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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The Philosophy of Steven Soderbergh

edited by R. Barton Palmer and Steven M. Sanders

Widely regarded as a turning point in American independent cinema, Steven Soderbergh’s sex, lies, and videotape (1989) launched the career of its twenty-six-year-old director, whose debut film was nominated for an Academy Award and went on to win the Cannes Film Festival’s top award, the Palme d’Or. The Philosophy of Steven Soderbergh breaks new ground by investigating salient philosophical themes through the unique story lines and innovative approaches to filmmaking that distinguish this celebrated artist. Editors R. Barton Palmer and Steven M. Sanders have brought together leading scholars in philosophy and film studies for the first systematic analysis of Soderbergh’s entire body of work, offering the first in-depth exploration of the philosophical ideas that form the basis of the work of one of the most commercially successful and consistently inventive filmmakers of our time.

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The Philosophy of the Beats

edited by Sharin N. Elkholy

The phrase "beat generation" -- introduced by Jack Kerouac in 1948 -- characterized the underground, nonconformist youths who gathered in New York City at that time. Together, these writers, artists, and activists created an inimitably American cultural phenomenon that would have a global influence. In their constant search for meaning, the Beats struggled with anxiety, alienation, and their role as the pioneers of the cultural revolution of the 1960s.

The Philosophy of the Beats explores the enduring literary, cultural, and philosophical contributions of the Beats in a variety of contexts. Editor Sharin N. Elkholy has gathered leading scholars in Beat studies and philosophy to analyze the cultural, literary, and biographical aspects of the movement, including the drug experience in the works of Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, feminism and the Beat heroine in Diane Di Prima's writings, Gary Snyder's environmental ethics, and the issue of self in Bob Kaufman's poetry. The Philosophy of the Beats provides a thorough and compelling analysis of the philosophical underpinnings that defined the beat generation and their unique place in modern American culture.

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The Philosophy of the Coen Brothers

Mark T. Conard

In 2008 No Country for Old Men won the Academy Award for Best Picture, adding to the reputation of filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen, who were already known for pushing the boundaries of genre. They had already made films that redefined the gangster movie, the screwball comedy, the fable, and the film noir, among others. No Country is just one of many Coen brothers films to center on the struggles of complex characters to understand themselves and their places in the strange worlds they inhabit. To borrow a phrase from Barton Fink, all Coen films explore “the life of the mind” and show that the human condition can often be simultaneously comic and tragic, profound and absurd. In The Philosophy of the Coen Brothers, editor Mark T. Conard and other noted scholars explore the challenging moral and philosophical terrain of the Coen repertoire. Several authors connect the Coens’ most widely known plots and characters to the shadowy, violent, and morally ambiguous world of classic film noir and its modern counterpart, neo-noir. As these essays reveal, Coen films often share noir’s essential philosophical assumptions: power corrupts, evil is real, and human control of fate is an illusion. In Fargo, not even Minnesota’s blankets of snow can hide Jerry Lundegaard’s crimes or brighten his long, dark night of the soul. Coen films that stylistically depart from film noir still bear the influence of the genre’s prevailing philosophical systems. The tale of love, marriage, betrayal, and divorce in Intolerable Cruelty transcends the plight of the characters to illuminate competing theories of justice. Even in lighter fare, such as Raising Arizona and The Big Lebowski, the comedy emerges from characters’ journeys to the brink of an amoral abyss. However, the Coens often knowingly and gleefully subvert conventions and occasionally offer symbolic rebirths and other hopeful outcomes. At the end of The Big Lebowski, the Dude abides, his laziness has become a virtue, and the human comedy is perpetuating itself with the promised arrival of a newborn Lebowski. The Philosophy of the Coen Brothers sheds new light on these cinematic visionaries and their films’ stirring philosophical insights. From Blood Simple to No Country for Old Men, the Coens’ films feature characters who hunger for meaning in shared human experience—they are looking for answers. A select few of their protagonists find affirmation and redemption, but for many others, the quest for answers leads, at best, only to more questions.

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The Philosophy of the Western

edited by Jennifer L. McMahon and B. Steve Csaki.

The western is arguably the most iconic and influential genre in American cinema. The solitude of the lone rider, the loyalty of his horse, and the unspoken code of the West render the genre popular yet lead it to offer a view of America’s history that is sometimes inaccurate. For many, the western embodies America and its values. In recent years, scholars had declared the western genre dead, but a steady resurgence of western themes in literature, film, and television has reestablished the genre as one of the most important. In The Philosophy of the Western, editors Jennifer L. McMahon and B. Steve Csaki examine philosophical themes in the western genre. Investigating subjects of nature, ethics, identity, gender, environmentalism, and animal rights, the essays draw from a wide range of westerns including the recent popular and critical successes Unforgiven (1992), All the Pretty Horses (2000), 3:10 to Yuma (2007), and No Country for Old Men (2007), as well as literature and television serials such as Deadwood. The Philosophy of the Western reveals the influence of the western on the American psyche, filling a void in the current scholarship of the genre.

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The Philosophy of Tim Burton

edited by Jennifer L. McMahon

Director and producer Tim Burton impresses audiences with stunning visuals, sinister fantasy worlds, and characters whose personalities are strange and yet familiar. Drawing inspiration from sources as varied as Lewis Carroll, Salvador Dalí, Washington Irving, and Dr. Seuss, Burton's creations frequently elicit both alarm and wonder. Whether crafting an offbeat animated feature, a box-office hit, a collection of short fiction, or an art exhibition, Burton pushes the envelope, and he has emerged as a powerful force in contemporary popular culture.

In The Philosophy of Tim Burton, a distinguished group of scholars examines the philosophical underpinnings and significance of the director's oeuvre, investigating films such as Batman (1989), Edward Scissorhands (1990), The Nightmare before Christmas (1993), Sleepy Hollow (1999), Big Fish (2003), Sweeney Todd (2007), Alice in Wonderland (2010), and Dark Shadows (2012). The essays in this volume explore Burton's distinctive style, often disturbing content, and popular appeal through three thematic lenses: identity, views on authority, and aesthetic vision.

Covering topics ranging from Burton's fascination with Victorian ideals, to his celebration of childhood, to his personal expression of the fantastic, the contributors highlight the filmmaker's peculiar narrative style and his use of unreal settings to prompt heightened awareness of the world we inhabit. The Philosophy of Tim Burton offers a penetrating and provocative look at one of Hollywood's most influential auteurs.

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The Philosophy of TV Noir

Steven Sanders and Aeon J. Skoble

Film noir reflects the fatalistic themes and visual style of hard-boiled novelists and many émigré filmmakers in 1940s and 1950s America, emphasizing crime, alienation, and moral ambiguity. In The Philosophy of TV Noir, Steven M. Sanders and Aeon J. Skoble argue that the legacy of film noir classics such as The Maltese Falcon, Kiss Me Deadly, and The Big Sleep is also found in episodic television from the mid-1950s to the present.

In this first-of-its-kind collection, contributors from philosophy, film studies, and literature raise fundamental questions about the human predicament, giving this unique volume its moral resonance and demonstrating why television noir deserves our attention. The introduction traces the development of TV noir and provides an overview and evaluation of the book's thirteen essays, each of which discusses an exemplary TV noir series.

Realism, relativism, and integrity are discussed in essays on Dragnet, Naked City, The Fugitive, and Secret Agent. Existentialist themes of authenticity, nihilism, and the search for life's meaning are addressed in essays on Miami Vice, The Sopranos, Carnivale, and 24. The methods of crime scene investigation in The X-Files and CSI are examined, followed by an exploration of autonomy, selfhood, and interpretation in The Prisoner, Twin Peaks, The X-Files, and Millennium.

With this focus on the philosophical dimensions of crime, espionage, and science fiction series, The Philosophy of TV Noir draws out the full implications of film noir and establishes TV noir as an art form in its own right.

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The Philosophy of War Films

edited by David LaRocca. with contributions by David LaRocca, Fredric Jameson, Garrett Stewart, Stacey Peebles, Joshua Gooch, Burke Hilsabeck, Garry L. Hagberg, Robert Burgoyne, Inger S. B. Brodey, Holger Pötzsch, Andrew Fiala, K. L. Evans, Robert Pippin,

Wars have played a momentous role in shaping the course of human history. The ever-present specter of conflict has made it an enduring topic of interest in popular culture, and many movies, from Hollywood blockbusters to independent films, have sought to show the complexities and horrors of war on-screen.

In The Philosophy of War Films, David LaRocca compiles a series of essays by prominent scholars that examine the impact of representing war in film and the influence that cinematic images of battle have on human consciousness, belief, and action. The contributors explore a variety of topics, including the aesthetics of war as portrayed on-screen, the effect war has on personal identity, and the ethical problems presented by war.

Drawing upon analyses of iconic and critically acclaimed war films such as Saving Private Ryan (1998), The Thin Red Line (1998), Rescue Dawn (2006), Restrepo (2010), and Zero Dark Thirty (2012), this volume's examination of the genre creates new ways of thinking about the philosophy of war. A fascinating look at the manner in which combat and its aftermath are depicted cinematically, The Philosophy of War Films is a timely and engaging read for any philosopher, filmmaker, reader, or viewer who desires a deeper understanding of war and its representation in popular culture.

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Steven Spielberg and Philosophy

We're Gonna Need a Bigger Book

edited by Dean A. Kowalski

Has any film director had a greater impact on popular culture than Steven Spielberg? Whether filming Holocaust heroes and villains, soldiers, dinosaurs, extraterrestrials, or explorers in search of the Holy Grail, Spielberg has given filmgoers some of the most memorable characters and wrenching moments in the history of cinema. Whatever his subject—war, cloning, slavery, terrorism, or adventure—all of Spielberg’s films have one aspect in common: a unique view of the moral fabric of humanity. Dean A. Kowalski’s Steven Spielberg and Philosophy is like a remarkable conversation after a night at the movie theater, offering new insights and unexpected observations about the director’s most admired films. Some of the nation’s most respected philosophers investigate Spielberg’s art, asking fundamental questions about the nature of humanity, cinema, and Spielberg’s expression of his chosen themes. Applying various philosophical principles to the movies, the book explores such topics as the moral demands of parenthood in War of the Worlds; the ultimate unknowability of the “other” in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Schindler’s List; the relationship between nature and morality in Jurassic Park; the notion of consciousness in A.I.: Artificial Intelligence; issues of war theory and ethics in Munich; and the foundation of human rights in Amistad. Impressive in scope, this volume illustrates the philosophical tenets of a wide variety of thinkers from Plato to Aquinas, Locke, and Levinas. Contributors introduce readers to philosophy while simultaneously providing deeper insight into Spielberg’s approach to filmmaking. The essays consider Spielberg’s movies using key philosophical cornerstones: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, axiology, aesthetics, and political philosophy, among others. At the same time, Steven Spielberg and Philosophy is accessible to those new to philosophy, using the philosophical platform to ponder larger issues embedded in film and asking fundamental questions about the nature of cinema and how meanings are negotiated. The authors contend that movies do not present philosophy—rather philosophy is something viewers do while watching and thinking about films. Using Spielberg’s films as a platform for discussing these concepts, the authors contemplate questions that genuinely surprise the reader, offering penetrating insights that will be welcomed by film critics, philosophers, and fans alike.

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Tennis and Philosophy

What the Racket is All About

edited by David Baggett. with contributions byDavid Baggett, David F. Wallace, David Baggett, Mark Huston, Kevin Kinghorn, Kevin Kinghorn, David Detmer, Tommy Valentini, Robert R. Clewis, Mark Foreman, Helen Ditouras, Mark Huston, Jeanine Schroer, Maureen

Tennis smashed onto the worldwide athletic scene soon after its modern rules and equipment were introduced in nineteenth-century England. Exciting, competitive, and uniquely accessible to people of all ages and talent levels, tennis continues to enjoy popularity, both as a recreational activity and a spectator sport.

Life imitates sport in Tennis and Philosophy. Editor David Baggett approaches tennis not only as a game but also as a surprisingly rich resource for philosophical analysis. He assembles a team of champion scholars, including David Foster Wallace, Robert R. Clewis, David Detmer, Mark Huston, Tommy Valentini, Neil Delaney, and Kevin Kinghorn, to consider numerous philosophical issues within the sport. Profiles of tennis greats such as John McEnroe, Roger Federer, the Williams sisters, and Arthur Ashe are paired with pertinent topics, from the ethics of rage to the role of rivalry. Whether entertaining metaphysical arguments or examining the nature of beauty, these essays promise insightful discussion of one of the world's most popular sports.

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