Simpsons, Seinfeld, etc. – Good or Bad?

I was following the mini-Simpsons debate over at Spudlets and it reminded me of a couple of books I have been meaning to read.

The first is Shows About Nothing by Thomas Hibbs:

The portrayal of evil in film and television, frequently denounced as an attack on “family values” and an incitement to real-life violence, is more complicated and more disturbing than we realize. In a pointed challenge to both Hollywood and its critics, Professor Thomas Hibbs argues that the demonic anti-heroes and seductive comic evil of popular culture are not weapons in a conscious cultural assault but reactions to the apathy and conformity of American life.

The other is Gilligan Unbound by Paul A. Cantor:

Popular television shows are commonly a reflection of national principles. Shakespeare scholar Cantor (English, Univ. of Virginia) here analyzes four of the most famous prime-time series in the history of television with particular attention to how these shows portrayed American ideals and influences. Cantor shows us how the castaways of Gilligan’s Island re-created America in their isolation and how Star Trek reflected Cold War fears and sensibilities. He also speculates about the post-Cold War, cynical, introspective Springfield of The Simpsons and how society’s distrust of Washington is evident in the skepticism that characterizes The X-Files.

Both authors see TV, movies, etc. as a reflection of rather than a assault on American life. But it seems that Cantor views these shows (the Simpsons, X-files, etc.) as containing positive ideals as well as negative. Whereas Hibbs views popular culture as sliding deeper and deeper into nihilism.

I think reading and compaing and contrasting these two books should prove interesting. And if I can ever get off my duff and get reading I will do just that . . .

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).