Buffy Slays the Academy

by James Matthew Wilson on June 13, 2012 · 1 comment <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Short

Devon, PA.  Insiderhighered.com reports:

 Slate published an analysis of the relative popularity (as topics to academics) of various pop culture topics. Judging popularity by the total papers, books and essays produced by academics, the most popular topic (by far) is “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” followed by “Alien Quadrilogy,” and “The Wire.” Far behind is “The Simpsons.”

 In 2008, I, the Treasonous Clerk, wrote,

 The Professor X of today has inherited the critical vocabulary and the radical assumptions of the previous generation. Indeed, he has developed them, made them more subtle, supple, and sophisticated. His dissertation was not simply a critique of western colonialism or misogyny; it probed distinctions that were imperceptible a generation earlier and critiqued the inadequate minutae of Spivak, Agamben, Baba, or Derrida. He breathes the language of critique and meta-critique, and spouts it for exam committees, dissertation directors, and before his colleagues at academic conferences. According to the letter, this Professor X is more radical than his predecessors.

 But the letter is spoken exclusively within the professional arena of the academic department and peer-reviewed journal. In spirit, the populists have been replaced by professionals: the professor who speaks solidarity with the subaltern by day, goes home at night to watch reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the flat screen and consume Chai tea and veggie-burgers in the light of scented candles recently purchased at Target. The professor by day, in other words, becomes just like every other young professional by night. He appreciates that sharing his critique of the reification of women in Dickens with the neighbors would be as needless an indiscretion as would be his neighbor, the analyst at Lehman Brothers, sharing details about the latest company he has helped take public.

I entered the academy so that my leisurely love of works of the imagination and my religious love of the contemplation of God might be at one with the necessities of gainful employment.  It would seem many of my colleagues have also found a way to make leisure, religion, and work one, by reducing the intellectual life to a domain for pop culture geeks to vamp about a cult “classic.”

The Slate article tells it by the numbers,

In addition to scouring the Internet to fill out Shone’s Alien bibliography, we also sought out academic writing on The Simpsons, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Wire, and The Matrix trilogy—pop culture favorites known to have provided plenty of PhD fodder over the last couple decades.

Who came out on top?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer by a mile. More than twice as many papers, essays, and books have been devoted to the vampire drama than any of our other choices—so many that we stopped counting when we hit 200. Buffy even has its own journal: Slayage, a publication of the Whedon Studies Association (named for the show’s creator, Joss Whedon), which features titles like “Real Vampires Don’t Wear Shorts: The Aesthetics of Fashion in Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Killing us Softly? A Feminist Search for the ‘Real’ Buffy.”

I have argued elsewhere and ad nauseum that the contemplative life is the natural fulfillment of human life; to fall in love with the Truth and to rest in it is the particularly excellent life for the human person.  Clearly this is true, and my colleagues simply have substituted their own, inestimably better, semantics for mine: to wit,  the academic life has become the prolongation of adolescence.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

avatar Nathan June 18, 2012 at 10:39 am

thanks for this brave post.

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