tv Popular Culture CSPAN October 20, 2013 1:40pm-2:01pm EDT
documenting the ancestors, a lot of scientists have said maybe the genes do. so if we compare genes from different animals representing those different, major groups, we can make some projections back in time as to when we would find, when this common ancestor of those animals might have existed. and the rule is that the greater the degree of similarity between two genes or proteins in different animals, the shorter the time they diverge from a common ancestor, the greater the distance in the genes the longer back was the period of the divergence, sometimes called the deep divergence hypothesis. what i show in the book is that that method of trying to account for the missing ancestral fossils or to establish the common ancestors doesn't work either. and the reason it doesn't work is two main reasons. the first is that depending on which proteins or genes you choose to compare, you get very conflicting trees showing different relationships between
all the different animals, different branching points, different transitional nodes in the tree of life. and so i argue that if this method of investigation is giving us a true historical signal, we should get an unambiguous signal, one that is giving us a single tree that is telling us the story of one historical unfolding of life. after all, history only happened once. that we get so many conflicting trees, i think, raises question about whether the method is sending a historical signal at all. the other problem with this method of investigation is that it begs the question, it says that the degree of difference between two proteins or genes in different animals is an indication of how long ago theydiverged from a common ancestor. but that they diverged from a common ancestor is presupposed from the outset of the investigation. and it's presupposed in all the algorithms that analyze and compare the gene sequences.
so you can't use a method of investigation that presupposes a common ancestor to establish the existence of a common ancestor. that's the argument i make in that section of the book. >> host: "darwin's doubt" is published by harpercollins. what's on the cover here? >> guest: that's a wonderful -- [inaudible] with all that intricate and beautiful structure from the dawn of animal life. >> host: how old that? >> guest: about 530 million years, maybe a little less. >> host: we've been talking with stephen meyer of the discovery institute. thanks for being on booktv. >> guest: thanks for having me on. great conversation. >> paul cantor talked with booktv about the invisible hand in popular churl at freedom fest, a libertarian conference in las vegas. he looks at the themes of liberty and freedom that have appeared in movies and telephone shows over the past decades. -- television shows.
>> host: and now we want to introduce you to university of virginia professor paul cantor who is also an author. professor cantor, before we get into your most recent book, what do you teach at the university of virginia? >> guest: i teach both in the english department and in comparative literature. for example, i teach a world literature survey course for the or fall semester, i teach a course called fiction of empire, people like rudyard kipling and all the books that came out the british empire. so a lot of different things. also shakespeare. i've written mostly about shakespeare. >> host: can you make connections between all of those authors you just namedsome. >> guest: oh, absolutely. that's my profession. >> host: what's one of the connections that you make? >> guest: well, i'm generally interested in politics and how people perceive politics, and these things go all the way from homer to the american western.
so i have an essay in this new book that compares the great trilogy with john ford's the movie "the searchers, and they're both stories about revenge, they're both stories that explore the boundary between civilization and barbarism. i'm really interested in the continuity, how things change over time. but you can do wonderful comparisons when you take the same subject and look at a greek tragedy and an american western movie. >> host: well, your newest book is called "the invisible hand in popular culture." what are you attempting to do with this book? >> guest: i'm examining the issue of free come in american poppe -- freedom in american popular culture, and i'm particularly interested in the debate between liberty versus authority. take movies, television shows, some want more liberty, some want more authority. it's the great debate that's run through our politics from day one in the united states.
>> host: so when a writer writes a film or a director directs one, are they looking at larger issues besides just an entertainment vehicle? >> guest: you know, i don't have a simple rule for that. sometimes they are. for example, david mill cher's television show, "deadwood," and he's a very serious author. in other cases i think it's more the luck of the draw that a show ends up coming up with serious themes. for example, "south park," trey parker and matt stone, they're real libertarians, and i trace libertarian themes in that show. i'm open to any possibility. sometimes the authors are deliberately doing what i'm saying, sometimes they're not. >> host: well, when it comed to "deadwood," what is the author's motive, do you think? >> guest: his theme? his theme is what he calls water out of mud. he's very interested in the way social institutions develop
spontaneously. he was interested in deadwood because this was a touch which for various reasons is outside any government jurisdiction. and we normally think that would produce anarchy, and it does produce a lot of violence, a lot of dangerous things, but what he wanted to show in that program is how people of their own free will and on their own effort develop institutions. so, for example, a mining town. even in the absence of government, they're able to establish property rights. that's very much like john locke. i used john locke's second treatise of government to analyze that show. i'm always trying to bring together these aspects of philosophy and high culture with things that we, i think, unjustly think of as mere low culture today. >> host: well, speaking of, pardon me, but low culture, you've written about "gilligan's island." >> guest: yes, i have. >> host: in a previous book. >> guest: yes. i offered "gilligan's island" as a microcosm of american
democracy and that it examined the various claims to rule which would stand out in america, wealth in the case of mr. howell, the skipper's military presence, the professor's intelligence. and it showed that gilligan, the man without qualities, he really was representative of america and was the heart of the show. >> she havewood schwartz, the producer, was thrilled with that analysis and he, in fact, confirmed it. said that's what he was trying to do. >> host: was it reflective of the era? >> guest: oh, absolutely. i was particularly fascinated going back and watching it to see how many cold war themes there were in it. there was an episode about russian cosmonauts, several episodes about missiles and the race to the moon. it's very interesting to see how these shows do reflect their time. >> host: well, back to your newest book, "the invisible hand in popular culture," who is director edgar ohlmer?
>> guest: he is one of those guys who was forgotten during his own lifetime and now has been brought back. he was a immigrant from the us a to-hungarian empire. he made many, many cheap, bad movies. he's, in fact, called the king of the b movies, but he made, i think, the greatest horror movie ever called the black cat, he made one of the most famous film noir movies, detour. and i use them as an example of how, in fact, pop culture is if contact with high culture. he worked with some of the great european directors like f.w -- [inaudible] and he ended up working in what was called poverty row in hollywood churning out cheap movies where they started with a title and made something up. and yet he made something of it, and the french film theorists discovered him in the 1950s and made a hero out of him. >> host: what about gene rodden
bury and star trek? >> guest: well, that's a chapter that's actually on the tv show have gun, will travel. i made the odd discovery that gene rodden berry early in his career as a tv writer had written 24 codes of this wonderful -- episodes of this wonderful show have gun, will travel. and i went into it totally object i, and i wanted to see could i find anything of star trek in this series? it turns out a lot of the genesis of star trek is in that series. the hero in the show would go around the west and encounter these strange towns where he didn't know what was going on, and he'd have to straighten them out. and that became the prototype of the enterprise going to these planets ruled by three accurates and evil dictators. i was very interested to see the continuity there. >> host: now, professor cantor, we're here at freedom fest, a libertarian gathering in las vegas. the subtitle of your book is
"liberty v. authority in american film and tv." what's your message here at the freedom? >> guest: well, my message is that libertarianism can help us understand culture, including popular culture. i think for a long time popular culture, the study of popular culture was the excuse to preserve of marxism and generally the left. i tried to show that people with a libertarian perspective can have interesting things to say about popular culture and often find libertarian themes in popular culture, "south park" is the best example. i have this chapter which deals with its libertarianism. but i try to find ways in which a libertarian take on freedom comes up on our american pop culture. >> host: what about the western in general? >> guest: well, there's a perfect example of this conflict between liberty and authority. some westerns like have gun, will travel treat ordinary people as if they can't take care of themselves. would come into a small town, it
was run by a corrupt mayor, a vicious sheriff, some kind of businessman, and he would straighten it out. and to me, there's a kind of a paternalism in that. i would contrast it with "deadwood" where the sense is people can take care of themselves. they're not at at a complete loss. i think the western has alternated between what i'll call a hobbs perspective and a locke perspective. hobbs thought left to themselves people will end up in a war against all. locke thought people can develop societies, property on their own. i find it fascinating how that dialogue between these two great philosophers plays out in the american western. >> host: do you see examples in hollywood and popular culture of social utopianism and authority? >> guest: oh, absolutely. and also dystopianism, showing that utopia can turn out to be very bad. i talk about a lot of alien invasion films or tv shows, and
many of them -- there was one called "v" that lasted about two, three seasons. aliens showed up promising a utopia. very strange, they were promising universal health care, blue energy and public works projects, and it got people very concerned that somehow this was a comment on the obama administration. but anyway, that show presented this as a kind of faustian bargain that people would give away their freedom for the sake of this material utopia. i look at that in a number of shows like "fringe" as well. >> host: who did you write this book for? is this a scholarly book or a popular book? >> guest: well, i'm hoping it's both. et has a lot of footnotes and uses scholarship, but i have been told that i have the common touch and, you know, it's basically about westerns, about flying saucer movies, about
the -- about "south park." and i hope that both audiences can enjoy the book. >> host: is there a danger that you're putting motives into directors and writers that don't exist? >> guest: you know, there's a danger, but i don't see the harm that would be done. i have an introduction that discusses the book method logically and explains why, in fact, a model of intention is a little naive. very often we have the notion that there's a single author who must have everything planned out in advance. one thing i've learned about television particularly, but movies as well, is they are collaborative ventures, and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. writers, we have the fiction that a tv show's written by the one writer. in fact, as with movies whole teams write these shows, and i've talked to some writers. they play off each other. they don't go into it knowing what they're doing or having a full developed intention, but by
the time they're through, they have developed a work of art that has intentionality. that's my decision. that may sound too scholarly, but i think a work can have intentionality without a single person having a simple intention in creating it. if it holds together as a work of art, i'm happy. >> host: in the preface you write: america was born a rebellion, and its popular culture has embraced rebelliousness ever since. >> guest: yeah. and i think that's true. and that's why many cultural elitists don't like popular culture. they find it unruly and rebellious, and one of my themes is that popular culture is itself an expression of american freedom. and, sure, a lot of it's garbage and often that freedom gets misused, but i love american popular culture because i think it is very great art, and it reflects this wonderful spirit of independence that america was founded on. >> host: paul cantor, what's a television show, a popular
culture show today that you're watching regularly? >> guest: "the walking dead." >> host: why? >> guest: i'm now into zombies. for years i resisted zombies, but people kept saying you've got to watch this show, and many of my analyses are of shows that present disasters. the government falls apart, society falls apart. and i suddenly realized these zombie matters are like that. and once again they split along these lines. this movie, "world war sister," that -- "world war z" they have to resort to, in this case, the u.n. and to scientists and military special forces and brad pitt, all these elitist things. yet "the walking dead" is just the opposite. it shows a world in which people when they fall back on their own resources do very well. it's a horrifying situation, but they grow, they find -- they rise to the challenge. i really like that spirit of the show. it's also just very well written and very well cast.
>> host: were you able to talk to hollywood directors, hollywood writers about their work? >> guest: you know, it's very hard to reach these people. i did -- vince gilligan who does "breaking bad," he came to charlottesville for the film festival, and the directer of the festival arranged a kind of private meeting, and it was wonderful. i have to tell you, he's a real artist. all these things that happen are planned out. he was able to tell us what color scheme he planned for the whole season. these people don't like to say they're artists, they don't like to have to be responsible to a critical public in that, but most of them are really very, very talented and as talented as the great novelists or playwrights we looked to in the past. >> host: the effect of 9/11 on popular culture. >> guest: well, that's a big question that i deal with in the
last section of this book. on one level very interesting to see that all the predictions about 9/11 and its effect on culture proved to be untrue. people at the time said we're going back to world war ii movies, we're going to have patriotism, we're going to have the old style american hero. there was a little bit of that, but, in fact -- and in particular people said we won't have shows that are skeptical about the government anymore. now, we're talking fall of 2001. people particularly said the "x-files" was finished, and indeed, it went off in the spring of 2002. but i defend the "x-files" as a show that in its last episode it really took a critical stance with regard to the war on terror. it really raised, i think, very important issues about how the erosion of civil liberties.
and also in its spin-off, the lone gunman, it had actually predicted nerve, the most uncanny thing, i think, in the history of television. in march 2001, the debut of the show the lone gunman, it was about terrorists running a boeing plane into the world trade center. i mean, the fbi and cia were interviewing these guys a couple of months later. it was just a coincidence, but i felt it showed how much that the "x-files" and the spin-offs had anticipated the problems of conspiracy theories. and in general, very quickly shows went back to -- i think in a hell hawaii way -- raise questions -- healthy way -- raise questions about the militarization of the police in the united states. "fringe" is a great show about that. i think that was a fascinating reaction to 9/11. in fact, it imagines that a parallel universe, it imagines a parallel universe in which 9/11
did not happen and the u.s. turns out to be more militarized in that universe, if you can believe it. >> host: could you write an entire book about the harry potter or series based on your themes? >> guest: i suppose i could, but i'm going to have to confess that i don't know the harry potter books or the movies. i have a certain confidence in myself that i could work up something on it, but -- [laughter] you know, i have to explain to people you can't do everything. i haven't read every book, i haven't seen every movie or television show. but from the little i've heard -- a friend of mine that did a wonderful essay on toll -- tolkien and the fascination with wizards, i think i could come up with something. >> host: and finally, professor cantor, if you could describe the cover of your book. >> guest: well, the cover was an attempt to show the continuity between american patriotism and spirit of independence and popular culture today. so we have a famous, iconic
image, the spirit of 1776, and then we have john wayne and william shatner and then someone who is not eric, bears a slight resemibalance to him but is not for legal reasons. [laughter] but we thought that captured the spirit of the book, showing that american popular culture has its roots in 1776. >> host: and paul cantor is the author of this book, "the invisible hand in popular culture: liberty v. authority in american film and tv." thank you for joining us. >> guest: well, thank you for having me here. it was a great pleasure. >> visit booktv.org to watch any of the programs you see here online. type the author or book title in the search bar on the upper left side of the page and click search. you can also share anything you see on booktv.org easily by clicking share on the upper left side of the page and selecting the format. booktvea