- Hardcover: 488 pages
- Publisher: University Press of Kentucky (November 5, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 081314082X
- ISBN-13: 978-0813140827
- Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,499,794 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Invisible Hand in Popular Culture: Liberty vs. Authority in American Film and TV Hardcover – November 5, 2012
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"Cantor is undoubtedly one of the most original scholars in the field, and it will be welcome to have a collection of his essays in a single volume."―William Irwin, Series Editor, Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture
"The cause of freedom has rarely had as creative a defender as Paul Cantor. To follow his thinking and writing is to be changed by them. His outlook is romantic, intellectually robust, and new. With this outlook, he finds the idea of freedom in the most inauspicious places, not only in Shakespeare (his specialization) but also in popular culture, of which he is an incredibly trenchant observer. The Invisible Hand in Popular Culture is as astute an examination of the idea of liberty as you will find anywhere in the history of liberal literature, and one that resonates especially in our time."―Jeffrey Tucker, Laissez Faire Books
"Cantor demonstrates, often in new and surprising ways, what popular culture has to say about America's most significant political and social issues. Cantor's book is remarkably wide-ranging and well informed, with important insights on everything from South Park to Have Gun―Will Travel. In this book there is something of interest for everyone who either loves or hates pop culture, or simply wonders what one should think of it. There are provocative comments on every page, firmly supported by Cantor's immense knowledge of cultural and intellectual history. The book is brilliantly written―smart, sharp, completely free of jargon, and, frankly, a lot of fun."―Stephen Cox, University of California, San Diego
"Cantor knows all the words to the songs in the South Park movie, speaks fluent Klingon, and has forgotten more about the X-Files than Fox Mulder ever knew. Finally, pop-culture nerds have an intellectual to call their own."―Jonathan V. Last, senior writer The Weekly Standard
"The incomparable Cantor has blessed the libertarian movement with a literary voice. Would that we ahd more Cantors to show us how literature flowers when freedom flourishes."―Independent Review
"Cantor's latest book is a collection of wide-ranging essays that brims with brilliant insights on particular movies and TV shows."―National Review
"By dipping into pop-culture portrayals of 'both top-down and bottom-up models of order,' the author makes it easier and more enjoyable for today's readers to relate to the ideas he discusses, including Marxist ' culture industry' notions and absolute state control a la Hobbes."―Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
"This is an exceptional romp through television and film from the past seveal decades, and serves to entertain as much as to instruct us that the world of entertainment contains many valuable lessons in economics, liberty, and morality."―Weekly Standard
"Cantor can take pretty much any television show, such as Gilligan's Isalnd, and dissect it using everything from Homer to Shakespeare to Marshall McLuhan, and entertain you while doing it."―LRC Blog
"With a deep knowledge of literature and philosophy as well as film and TV, Cantor brings scholarship together with entertainment. He's fun to read, and you can learn a few things, too."―Milwaukee Express
"This sweeping, inclusive survey of American popular culture in the 20th and 21st centuries is a masterwork. Cantor offers thoughtful readings, detailed analyses of the works in question, and an authoritative overview of the ways in which pop and classical culture mesh to create the fabric of contemporary American consciousness."―Choice Magazine
"Written in clear language for the curious layman, but carefully footnoted for the scholar, Invisible Hand helps us look in a new way at the images on the screen that undeniably have an enormous effect on the viewer's notions of history, government, freedom, and the human experience."―LewRockwell.com
"Political theorists have much to gain from reading The Invisible Hand in Popular Culture."―Review of Politics
"Analyses how ideas about economics and political philosophy find their way into everything from Star Trek to Malcolm in the Middle."―Wall Street Journal
About the Author
Paul A. Cantor is Clifton Waller Barrett Professor of English at the University of Virginia. Among his wide-ranging and acclaimed writings on film and television, Gilligan Unbound: Pop Culture in the Age of Globalization was named one of the best nonfiction books of 2001 by the Los Angeles Times.
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Top Customer Reviews
"The Invisible Hand in Popular Culture" opens with an Introduction that is an all-encompassing summary of its content and the author's perspective. It should not be skipped.
The work is divided into four parts that analyze the different political and economic influences prevailing at the time of certain TV shows and movies. Professor Cantor then fleshes out his argument by several examples of specific shows, directors and writers in 10 separate chapters, eight of which are previously published essays that have been revised for this book (except Mars Attacks and Have Gun Will Travel, which are new).
In his previous " Gilligan Unbound" (2001), Cantor defended pop culture but, this time, he educates; in this well-researched and documented treatise that should be on the curriculum of any serious post-graduate course on the subject.
The three chapters in part one deal with the "Western", such as John Ford's The Searchers, Deadwood and Have Gun Will Travel and its influence on Roddenberry's future show, Star Trek. Cantor ties in the works of Adam Smith and John Locke in the narrative of Deadwood, "If you'r on it and improve it, you own it", as an example of libertarian thought.
In "Have Gun Will Travel" Richard Boone's character feels superior to the townsfolk that he comes to help, similar to "the tendency of Hollywood elites to express their sense of superiority to ordinary Americans". This contrasts with Mars Attacks that "champions ordinary Americans for their ability to come together to overcome obstacles".
The book delves into the "bottom-up" (Deadwood) and the "top-down"(Have Gun Will Travel) examples of culture and explores libertarian doctrine of Thomas Hobbes, Alexis de Tocqueville, John Locke and Adam Smith with debates about unfettered personal freedom versus imposed social order. Scorsese's The Aviator is used to uphold the ideal of personal freedom and spontaneous order, as promulgated by Austrian economists Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek. Trey Parker's South Side cartoon reminds us "that economic freedom is one of the most fundamental of all freedoms" and "can be properly identified as libertarian".
The last part of the book deals with the post-Cold War and 9/11 era, and fears of globalization, China's ascendency and unbridled immigration as depicted in "invasion" type shows, "Red Dawn", "Alien Invasion" and ABC's "Invasion".
In the two last chapters, the author uses the work of little-known Austrian-born director Edgar Georg Ulmer (1904-1972) to contrast American culture with the elitist pop culture of Europe. Ulmer is given way too much credit and importance beyond his recognized achievements, for his two eccentric movies, The Black Cat (1934) and Detour (1945), or for any impact that he may have had on American culture. I found the last two chapters to be droning and a transparent, if not a misguided paean to Ulmer, who according to French critics was "an example of a director who, despite all the obstacles, managed to impose his distinctive vision in a wide range of films" (this sounds better when read with a supercilious French accent!).
The reader would conclude from the book that popular culture evolves from the approval of the majority of society and cannot thrive merely at the behest of the trend makers or "elites who want to keep the American people in line".
"The Invisible Hand in Popular Culture" is entertaining as well as instructive and should appeal to the social scientist, the arts critic and the dedicated cinephile.
This new volume is even more substantial than the previous one, featuring ten essays on film and television ranging from UFO movies to Westerns to South Park. In addition, the introduction provides an extensive discussion on the very nature of pop culture, how it is produced, and how it should be interpreted.
Written in clear language for the curious layman, but carefully footnoted for the scholar, Invisible Hand helps us look in a new way at the images on the screen that undeniably have an enormous effect on the viewer's notions of history, government, freedom, and the human experience.
Cantor begins by explaining the conflict between liberty and authority by looking at two distinct and opposing options in the Western genre offered by the television shows 'Have Gun - Will Travel' (1957-1963) and 'Deadwood' (2004-2006).
'Have Gun' provides the (conventional and authoritarian) view offered by Westerns, and as Cantor notes, the show's hero Paladin imposes order on a frontier composed largely of racist rubes, petty tyrants and superstitious fools. Every town, it seems, has a lynch mob, and the "unending sequence of tyrannical rich men" in 'Have Gun' sets the stage for many showdowns between the enlightened and refined hero Paladin and his backward enemies.
Paladin, Cantor notes, looks remarkably like the members of the ruling class in Washington D.C. and New York at the time 'Have Gun' was made. Sophisticated, highly educated technocrats were the heroes of the day (at least among people making television shows) and Paladin fit the bill. Everywhere on the frontier, Paladin's intervention is necessary for "Paladin never seems to come upon a functioning community, with a set of decent political institutions that make it capable of self-government."
At the other end of the spectrum is the HBO series 'Deadwood', in which the people of the town of Deadwood are perfectly capable of self-government. If the "enlightened" people show up in Deadwood, it's usually to steal something.
Cantor examines 'Deadwood' in light of the debate between Hobbes and Locke. Cantor concludes that Deadwood is in many ways explicitly libertarian, condemning government and praising private property as a civilizing force in numerous ways. Is the state necessary for order or do property, peace and prosperity pre-date the state? 'Deadwood,' it seems, comes down firmly in the latter camp.
A similar theme comes through in Cantor's chapter on 'Mars Attacks!' (1996) in which the wealthy elites of the American establishment are naïve, stupid, incompetent, and corrupt. As Cantor observes, the elites, in spite of all their massive machines of war, and blinded my their devotion to "diversity," are unable or unwilling to defend Earth from the vicious and murderous Martians. In the end, the earth is saved by a ragtag gang of has-been athletes, scumbag capitalists, and gun-loving trailer trash who defeat the aliens after learning that their heads explode when exposed to the sounds of a Slim Whitman song.
Cantor details how the 'Mars Attacks!' narrative, in which common men and women save humanity, is a complete inversion of the Cold War-era flying saucer movies in which government soldiers, experts, and intellectuals save humanity from invading aliens. Indeed, "the people" in the traditional Cold War films are rarely pictured as anything other than a panicking and hapless mob, while the sophisticated and virtuous people of the U.S. Government do their jobs with admirable precision.
Although today taking many forms and exploring many themes, the alien invasion motif, Cantor notes, is alive and well in American popular culture. At this point, Cantor returns to a topic he knows well - 'The X-Files' (1993-2002) - and notes how numerous modern television shows have carried on the legacy of government conspiracies and alien invasions.
And here again, we find the conflict between "the experts" and the ordinary individual straining against an authoritarian order so stacked against her. The victimization of Scully in 'The X-Files' reflects one of the central fears dramatized in the series.
The underlying fear of many new sci-fi shows which draw upon The 'X-Files' shows, Cantor contends, is not just the fear of foreign immigrants, but also a fear of powerlessness in the face of forces beyond our control. Immigration, terrorism, disease epidemics, and culture wars are all addressed through the lens of these shows. Often, the victims include the traditional family, freedom, and most of the institutions we hold dear. In these shows, the triumphalism and deference to experts of the Cold War years is long gone.
In 2008, Fox introduced 'Fringe' (2008-2013) which closely resembled The X-Files in a number of details, although instead of offering aliens, the show featured interactions between our own world and a mysterious dystopian parallel universe which Cantor asserts contains numerous libertarian and anti-authoritarian themes.
I've only managed to touch on some of the many topics Cantor covers in this wide-ranging book. In the chapter on film noir, for example, Cantor looks at capitalism, the open road, and the Marxian Frankfurt School's effects on American pop culture, while his chapter on South Park illustrates how the show's creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, speak libertarian truth to power "Out of the Potty Mouths of Babes."
In a world of government-subsidized "fine" art that virtually no one looks at or cares about, capitalist pop culture is the real art today that reflects the prejudices, hopes, fears, and ideologies of our time. Paul Cantor offers us a helpful guide in navigating the pop culture of our own age, while illuminating it with history, philosophy, high academic theory, and even the epic poetry of ages long past.