Here is a recent article on the spate of books explaining philosophy through the Simpsons, through the Sopranos, through the Matrix, etc. I don’t really have a problem with all these pop culture books. I don’t find them very fun or illuminating myself, since I’m pretty much out of pop culture, and I’m probably a snob. But I’m certainly not about to tell anyone not to have fun with philosophy. So long as no one claims these books are anything more than fun — like a collection of Calvin and Hobbes cartoons — I don’t see any problem with them. Go have fun, for crying out loud!
But — as the author of the article explains — these books are often sold under the headings of “teaching devices,” or “furthering philosophical discussion.” And there I frown and cast a sideways glance. Sure, anyone can see something philosophical in the unlikeliest of places (tea leaves, comic books, sitcoms). But that doesn’t mean that doing so is anything other than a curious and silly thing. It’s very rare that something philosophically interesting manages to succeed as pop culture, though it does happen from time to time. (Usually when it does, though, it’s a pastel version of something else decidedly non-pop-ish.)
I think it’s a shame that we can’t just celebrate the books as goofy little intellectual exercises among over-educated folks without trying to justify their existence as pedagogical tools or serious cultural advancements. They’re simply fun, not philosophically rich. They’re not the “spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down”; they’re just sugar.
I guess I’m a Scrooge, or just a snob. But why would anyone expect philosophical weight to be conveyed in such flimsy paper boxes? And who wants effortless introductions to deep thoughts? I’m reminded of Nietzsche’s untimely meditation on Schopenhauer as educator, where he discusses the possibility of culture being more than a mere ornament — it’s an ego-shattering challenge that gives us the incentive to move forward and create something of lasting value. Nothing easy about that! And while I’m not sure exactly what that involves, I’m pretty sure that it involves something more than chatting about TV shows.