Primetime philosophy turns new page

'Simpsons,' 'Buffy,' 'Sex' lend themselves to literal take

HOLLYWOOD — Blending showbiz and academia, a spate of recent books treat primetime TV like the latest in Marxist revisionist theory.

Surprisingly, they’re also posting impressive sales beyond the ivory tower.

Fans of “The Simpsons,” “Sex and the City,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Seinfeld” are apparently just as curious about the subtextual metaphysics in their favorite shows.

“The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D’oh! of Homer,” which gets at Aristotle’s theory of virtue by way of Homer Simpson and compares Lisa to Heidegger (he advocated silence), has sold more than 200,000 copies and has been translated into half a dozen languages since it was published in 2001 by Open Court.

The small Chicago publisher, founded in 1887 by philosopher Paul Carus, has also scored with film-related tomes like the bestselling “The Matrix and Philosophy,” which has sold more than 100,000 copies. “The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy” has posted comparable numbers since its publication last September.

“When I started in this field in 1981, there were literally two or three books about TV as an art form. I could get caught up in the literature of my field in an evening,” says Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse U. “Now these books are at an absolute peak.”

While many authors of TV “texts” are more familiar to humanities departments than households, the big-wigs are also weighing in. Henry Louis Gates Jr. has an essay on “Amos ‘n’ Andy” in the forthcoming “Prime Times: Writers on their Favorite TV Shows,” by Douglas Bauer.

Fueling the fire are shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” which not only draw cult followings but have plots and characters that lend themselves to interpretation, be it Freudian or Nietzchean.

There are a dozen Buffy Studies books, from “Reading the Vampire Slayer,” by Roz Kaveney to “Monsters and Metaphors: Essays on Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” edited by Christopher Weimer. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale,” edited by James South, will be published in March to the glee of those who just knew the show was ripe for Kantian analysis. The book explains “why Buffy kicks ass” (see chapter on “Feminism and the Ethics of Violence”).

“Sex and the City” is also gaining intellectual cred. Out in February is “Reading Sex and the City,” edited by Kim Akass and Janet McCabe, which includes the essays “My Manolos, My Self: Manolo Blahnik, Shoes and Desire” and “Orgasms and Empowerment: Sex and the City and the Third Wave of Feminism.”

Not that masculinity is being ignored.

David Lavery’s “This Thing of Ours: Investigating the Sopranos” takes a scholarly whack at “The Gangster Redux’ as well as Tony’s girth (“Fat Fuck! Why Don’t You Take a Look in the Mirror?’ Weight, Body Image and Masculinity in ‘The Sopranos.’ “)

Another Sopranos text, “The Psychology of the Sopranos: Love, Death, Desire and Betrayal in America’s Favorite Gangster Family,” by psychoanalyst Glen Gabbard, explores “Bada Bing and Nothingness.”

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