Studying Your Television

The last two weeks have seen academic conferences on The Sopranos and Buffy The Vampire Slayer at Fordham University and Henderson State University respectively. What did they have to offer?

The Fordham conference featured papers on “Carmela Soprano as Emma Bovary: European Culture, Taste, and Class in The Sopranos“, “A ‘Finook’ in the Crew: Vito Spatafore, The Sopranos, and the Queering of the Mob Genre,” and (prepare to groan) “Slouching Toward Jersey: The Sopranos and Yeats.” The conference also drew connections between the series and Tom Stoppard, Flannery O’Connor, Bakhtinian dialogical texts, and Foucault (thrice before 10 AM, one report points out), proving that.. everything is connected, I guess.

Remember, The Sopranos is the critically acclaimed series; we also study less-exalted series, like Buffy. At that conference, papers addressed “Gender Stereotypes and the Image of Domesticity in Firefly“, and “Hero’s Journey, Heroine’s Return: Buffy, Eurydice and the Orpheus Myth.” Ninety papers are being presented at this conference. Don’t imagine this conference as a pioneer in Buffy studies; it was the third on the topic.

The Sopranos was clearly a very accomplished work of television, and I’m not going to suggest it wouldn’t be worthy of academic consideration at some point, but isn’t a year after the series’ close a little premature for scholarly canonization? A four-day conference? With sixty research presentations? Buffy finished in 2003. I guess that explains why it has thirty more papers than the Sopranos conclave? I suppose historical distance isn’t dead after all.

The acceleration of the pace of critical attention has advanced to truly ridiculous lengths. Wait a few years to assess a series’ lasting impact? Nonsense – start writing at the commercial break! Why write the last paper on Yeats when you could write the first (or sixtieth, at least) on The Sopranos.

The trend is exacerbated with the rise of critical theory, as it comes to matter less and less if works involved any intentional artistic worth, as long as they provide raw matter for examination; there are sure-fire critical angles guaranteed to yield material, no matter what the subject: “Queering of the Mob Genre” – check, “Buffy and Feminism” – check, “Gender Stereotypes and the Image of Domesticity in Firefly” – check. Any one of these and half a dozen more topics are guaranteed to justify three Foucault quotes before lunch.

Anthony Paletta

Anthony Paletta is a freelance writer.

One thought on “Studying Your Television”

  1. Possibly I’m missing something, but although I found “The Sopranos” fine television, I didn’t see that it had anything noteworthy that, say, the first couple of years of “Homicide: Life on the Streets” didn’t. I wonder if all the fuss, in academia and otherwise, is in part from people who want to believe that although yes, they do watch television, they only watch the stuff that is deep and worth academic study.
    And as to Buffy–Xena could wipe the floor with her.

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