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Homer Simpson Ponders Politics

Popular Culture as Political Theory

edited by Joseph J. Foy and Timothy M. Dale. foreword by Margaret Weis

Publication Year: 2013

It is often said that the poet Homer "educated" ancient Greece. Joseph J. Foy and Timothy M. Dale have assembled a team of notable scholars who argue, quite persuasively, that Homer Simpson and his ilk are educating America and offering insights into the social order and the human condition. Following Homer Simpson Goes to Washington (winner of the John G. Cawelti Award for Best Textbook or Primer on American and Popular Culture) and Homer Simpson Marches on Washington, this exceptional volume reveals how books like J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter, movies like Avatar and Star Wars, and television shows like The Office and Firefly define Americans' perceptions of society. The authors expand the discussion to explore the ways in which political theories play out in popular culture. Homer Simpson Ponders Politics includes a foreword by fantasy author Margaret Weis (coauthor/creator of the Dragonlance novels and game world) and is divided according to eras and themes in political thought: The first section explores civic virtue, applying the work of Plato and Aristotle to modern media. Part 2 draws on the philosophy of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Smith as a framework for understanding the role of the state. Part 3 explores the work of theorists such as Kant and Marx, and the final section investigates the ways in which movies and newer forms of electronic media either support or challenge the underlying assumptions of the democratic order. The result is an engaging read for undergraduate students as well as anyone interested in popular culture.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Title Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. 8-9

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pp. ix-x

That ancient storyteller was an entertainer. He made the members of his tribe forget that they were shivering with cold or wondering where they might find the next meal. But he was doing more than entertaining. Through his tales, the storyteller was passing on tribal traditions, maintaining...

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Introduction: Popular Culture as Political Theory: Plato, Aristotle, and Homer

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pp. 1-9

In 1987 Jim Henson, most famous, of course, for his Muppets, created and produced the first installment of The Storyteller. Combining live acting and puppetry, Henson used this award-winning television series to recreate myth narratives from around the world and, in the process, remind...

Part 1. Classical Insights and Civic Virtue

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pp. 11-23

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1. A Tale of Two Republics: Plato, Palpatine, and Politics

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pp. 13-27

One doesn’t often hear the names Plato and George Lucas uttered in the same sentence. We could muse, I suppose, that if the former solidified the intellectual importance of the ancient Greeks, the other solidified the cultural importance of modern geeks. But deeper connections exist, if one...

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2. Aristotle’s Politics and the Virtues of Springfield: Community, Education, and Friendship in The Simpsons

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pp. 29-43

The title sequence for The Simpsons television series has become a cultural icon. White clouds move in a bright blue sky, and the unmistakable yellow lettering emerges from behind the clouds as a chorus sings the name of the family after which the show is named. The scene then moves down from...

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3. “Keep Your Friends Close but Your Enemies Closer”: Machiavelli and Michael Corleone

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pp. 45-59

In Mario Puzo’s bestselling novel The Godfather, published in 1969, he told the story of a fictional mafia family in America. The book was famously made into a successful and award-winning film, The Godfather (1972), as well as a sequel-prequel, The Godfather Part II (1974), and a sequel...

Part 2. The State, the Individual, and Political Morality

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pp. 61-73

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4. Social Contract: Rebellion and Dissent aboard Serenity

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pp. 63-74

The major plot of Serenity, the companion movie to Joss Whedon’s TV series Firefly, pits the crew of the spaceship Serenity against their interplanetary government, the Alliance. River Tam (Summer Glau), a member of the crew who begins as a stowaway, was severely damaged while at an Alliance school...

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5. Dwight Schrute and Servile Ambition: Tacitus and Rousseau on the Lackey Politics of The Office

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pp. 75-96

Much of the brilliance of the first few seasons of NBC’s comedy The Office was derived, quite simply, from pathology. Leading the maladjustment was Regional Manager Michael Scott, whose frequent missteps resulted from a highly insecure and narcissistic personality. This made him capable of every...

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6. Who Watches the Watchmen? Kant, Mill, and Political Morality in the Shadow of Manhattan

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pp. 97-111

Watchmen is arguably the most revolutionary graphic novel ever written. It showed a generation of readers that a so-called super-hero comic book could engage a sophisticated adult audience and deal with complex moral and political issues. At the heart of the text is a classic quandary: is it ever...

Part 3. The Limitations and Possibilities of Political Life

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pp. 113-125

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7. Avatar, Marx, and the Alienation of Labor

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pp. 115-130

Have you ever had a lousy job? A job that sucked the life out of you, ground you down, made you feel like a cog in the impersonal machinery of paying rent and staying fed? Philosophically speaking, Karl Marx remains the expert on what makes a lousy job lousy. It’s an experience common to everyone...

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8. Nietzschean Narratives of Hero and Herd in Walt Disney/Pixar’s The Incredibles

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pp. 131-145

In the penultimate scene of Pixar/Walt Disney’s animated film The Incredibles, ten-year-old superhero Dash Parr is about to run a sprint race in his elementary school’s track meet. As the race begins, his parents buoyantly cheer him on. “Run, Dash, run!!” they yell excitedly—and, glancing up at...

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9. Muggles, Magic, and Misfits: Michel Foucault at Harry Potter’s Hogwarts

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pp. 147-162

Welcome to Hogwarts! At this school of witchcraft and wizardry, magical boys and girls will learn to hone their potential in spell-casting, potionmaking, divination, and the mystical arts. They will learn how to fly on brooms, play Quidditch, and duel with wands, and they will be taught the...

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10. Feminism, Sexism, and the Small Screen: Television’s Complicated Relationship with Women

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pp. 163-179

Culture critics have argued about the stupidity and dangers of television almost since the advent of the medium. We’ve been warned against spending too much time in front of the “boob tube” or the “idiot box” so many times that we don’t even register the warnings anymore. Some of us read...

Part 4. The Promises and Problems of Liberal Democracy

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pp. 181-193

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11. From John Wayne to John McClane: The Hollywood Action Hero and the Critique of the Liberal State

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pp. 183-201

America is in constant conflict. On one side of the divide rests America’s political foundation—the philosophy of liberalism and the companion governing system of liberal democracy. Liberal democracy cherishes the Enlightenment values of reason, discourse, and compromise and ensures...

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12. J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again: Recovering a Platonic-Aristotelian Politics of Friendship in Liberal Democracy

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pp. 203-231

It is well known that J. R. R. Tolkien’s tales The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings have been immensely popular with democratic audiences, from their publication in the mid-twentieth century to their ongoing adaptation for the big screen. Perhaps not well known, however, is the surprising extent...

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13. “Just Give Them the Internet”: Social Media and the Promise of Liberal Democracy

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pp. 233-249

On June 6, 2010, Khaled Mohamed Said was sitting at a table on the second floor of a cybercafé in Sidi Gaber, a neighborhood in Alexandria, Egypt. Two detectives from the local police station entered the café to arrest Said. After binding his hands behind his back, one of the detectives smashed...

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pp. 251-252

The editors are indebted to the kind support of Anne Dean Watkins, Bailey E. Johnson, and all the good people of the University Press of Kentucky. Your support and guidance on this project are enormously appreciated. We could not ask for a better group of people to work with. We would also like to...


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pp. 253-256


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pp. 257-261

E-ISBN-13: 9780813141510
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813141473

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2013