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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

April 9, 2014: New AmericanStudies Books: Viewing America

[A couple weeks back, I had the chance to attend the 2014 Narrative conference at MIT. While there, I spent some time browsing the book tables, and realizing how many interesting new AmericanStudies works are constantly joining the conversation. So I thought I’d dedicate a series to highlighting a handful of the books I discovered there. Share your own new favorites (or classics!) for a bibliophiliac crowd-sourced weekend post, please!]
On the book that takes 21st century TV as seriously as it deserves.
On the same day that this post appears, my Writing II students will turn in their fourth paper of the semester, a comparative analysis of two film and/or TV texts (of their choosing). I assigned this particular paper in part as a sneaky way to get them thinking about comparative analysis while making it fun, and in part because the class’s overall focus is on reading our 21st century world and so much of that entails reading and analyzing these kinds of visual media. But I also believe—as this blog has demonstrated time and again—that we AmericanStudies scholars need to take film and TV texts (like pop music, material culture, and other forms) just as seriously as we do more traditional literary and historical ones; not only because they can all reveal aspects of our culture and identity, but because they demand the same level of close attention and analysis.
While I would make that case for any and all film and TV texts, however, it’s also undeniably true—as I wrote in this post expressing my appreciation for this trend—that the last couple decades have witnessed a golden age for AmericanStudies television. I’ve read plenty of blog posts and reviews that have expressed similar perspectives on this era in TV—including, most consistently, the work of the great Alan Sepinwall, whose book The Revolution was Televised (2012) collected his arguments about twelve seminal 1990s and 2000s shows—but on the Narrative book tables I saw one of the first scholarly books I’ve seen on the subject: Christopher Bigsby’s Viewing America: Twenty-First Century Television Drama (2013). Bigsby’s book covers nine shows in great depth, ranging from completed classics such as The Sopranos, The West Wing, and The Wire to newer, not-yet-finished shows including Mad Men and (the since-completed) Treme.
I only got a chance to browse Bigsby’s book briefly, and already found at least a few takes on both West Wing and The Wire with which I would disagree. But that’s a big part of the point—here’s a scholarly engagement with some of the same great shows with which I’ve tried to engage in this space, as part of my AmericanStudying of our turn of the 21st century moment. I wouldn’t necessarily go so far as to make the case (which Bigsby does, I believe) that TV has become the medium for the most consistently impressive 21st century American art and artists—but it’s in the conversation, as this important AmericanStudies book reflects and amplifies.
Next new book tomorrow,
Ben
PS. New (or classic) AmericanStudies books you’d highlight? Share for the weekend post!

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