The Invisible Hand in Popular Culture: Liberty versus Authority in American Film and TV

The Invisible Hand in Popular Culture: Liberty versus Authority in American Film and TV

The Invisible Hand in Popular Culture: Liberty versus Authority in American Film and TV

The Invisible Hand in Popular Culture: Liberty versus Authority in American Film and TV

Excerpt

Popular Culture and Spontaneous Order, or, How I Learned
to Stop Worrying and Love the Tube

A film may have its own unity, with its relationships coherent and its
balance precise. But that the ultimate unity can be entirely foreseen is a
dubious proposition: the distance between conception and delivery is so
great, and the path between them so tortuous and unpredictable….A film
…cannot be made in the mind and then transferred to celluloid precisely
as conceived. One of the prime requirements for a film-maker is flexibility
to improvise, and to adjust his conceptions to the ideas and abilities of his
co-workers, to the pressures of circumstance, and the concrete nature of
the objects photographed.

—V. F. Perkins, Film as Film

In studying popular culture, especially when working on my book Gilligan Unbound, I quickly ran into hermeneutical difficulties. I wanted to discuss television shows as works of art, to demonstrate how they present a meaningful view of the world in a skillful and sometimes even masterful manner. I was interested in how a sequence of television shows expressed changes in the way Americans perceived their place in the world and, more specifically, the way their attitudes toward globalization evolved. This project involved making statements such as: “The Simpsons portrays the national government negatively and celebrates a turn to the local and the global” or “The X-Files suggests that modern technology is at war with the power of the state.” In short, like many of my colleagues, I surreptitiously imputed intentionality to something inanimate and truly unconscious—a television series. One could claim that in such circumstances saying “The Simpsons” is simply shorthand for saying “the team that created The Simpsons,” but I suspect that something more is at work here, an attempt to evade the difficult questions about intentionality and artistic purpose that analyzing a television show raises.

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