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Gilligan Unbound

Pop Culture in the Age of Globalization

Paul A. Cantor

In Gilligan Unbound, a distinguished Shakespeare scholar and literary critic proves once and for all that popular culture can be every bit as complex, meaningful, and provocative as the most celebrated works of literature-and a lot more fun. Paul Cantor analyzes and interprets a wide variety of classic television programs with the same seriousness, care, and creativity as he would Hamlet or Macbeth to reveal how dramatically America's image of itself has evolved from the 1960s to the present. Cantor demonstrates how, during the 1960s, Gilligan's Island and Star Trek reflected America's faith in liberal democracy and our willingness to project it universally. Gilligan's Island, Cantor argues, is based on the premise that a representative group of Americans could literally be dumped in the middle of nowhere and still prevail under the worst of circumstances. Star Trek took American optimism even further by trying to make the entire galaxy safe for democracy. Despite the famous Prime Directive, Captain Kirk and his crew remade planet after planet in the image of an idealized 1960s America. With the end of the Cold War and the onset of unprecedented globalizing forces, faith in the American way of life has wavered. Contrary to the claims of those unacquainted with the cartoon, Cantor shows why The Simpsons is actually a powerful defense of the nuclear family and local communities, which has grown out of our growing disillusionment with national politics. In The X-Files we witness the treacherous workings of a government conspiracy, conveying the geopolitical anxiety that has emerged with the collapse of the clear-cut ideological polarities of the Cold War. By observing such trends in American popular culture, Cantor concludes that what had originally appeared to be the ultimate triumph of liberal democracy may in fact signal the beginning of a new phase of history, in which traditional forms of political organization have become obsolete and are being replaced by new global networks. Gilligan Unbound is a celebration of the profound possibilities offered by the study of pop culture. Cantor, without condescending to either his readers or his subject matter, rescues the serious study of popular culture from academic jargon and incomprehensible prose. See for yourself why his award-winning essays on professional wrestling and The Simpsons have attracted worldwide attention, and why the National Enquirer calls him a 'top prof.' « less more »
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 304Size: 6 1/4 x 9
978-0-7425-0779-1 • Paperback • August 2003 • $24.95 • (£15.95)
Paul A. Cantor has taught at Harvard University and currently is professor of English at the University of Virginia. He served on the National Council on the Humanities from 1992 to 1999. He is the author of books and numerous essays on Shakespeare, Romanticism, literary theory, comparative literature, and many other subjects.
Chapter 1 Introduction
Part 2 National Television and the Democratic Ideology of America
Chapter 3 "The Courage of the Fearless Crew": Gilligan's Island and the Americanization of the Globe
Chapter 4 Shakespeare in the Original Klingon: Star Trek and the End of History
Part 5 Global Television and the Decline of the Nation State
Chapter 6 Simpson Agonistes: Atomistic Politics, the Nuclear Family, and the Globalization of Springfield
Chapter 7 Mainstreaming Paranoia: The X-Files and the Delegitimation of the Nation-State
Chapter 8 Conclusion: "There's No Place Like Home"
A brilliant professor turns TV critic, and finds literature, politics, and philosophy in four favorite series from the 1960s to the 1990s. Paul Cantor makes wonderful sense in simple prose of America's slide toward globalization, as seen on TV. An innovative book bursting with wit, a treat for the mind. It may make you believe that watching TV is not a total waste of time.
Harvey Mansfield, Professor of Government, Harvard University; Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution

Cantor provides a fascinating frame for discussions of popular culture.
Publishers Weekly

Gilligan Unbound is a fun read and a deep analysis—altogether an amazing achievement. As a lively and perceptive student of our culture, Cantor can't be beat.
William Kristol, editor, The Weekly Standard

Paul Cantor is a serious theorist who takes popular culture seriously—but with a light touch. What he gives us is a book with genuine insight into the nature of our times, one that shows how examination of the everyday can lead us directly to the deepest questions of human life and philosophy.
Francis Fukuyama, author of The End of History and the Last Man

As a student of American popular culture, Paul Cantor is the best. His scholarship is wonderful, learned, generous, and luminous. Cantor sees the serious dimension of ostensibly trivial things—and the trivial in the ostensibly serious—and he gives his readers remarkable access to the American soul. Gilligan Unbound is a grand book, indispensable for anyone who wants to understand contemporary American life and thought.
Wilson Carey McWilliams, Rutgers University

A provocative book about the changes in pop culture during the last four decades.
The Washington Times

What the hell is he talking about?
E. D. Hirsch Jr., author of Cultural Literacy

Brilliant book. Books on television written by academics are always terrible. Gilligan Unbound is the exception that proves the rule. Cantor's book succeeds despite the fact that it is about television. His insights about life today are so intelligent that they sparkle despite being expressed in the context of pop-culture criticism.
The Weekly Standard

Paul A. Cantor is a strange creature: a conservative professor of English at the University of Virginia who specializes in Shakespeare, loves pop culture, and is flat-out funny. . . . What makes Cantor's reflections impressive and credible is that, like a thimbleful of other conservatives such as Thomas Hibbs and John Podhoretz, Cantor absorbs the culture. He understands that it houses the bad and the good.
Jonathan V. Last; Los Angeles Times

In this interesting book, Paul Cantor wants to see how globalization has itself become a theme in specific TV programs, and how they express changing attitudes toward the process. Cantor does not hide behind the scholarly jargon and methodoly so many popular culture scholars employ—scholars writing about the interests of the common man in terms the common man can never understand. In short, he takes popular culture seriously, but not too seriously. This book asks for a new respect for our popular culture and its role in our society.
The Roanoke Times

One of the Best Books of 2001—NonfictionCantor has accomplished something so rare that it seems phenomenal: he has written a conservative book on pop culture that is smart and felicitous. Cantor has laid out a blueprint for how conservatives should engage the culture in the future.
Los Angeles Times

A refreshing exception to the rule of academicians writing about popular culture.
Claremont Review of Books

With the publication of Gilligan Unbound, Mr.Cantor has presented a complex and involved thesis lucidly and entertainingly.
The Virginia Advocate

Providing an in-depth analysis of Gilligan's Island, Star Trek,The Simpsons, and The X-Files, the author examines what each series reflected about America in its era. Gilligan Unbound is well-argued.
Foreword Reviews

An amazing work of scholarship that details how these four shows reveal a change in Americans' sense of their place in the world.
Magill's Literary Annual

Far from being another exercise in exotic pedantry, Paul Cantor's new book is timely, readable, and provocative.

An absolutely fine book, well-researched and well-written, convincing, and entertaining. Readers can take pleasure in the essays and be edified even if they have never watched Gilligan's Island, Star Trek, The Simpsons, and The X-Files. Of course, they will enjoy them even more if they are regular viewers of such shows, and be positively elated if they are 'fans.' I unhesitatingly recommend it.
Georges-Claude Guilbert; Cercles

My introduction to Mass Communication course seeks to cause 400 Freshmen and Sophomores to see with different eyes media with which they think they are very familiar. Paul Cantor's Gilligan Unbound has performed that function spendidly. One need not think Cantor identifies the most important messages in these programs to be persuaded that even the most mindless television contains messages students have never noticed before.
Jack Mitchell, University of Wisconsin

Gilligan Unbound was an ideal vehicle for eliciting class discussion on issues of globalization. It also got my class involved in discussions about television as a major part of our common culture. Cantor's book is an intelligent, well researched, and incredibly engaging look at changes in American attitudes towards the world.
Laurie Johnson Bagby, Kansas State University

Professor Cantor has taken the Castaways from Gilligan's Island, and he has used them to show how my characters and their way of life would impact the real world. And he has accomplished this in a very fascinating fashion.
Sherwood Schwartz, Producer of Gilligan's Island

Cantor's discourse has an elegant seriousness that is at the same time inherently laid-back and passionately vivacious.
Discourse & Society

A smart, light-hearted analysis of American TV's attitudes toward globalization. Cantor writes with humor and wit whether discussing Shakespeare references in Star Trek or analyzing the cultural significance of Simpons Kwik-E-Mart owner Apu Nahasapeemapetilon and shows that TV's treasures and trash alike can offer serious commentary on the state of the world.
Eli Lehrer; The American Enterprise