The University Press of Kentucky

The Philosophy of Popular Culture

Mark T. Conard

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

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The Philosophy of Popular Culture

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Basketball and Philosophy

Thinking Outside the Paint

edited by Jerry L. Walls and Gregory Bassham. foreword by Dick Vitale

What can the film Hoosiers teach us about the meaning of life? How can ancient Eastern wisdom traditions, such as Taoism and Zen Buddhism, improve our jump-shots? What can the “Zen Master” (Phil Jackson) and the “Big Aristotle” (Shaquille O’Neal) teach us about sustained excellence and success? Is women’s basketball “better” basketball? How, ethically, should one deal with a strategic cheater in pickup basketball? With NBA and NCAA team rosters constantly changing, what does it mean to play for the “same team”? What can coaching legends Dean Smith, Rick Pitino, Pat Summitt, and Mike Krzyzewski teach us about character, achievement, and competition? What makes basketball such a beautiful game to watch and play? Basketball is now the most popular team sport in the United States; each year, more than 50 million Americans attend college and pro basketball games. When Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, first nailed two peach baskets at the opposite ends of a Springfield, Massachusetts, gym in 1891, he had little idea of how thoroughly the game would shape American—and international—culture. Hoops superstars such as Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and Yao Ming are now instantly recognized celebrities all across the planet. So what can a group of philosophers add to the understanding of basketball? It is a relatively simple game, but as Kant and Dennis Rodman liked to say, appearances can be deceiving. Coach Phil Jackson actively uses philosophy to improve player performance and to motivate and inspire his team and his fellow coaches, both on and off the court. Jackson has integrated philosophy into his coaching and his personal life so thoroughly that it is often difficult to distinguish his role as a basketball coach from his role as a philosophical guide and mentor to his players. In Basketball and Philosophy, a Dream Team of twenty-six basketball fans, most of whom also happen to be philosophers, proves that basketball is the thinking person’s sport. They look at what happens when the Tao meets the hardwood as they explore the teamwork, patience, selflessness, and balanced and harmonious action that make up the art of playing basketball.

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Football and Philosophy

Going Deep

Michael W. Austin. foreword by Joe Posnanski

Over the past forty years, football has surpassed baseball as America’s favorite game. The game has become an institution of our national culture: the Super Bowl is regarded as an unofficial national holiday, and our annual Thanksgiving Day celebrations would be incomplete without it. The sport brings in massive amounts of revenue to high schools and both public and private universities as spectators enjoy a unique and celebratory social scene. Professional football teams across the country cultivate and foster a sense of community in urban areas. Surely a game this influential, with its hallowed traditions, treasured festivities, and clearly defined cultural presence, resonates far beyond recreational importance. Football and Philosophy: Going Deep, edited by Michael W. Austin, reveals how a sport followed by millions reflects our deeper values, beliefs, and priorities. Austin and other contributing writers bring unique perspectives to this thought-provoking collection of essays. Divided into “four quarters” of reflective writing, the book covers many topics frequently debated by football fans. Sharon Ryan asks “What’s So Bad about Performance Enhancing Drugs?”, while the book’s editor argues for a playoff system in college football. Daniel Collins-Cavanaugh ponders whether the salary cap makes the NFL a fairer league, and Joshua Smith offers his own review of the instant replay. Football and Philosophy also forays into some time honored issues as it considers the philosophy of winning in light of the NFL’s most legendary coach, Vince Lombardi, and contemplates the concepts of sportsmanship, virtue, friendship, and failure. While the book is unafraid to tackle serious topics, touching on ethics, religion, and the nature of reality itself, the collection is designed to be accessible for any interested reader and was written, first and foremost, for fans of the game. As Austin notes, football fans and philosophers definitely have one quality in common: they both love to argue. Football and Philosophy engages in the debates of both groups, illuminating how the fields are intertwined. So whether they love or hate the college bowl system or disagree on whether the NFL has an ego problem, readers of this book will undoubtedly find much to ponder about America’s favorite game.

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Golf and Philosophy

Lessons from the Links

edited by Andy Wible

In a game where players are expected to call their own penalties and scoring the least points leads to victory, decorum takes precedence over showmanship and philosophical questions become par for the course. Few other sports are as suited for ethical and metaphysical examination as golf. It is a game defined by dichotomies—relaxing, yet frustrating, social, yet solitary—and between these extremes there is room for much philosophical inquiry. In Golf and Philosophy: Lessons from the Links, a clubhouse full of skilled contributors tee off on a range of philosophical topics within the framework of the fairway. The book’s chapters are arranged in the style of an eighteen-hole golf course, with the front nine exploring ethical matters of rationality and social civility in a world of moral hazards and roughs. The back nine pries even deeper, slicing into matters of the metaphysical, including chapters on mysticism, idealism, identity, and meaning. Taken together, the collection examines the intellectual nature of this beloved pastime, considering the many nuances of a sport that requires high levels of concentration, patience, and consistency, as well as upstanding moral character. Golf and Philosophy celebrates the joys and complexities of the game, demonstrating that golf has much to teach both its spectators and participants about modern life.

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The Olympics and Philosophy

edited by Heather L. Reid and Michael W. Austin

It is said the champions of the ancient Olympic Games received a crown of olive leaves, symbolizing a divine blessing from Nike, the winged goddess of victory. While the mythology of the ancient games has come to exemplify the highest political, religious, community, and individual ideals of the time, the modern Olympic Games, by comparison, are widely known as an international, bi-annual sporting event where champions have the potential to earn not only glory for their country, but lucrative endorsement deals and the perks of worldwide fame. The Olympics and Philosophy examines the Olympic Movement from a variety of theoretical perspectives to uncover the connection between athleticism and philosophy for a deeper appreciation of the Olympic Pillars of Sport, Environment, and Culture.

While today's Olympic champions are neither blessed by the gods nor rewarded with wreaths of olive, the original spirit and ancient ideals of the Olympic Movement endure in its modern embodiment. Editors Heather L. Reid and Michael W. Austin have assembled a team of international scholars to explore topics such as the concept of excellence, ethics, doping, gender, and race. Interweaving ancient and modern Olympic traditions, The Olympics and Philosophy considers the philosophical implications of the Games' intersection with historical events and modern controversy in a unique analysis of tradition and the future of the Olympiad.

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The Philosophy of Ang Lee

edited by Robert Arp, Adam Barkman, and James McRae

Ang Lee (b. 1954) has emerged as one of cinema's most versatile, critically acclaimed, and popular directors. Known for his ability to transcend cultural and stylistic boundaries, Lee has built a diverse oeuvre that includes films about culture clashes and globalization (Eat Drink Man Woman, 1994, and The Wedding Banquet, 1993), a period drama (Sense and Sensibility, 1995), a martial arts epic (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, 2000), a comic book action movie (Hulk, 2003), and an American western (Brokeback Mountain, 2005). The Philosophy of Ang Lee draws from both Eastern and Western philosophical traditions to examine the director's works. The first section focuses on Taoist, Confucian, and Buddhist themes in his Chinese-language films, and the second examines Western philosophies in his English-language films; but the volume ultimately explores how Lee negotiates all of these traditions, strategically selecting from each in order to creatively address key issues. With interest in this filmmaker and his work increasing around the release of his 3-D magical adventure The Life of Pi (2012), The Philosophy of Ang Lee serves as a timely investigation of the groundbreaking auteur and the many complex philosophical themes that he explores through the medium of motion pictures.

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The Philosophy of Charlie Kaufman

edited by David LaRocca

From the Academy Award–winning Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and Academy Award–nominated Adaptation (2002) to the cult classic Being John Malkovich (1999), writer Charlie Kaufman is widely admired for his innovative, philosophically resonant films. Although he only recently made his directorial debut with Synecdoche, New York (2008), most fans and critics refer to “Kaufman films” the way they would otherwise discuss works by directors Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, or the Coen brothers. Not only has Kaufman transformed our sense of what can take place in a film, but he also has made a significant impact on our understanding of the role of the screenwriter. The Philosophy of Charlie Kaufman, edited by David LaRocca, is the first collection of essays devoted to a rigorous philosophical exploration of Kaufman’s work by a team of capable and critical scholars from a wide range of disciplines. From political theorists to philosophers, classicists to theologians, professors of literature to filmmakers, the contributing authors delve into the heart of Kaufman’s innovative screenplays, offering not only original philosophical analyses but also extended reflections on the nature of film and film criticism.

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The Philosophy of Clint Eastwood

edited by Richard T. McClelland and Brian B. Clayton

Famous for his masculine swagger and gritty roles, American cultural icon Clint Eastwood has virtually defined the archetype of the tough lawman. Beginning with his first on-screen appearance in the television series Rawhide (1959--1965) and solidified by his portrayal of the "Man with No Name" in Sergio Leone's "Dollars" trilogy (1964--1966), he rocketed to stardom and soon became one of the most recognizable actors in Hollywood. The Philosophy of Clint Eastwood examines the philosophy and psychology behind this versatile and controversial figure, exploring his roles as actor, musician, and director.

Led by editors Richard T. McClelland and Brian B. Clayton, the contributors to this timely volume discuss a variety of topics. They explore Eastwood's arresting critique and revision of the traditional western in films such as Unforgiven (1992), as well as his attitudes toward violence and the associated concept of masculinity from the Dirty Harry movies (starting in 1971) to Gran Torino (2008). The essays also chart a shift in Eastwood's thinking about the value of so-called rugged individualism, an element of many of his early films, already questioned in Play Misty for Me (1971) and decisively rejected in Million Dollar Baby (2004).

Clint Eastwood has proven to be a dynamic actor, a perceptive and daring director, as well as an intriguing public figure. Examining subjects such as the role of civil morality and community in his work, his use of themes of self-reliance and religious awareness, and his cinematic sensibility, The Philosophy of Clint Eastwood will provide readers with a deeper sense of Eastwood as an artist and illuminate the philosophical conflicts and resolutions that drive his films.

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The Philosophy of David Cronenberg

edited by Simon Riches

Initially regarded as a cult figure with a strong following amongst sci-fi and horror film fans, Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg emerged as a major and commercially viable film director with mainstream hits such as A History of Violence (2005) and Eastern Promises (2007). With his unique ability to present imagery that is both disturbing and provocative, Cronenberg creates striking films, noteworthy not just for their cinematic beauty but also for the philosophical questions they raise.

The Philosophy of David Cronenberg examines Cronenberg's body of work, from his breakthrough Scanners (1981) through his most recognizable films such as The Fly (1986) and more recent works. Editor Simon Riches and a collaboration of scholars introduce the filmmaker's horrific storylines and psychologically salient themes that reveal his pioneering use of the concept of "body horror," as well as his continued aim to satirize the modern misuse of science and technology. The Philosophy of David Cronenberg also explores the mutation of self, authenticity and the human mind, as well as language and worldviews. While Cronenberg's films have moved from small-market cult classics to mainstream successes, his intriguing visions of humanity and the self endure.

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The Philosophy of David Lynch

edited by William J. Devlin and Shai Biderman

From his cult classic television series Twin Peaks to his most recent film Inland Empire (2006), David Lynch is best known for his unorthodox narrative style. An award-winning director, producer, and writer, Lynch distorts and disrupts traditional storylines and offers viewers a surreal, often nightmarish perspective. His unique approach to filmmaking has made his work familiar to critics and audiences worldwide, and he earned Academy Award nominations for Best Director for The Elephant Man (1980), Blue Velvet (1986), and Mulholland Drive (2001). Lynch creates a new reality for both characters and audience by focusing on the individual and embracing existentialism. In The Philosophy of David Lynch, editors William J. Devlin and Shai Biderman have compiled an impressive list of contributors to explore the philosophy at the core of the filmmaker’s work. Lynch is examined as a postmodern artist, and the themes of darkness, logic, and time are discussed in depth. Other prominent issues in Lynch’s films, such as Bad faith and freedom, ethics, politics, and religion, are also considered. Investigating myriad aspects of Lynch’s influential and innovative work, The Philosophy of David Lynch provides a fascinating look at the philosophical underpinnings of the famous cult director.

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The Philosophy of Film Noir

edited by Mark T. Conard

A drifter with no name and no past, driven purely by desire, is convinced by a beautiful woman to murder her husband. A hard-drinking detective down on his luck becomes involved with a gang of criminals in pursuit of a priceless artifact. The stories are at once romantic, pessimistic, filled with anxiety and a sense of alienation, and they define the essence of film noir. Noir emerged as a prominent American film genre in the early 1940s, distinguishable by its use of unusual lighting, sinister plots, mysterious characters, and dark themes. From The Maltese Falcon (1941) to Touch of Evil (1958), films from this classic period reflect an atmosphere of corruption and social decay that attracted such accomplished directors as John Huston, Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, and Orson Welles. The Philosophy of Film Noir is the first volume to focus exclusively on the philosophical underpinnings of these iconic films. Drawing on the work of diverse thinkers, from the French existentialist Albert Camus to the Frankurt school theorists Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, the volume connects film noir to the philosophical questions of a modern, often nihilistic, world. Opening with an examination of what constitutes noir cinema, the book interprets the philosophical elements consistently present in the films—themes such as moral ambiguity, reason versus passion, and pessimism. The contributors to the volume also argue that the essence and elements of noir have fundamentally influenced movies outside of the traditional noir period. Neo-noir films such as Pulp Fiction (1994), Fight Club (1999), and Memento (2000) have reintroduced the genre to a contemporary audience. As they assess the concepts present in individual films, the contributors also illuminate and explore the philosophical themes that surface in popular culture. A close examination of one of the most significant artistic movements of the twentieth century, The Philosophy of Film Noir reinvigorates an intellectual discussion at the intersection of popular culture and philosophy.

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