Pop Culture References and Academia

Speaking of cultural references, here’s a piece on UT Austin philosophers using The SimpsonsAtlas Shrugged, Buffy, and other media references presumably shared by students:

Feature Story: Pop Goes Philosophy: Professor draws upon popular culture to illustrate today’s moral issues

Of course, all teachers do similar things, to different degrees. But it’s nice to see it acknowledged in a public context. With tenure-obsession, teaching often takes a very secondary role in North American universities.

The piece mentions Linklater’s Waking Life, in which two UT Austin philosophers appear. Haven’t seen that particular movie but there’s a lot to be said about taking part in local culture. In fact, it’s something which struck me about Linklater’s Slacker in which yet another UT Austin philosopher (Louis Mackey) plays an anarchist character. Since that movie is clearly a “core text” for Austinites, the referential effect is quite effective. Nothing like locale-appropriate pop culture references. Even if they appear somewhat outdated. 

4 thoughts on “Pop Culture References and Academia”

  1. I was delighted to discover that at my university, tenure means nothing. I mean there’s the whole process and I’ve seen people get really anxious about having it or not having it. So ritually it means all the things it means. But we’re a non-union shop in a right-to-work state, so according to the faculty manual we’re basically at-will employees no matter what. Gotta keep earning my paycheck, oh no!

    A student gave me “Waking Life” to watch then promptly got deployed to Iraq, so here it is on my shelf. Turns out to be a dead vole. It’s thinky if you’re not used to thinking, which is indubitably a good thing.

    I’ve increasingly soured on ‘relevance’ teaching as I tire of how hard it is to reel the students back in to anything other than themselves and their little interests. My current thinking is that the value of a higher education is the ability to think with discipline and disinterest, so I try to make my teaching as useless as possible. That may seem elitist, but hey, we’re building intellectual and cultural elites here and if not, what the hell are we doing. Plus I’ve got Gramsci to back me up. But I do loves the Simpsons.

  2. Well, Anonymous, you’re sure easy to spot! 😉
    I have a lot of things to say about the illusions supported by the tenure system but Tenured Radical is already doing much of that job (here, for instance). And I try not to cover too much ground which is already well-covered unless I feel an urge. Since I’m not even on the tenure track yet, I feel like my voice would be misheard.
    Though I haven’t seen Waking Life, the impression I got from excerpts and trailers are quite compatible with what you’re saying. I much prefer “light” movies which work through heavy issues than consciously “thinky” movies which try to take on big issues. In other words, I prefer movies when they’re profound without trying to be profound than when they’re primarily trying to be deep. In this sense, I would probably like Waking Life less than The Simpsons (the tv show, at least, though I don’t watch tv anymore).
    BTW, I have no idea why you keep talking about rodents. 😉

  3. Heehee, this is funny because I unintentionally goofed on that privacy thing we were talking about. Just forgot that I was on a different confuser that didn’t have my autofill queued up. But you smoked me out anyway.

    My secret dream is to turn the dead vole theory into a pop culture sensation. I’ll start by not explaining it here, thus creating attractive mystery. Ooooh, what could he meaaaaan…. Later I’ll start a band called D.V.T. and let the speculation begin. Delicate Vestal Teardrops? Dubious Vestigial Theories? Digital Vibration Template? And so on.

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