Monday, November 25, 2013
November 25, 2013: Giving Thanks: AmericanStudies TV
[A Thanksgiving series on some of the many things for which this AmericanStudier is thankful. Add your thanks-givings in comments!]
On the recent, unprecedented plethora of great AmericanStudies television shows.
We AmericanStudiers (if I may speak for the tribe for a moment) pride ourselves on our ability to analyze any and all cultural texts, including the most seemingly innocuous or straightforward ones. Take TV shows, for example: a dedicated AmericanStudier like myself would have to be willing and able to find cultural depth and meaning in nothing less than a Baywatch. Thesis: the beach both as the site of an idealized, picturesque American mythos and yet, just under the surface of those enticing California waters, as a realistic world full of dangers and threats that require a team of national heroes ready and willing to sacrifice themselves for our communal safety. (Okay, I grant you that “national heroes” is a bit of a stretch when it comes to the likes of Hasselhoff and Anderson, but it’s just a starting point.) When it comes to AmericanStudies, that is, it’s all part of the text.
But that textual ubiquity shouldn’t elide a crucial distinction: between the majority of cultural texts and those few that themselves comprise, include in and indeed make central to their own work, complex portrayals and analyses of American culture and identity. When it comes to television, the last couple of decades—a period that has been generally described as a golden era for the medium, a perspective with which I would definitely agree—have featured an incredible range and depth of such overtly AmericanStudying shows: The Sopranos, The West Wing, Deadwood, The Wire, Mad Men, Band of Brothers, Breaking Bad, Treme, Boardwalk Empire, Homeland, The Newsroom, Masters of Sex, and The Bridge, to compile only a partial list. It’s such a long list, indeed, that even this committed and pop culture-loving AmericanStudier has only been able to watch the full run of a small percentage of those shows (The West Wing, The Wire, Mad Men, and Band of Brothers) and hasn’t yet had a chance to watch any of the most recent ones (those listed between Homeland and The Bridge).
That’s one thing I’m thankful for, to be sure: how much great AmericanStudies TV I have ahead of me, still to watch and explore (nominations in comments for which of those other shows I should check out first are very welcome!). I’m also deeply thankful for all the shows and moments I’ve already been able to check out over the last few years, and how much they’ve become a part of my scholarly perspective—it’s no coincidence that I’ve cited The West Wing, The Wire, and Band of Brothers in posts on this blog, and I’m quite sure those won’t be the last times. And finally, I’m incredibly thankful for the ways in which this space—literally; and as a mode of broad, public AmericanStudies thinking toward which I’m moving more and more fully all the time—have helped me engage with every layer and aspect of American culture and society, including the many great AmericanStudies TV shows of the last couple decades.
Next giving of thanks tomorrow,
PS. Who or what do you thank?