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Homer Simpson Ponders Politics

Homer Simpson Ponders Politics: Popular Culture as Political Theory

Joseph J. Foy
Timothy M. Dale
Foreword by Margaret Weis
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Homer Simpson Ponders Politics
    Book Description:

    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.

    FollowingHomer Simpson Goes to Washington(winner of the John G. Cawelti Award for Best Textbook or Primer on American and Popular Culture) andHomer Simpson Marches on Washington, this exceptional volume reveals how books like J. R. R. Tolkien'sThe Hobbitand J. K. Rowling'sHarry Potter, movies likeAvatarandStar Wars, and television shows likeThe OfficeandFireflydefine 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 Politicsincludes a foreword by fantasy author Margaret Weis (coauthor/creator of theDragonlancenovels 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4151-0
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Margaret Weis

    In describing what it means to be an author, Gary Paulsen once told me something I always remember: “We are the guy in the tribe who puts on the wolfskin and dances around the fire.”

    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 an oral history of his people, and instilling values that would enable them to survive.

    He used the...

  4. Introduction: Popular Culture as Political Theory: Plato, Aristotle, and Homer
    (pp. 1-10)
    Joseph J. Foy

    In 1987 Jim Henson, most famous, of course, for his Muppets, created and produced the first installment ofThe 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 audiences of all ages of the importance and power of the stories a society chooses to tell. In each episode, the Storyteller (in the first season played by John Hurt and in the second season by Michael Gambon) magically brought to life tales of German, Russian, Celtic, Norwegian, and Greek traditions, each one offering humanistic insights...

  5. Part 1. Classical Insights and Civic Virtue

    • 1 A Tale of Two Republics: Plato, Palpatine, and Politics
      (pp. 13-28)
      Dean A. Kowalski

      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 looks. Consider that both have authored politically charged tomes that have become classics in their respective fields. And each of these classics has quite a bit to say about the intricacies of, well, a republic.

      It is admittedly unlikely that George Lucas had Plato’sRepublicopen on his desk when he began penning...

    • 2 Aristotle’s Politics and the Virtues of Springfield: Community, Education, and Friendship in The Simpsons
      (pp. 29-44)
      Timothy M. Dale

      The title sequence forThe Simpsonstelevision 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 the sky to overlook the town, including the nuclear plant, the city hall, and the Springfield tire fire, before arriving at the school (where Bart is writing sentences of punishment on the chalkboard). The city of Springfield is featured prominently as the setting for the show. By the...

    • 3 “Keep Your Friends Close but Your Enemies Closer”: Machiavelli and Michael Corleone
      (pp. 45-60)
      Eric T. Kasper

      In Mario Puzo’s bestselling novelThe 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,The Godfather Part III(1990). These movies relate the saga of the Corleone crime family, including the transition of power from one generation of the family to the next. The main character in all three films, Michael Corleone, quickly becomes the embodiment of the political philosophy of Niccolò Machiavelli inThe Prince....

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

    • 4 Social Contract: Rebellion and Dissent aboard Serenity
      (pp. 63-74)
      Susanne E. Foster and James B. South

      The major plot ofSerenity,the companion movie to Joss Whedon’s TV seriesFirefly,pits the crew of the spaceshipSerenityagainst 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 for “gifted” individuals.¹ By the time the movie opens, River’s brokenness and the Alliance’s persistent attempts to find her lead the captain and crew to believe she is a threat to their safety. While attempting to discover what happened to River and why the Alliance is so desperate to recover her,...

    • 5 Dwight Schrute and Servile Ambition: Tacitus and Rousseau on the Lackey Politics of The Office
      (pp. 75-96)
      Matthew D. Mendham

      Much of the brilliance of the first few seasons of NBC’s comedyThe Officewas 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 sort of adolescent nuisance and cowardly pandering. Yet without fail, he displayed a boundless capacity to deceive himself into believing his employees felt all the love and admiration for him that he so desperately needed. Further analysis of Michael we will leave to trained psychologists and turn to our main topic here: the more politically...

    • 6 Who Watches the Watchmen? Kant, Mill, and Political Morality in the Shadow of Manhattan
      (pp. 97-112)
      S. Evan Kreider

      Watchmenis 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 morally acceptable to sacrifice the interests of a few for the greater good of the many?

      Watchmenpresents a not-so-alternate version of the 1980s in which the world stands on the brink of a massive nuclear war. Adrian Veidt, otherwise known as the hero Ozymandias (“The World’s Smartest Man”), has carried...

  7. Part 3. The Limitations and Possibilities of Political Life

    • 7 Avatar, Marx, and the Alienation of Labor
      (pp. 115-130)
      Mark C. E. Peterson

      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, and it drew Marx’s attention in the 1840s as he watched industrialization, with its social and psychological fallout, roll out across Europe. The issue is just as important for us today, and yet it is easier to find Marxist political philosophy in recent movies than...

    • 8 Nietzschean Narratives of Hero and Herd in Walt Disney / Pixar’s The Incredibles
      (pp. 131-146)
      C. Heike Schotten

      In the penultimate scene of Pixar / Walt Disney’s animated filmThe 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 them, young Dash propels himself within seconds to the front of the pack. Alarmed at their son’s swift ascent into first place, however, his parents suddenly reverse course, yelling “Pull back! Pull back!” Following their cues, Dash drifts to the back of the pack of racers. This causes his parents...

    • 9 Muggles, Magic, and Misfits: Michel Foucault at Harry Potter’s Hogwarts
      (pp. 147-162)
      Jamie Warner

      Welcome to Hogwarts! At this school of witchcraft and wizardry, magical boys and girls will learn to hone their potential in spell-casting, potion-making, 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 proper way to greet a Hippogriff. Students will also be monitored day and night, their actions under constant surveillance. Anyone caught breaking the rules will be disciplined. Punishments can range from a loss of “house points,” needed for receipt of the coveted House Cup, to detention, suspension, a revocation of privileges, or...

    • 10 Feminism, Sexism, and the Small Screen: Television’s Complicated Relationship with Women
      (pp. 163-180)
      Denise Du Vernay

      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 Neil Postman’s seminalAmusing Ourselves to Deathin media studies courses in college. While his arguments were certainly persuasive, I distinctly recall being happy when I finished it so I could watchThe Simpsons.We know the evils of TV: it makes us want to buy things we don’t...

  8. Part 4: The Promises and Problems of Liberal Democracy

    • 11 From John Wayne to John McClane: The Hollywood Action Hero and the Critique of the Liberal State
      (pp. 183-202)
      Carl Bergetz

      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 due process, checks and balances, and tolerance for a plurality of viewpoints and identities.¹

      On the other side paces the most successful, accessible, and identifiable product of American culture—the Hollywood action-hero movie. It likes to blow things up.²

      Both are major national exports. Both are quintessentially American. And both . . . well . . . this country just...

    • 12 J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again: Recovering a Platonic-Aristotelian Politics of Friendship in Liberal Democracy
      (pp. 203-232)
      Mary M. Keys

      It is well known that J. R. R. Tolkien’s talesThe HobbitandThe Lord of the Ringshave 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 to which these same stories draw from and indeed embody central insights in political theory, especially from the Platonic and Aristotelian traditions. The narrative ofThe Hobbitpresents contemporary readers with a literary view, fresh and wonderful, of property, justice, and friendship. One could even consider the story as offering readers...

    • 13 “Just Give Them the Internet”: Social Media and the Promise of Liberal Democracy
      (pp. 233-250)
      Joseph J. Foy

      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 Said’s face on the edge of a marble tabletop. The officers then dragged his body out of the café and into an entranceway of another establishment across the street. There the men beat him, repeatedly striking his head against the iron doorway, the walls, and the stairs. They...

  9. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 251-252)
  10. List of Contributors
    (pp. 253-256)
  11. Index
    (pp. 257-262)