author and an audience. Most
literary allusions are intended to be recognized
by the generally educated readers of the authors
time, though some have always been aimed at a
special coterie and, in modernist literature,
may be so specialized that only scholarly
annotators will be able to decipher them (8-9).
TVs allusions likewise imply a mutual fund of
knowledge. When they are merely to the rest of
the vast cosmos of television, as they often are,
they presume nothing more than the commonality of
many hours before the small screen. But
televisions proliferating literary references
stand as a testimony to the mediums increasing
sophistication as its begins to partake in the
conversation of mankind (Rorty), to the wider,
deeper repertoire of its writers, and to new,
much more flattering, assumptions about the
intellectual qualities of the Quality TV
audience. If some of the allusion of television
are now so arcane only English professors can
elucidate them, well do we not need new
challenges, new work to do?
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