- The Washington Times - Monday, February 16, 2009

Books and TV

“If you can tear yourself away from your favorite television shows long enough to wander down to your local bookstore, you will be amazed at all the books you’ll find these days - about your favorite television shows. The medium that was supposed to be the archenemy of the book is now giving an unexpected - and welcome - boost to the publishing industry.

“It is well known that for the genre of literary criticism, publishers are extremely reluctant to bring out what are called monographs - books devoted to a single author or a single work (unless that single author is Shakespeare or the single work is). Those works of literary criticism that are published often come out in print runs that number in the hundreds. By contrast, a book devoted to a single television show, ‘The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D’oh! of Homer’ … has reached its 22nd printing, and its sales number in the hundreds of thousands.

“Partly inspired by the success of ‘The Simpsons’ volume, three serious publishing houses - Open Court, Blackwell and University Press of Kentucky - currently have series on philosophy and popular culture, with volumes devoted to such TV shows as ‘Seinfeld,’ ‘The X-Files,’ ‘The Sopranos,’ ‘South Park,’ ‘Battlestar Galactica,’ ‘Family Guy,’ and ‘24.’ These volumes use moments in the shows to illustrate complicated issues in ethics, metaphysics and epistemology.”

- Paul A. Cantor, writing on “Is There Intelligent Life on Television?” in the fall issue of the Claremont Review of Books

Languages and food

“It’s not that Americans aren’t interested in the world at all. It’s just that we seem to want someone else to do the heavy lifting required to make a cultural connection. As the Peruvian-born writer Daniel Alarcon observes, Americans would rather read stories by an American about Peru than a Peruvian writer translated into English. ‘There’s a certain curiosity about the world that’s not matched by a willingness to do the work,’ Alarcon said …

“We don’t have much time, so we want a taste, some fast food to go. And so we read ethnic literature the way we down an ethnic meal. We can get a burrito almost anywhere, but it’s often mildly spiced, adjusted just for us, and wrapped for those in a rush. So we’re eating a translated burrito, and we’re reading a world prepared especially for us. …

“Sure, Ricky Martin topped the charts with a song built around a lone half-Spanish phrase, ‘livin’ la vida loca.’ Despite that hit, all-Spanish songs are still segregated on their own radio station in most cities. This trend of protecting Americans from any unnecessary non-English interference in their day even seeps into places where you might expect language skills to be valued. At the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, a screen on the back of every chair flashes English subtitles (originally introduced for those with disabilities).”

- Aviya Kushner, writing on “McCulture” in the winter issue of the Wilson Quarterly

Movies and comics

“Today we can thank not just magazines with famous brand names - D.C. or Marvel - for our ability to recognize comic-book moments that stray into real life. We can thank movies, too, which have devoured and regurgitated the best-known heroes and villains from comics and graphic novels … . The other week I read, ‘A bird, a plane and Superman’ bannered above the tail of the aircraft that put down on the Hudson.

“Last year’s top box-office hit was ‘The Dark Knight,’ based on graphic novelist Frank Miller’s penumbral re-imagining of Batman. This year’s early super-fillip for Hollywood may be ‘Watchmen,’ the film of Alan (‘V for Vendetta’) Moore’s epic about a crisis time among caped adventurers.

“Created 20 years ago, ‘Watchmen’ has a near-biblical reputation among graphic-novel geeks. Moore anticipated even Miller in the deconstructing of the comic-book genre, producing a multi-episode saga that asks essentially: ‘Who the heck are these masked heroes who do our wish-fulfilment work? And how mixed-up would you have to be to become one?’ ”

- Nigel Andrews, writing on “The relationship between cinema and comics” on Feb. 7 at the Financial Times

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