April 30, 2002


America's Ideological Window (review of Gilligan Unbound: Pop Culture in the Age of Globalization By Paul A. Cantor) (Kevin Canfield, 4/29/02, PopPolitics)
Against the backdrop of the Cold War's last act, the proliferation of powerful regional and global organizations (NAFTA, the EU, the WTO), and the increasing reach of multinational corporations, Cantor's book makes an interesting claim. He argues that, more than simply mirroring societal changes, TV, in particular the 8-11 p.m. offerings, provides viewers with "a window into ideological developments in America."

Not a revelation, this, but Cantor does make his share of points.

Dividing the book into four sections -- one each for his examinations of Gilligan's Island; Star Trek; The Simpsons; and The X-Files -- Cantor charts the evolution of American politics and society from the 1960s to the present day. He explains, "I regard this book as an experiment -- to see what happens if we provisionally drop our intellectual prejudices against television and try to learn from it."

This is where Cantor shines -- the portions of the book in which he is unpretentious and loyal to his hypothesis. An English professor at the University of Virginia, he is a perceptive sort who along the way pulls in everything from the Blair Witch Project to LBJ's Great Society. It's the type of book in which Karl Marx and Punky Brewster get equal attention (one mention apiece).

Borrowing a phrase from Austrian novelist Robert Musil, Cantor sees the character at the center of the short-lived (just four seasons) but enduring Gilligan's Island as "the true man without qualities." Unlike his isle-mates, writes Cantor, "Only Gilligan has no distinctive excellence and hence none of the traditional claims to rule. In the democratic utopia of Gilligan's Island, he therefore emerges as the truly representative human being and the chief figure in the community ... He stands as an eternal monument to the great American ideal: 'On any given Sunday, anybody can rule anybody else.'"

Okay, granted, any idiot can govern America--is it really necessary for us to prove it so frequently? Posted by Orrin Judd at April 30, 2002 1:54 PM
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