Pop Culture Wars

A class on Moby Dick currently underway at my institution of higher learning (and lower earning) has made use of references to said novel in popular culture. I rather like the idea, and as I am interested in the ways in which the literature of my period(s) (Early Modern and the Long Eighteenth Century) has persisted over time, I thought I would note down usage when I encountered it. Hence last week's post on Studio 60.

On Friday, I was less shocked than aggravated to hear the judge presiding over the Anna Nicole Smith body case -- which at this point has begun to take on a distinctly Burke-and-Hare feel -- compare the now noisomely deceased former person to Shakespeare's Ophelia. "She's a complex person," the judge said. Matt Lauer, in his metacommentary on the media's coverage of the story, cited greed, treachery, and "a climax more dramatic than an episode of Law and Order" as the similarities. His interviewee, Dr. Keith Ablow, said that the case "certainly does have the elements of a Shakespearean drama."

I realize that my instinct to rush to Shakespeare's defense is that of the intellectual elitist who forgets that a fair amount of the best work ever to appear in the English language did so between bear-baitings and amidst an unsavory collection of prostitutes and venereal diseases. Nevertheless, I weep to think that the 21st-century answer to Shakespeare might actually be Anna Nicole Smith. As my students make ever clearer, however, my hopes to beat the Lauers and Ablows of the world must ultimately come to naught. The best I can hope for, then, is to correct them.

To wit:

Anna Nicole Smith has precious little in common with Ophelia. If comparisons to Hamlet must be drawn, it seems clear that she is much more like Gertrude--a rich widowed woman in a dubious relationship with a money-and-power seeking man, who also has an equally dubious relationship with a suicidal son, who didn't get on with said money-and-power seeking man. How the presiding judge in the case could overlook these obvious parallels is beyond me.

Stepping away from Shakespeare and focusing attention on the baby, I find the story to be rather entertainingly Dickensian. An orphaned child? Unknown paternity? A mother of questionable morals dead before her time? A contested will? A fortune in the balance? Bleak House, anyone? Great Expectations? Oliver Twist?

What say you? If we must defile what canon-ballers call Literature with comparisons to the tabloid tawdries of our own time, should we not take pains to make them accurate? What text do you think this coffin-load of unfortunates digs up?


Liesl said...

This is why I love the "next blog" button: finding gems like your blog. Love it!

Scriblerus said...

Thanks so much! I love the idea of a commonplace book as well--I'll actually be working with them (tangentially) for my dissertation.

Liesl said...

Oh, now you know you have to tell me about your dissertation! I love having commonplace books and have been keeping them since 1989. Yow, I'm old. Anyway, I didn't get my PhD (life got in the way) but I was thinking about doing a diss on Kant and his notion of sublimity in relation to either Wagner or Kandinsky. I need to explore your blog a bit more.

Oh, we also write a shoe blog: www.nouglyshoes.blogspot.com

Scriblerus said...

I was just talking about Kant and the sublime with respect to an Aesthetics and Cognitive Science course I'm auditing. Brains, for lack of a better term, are neat!

Liesl said...

How very cool! Which other classes are you taking this semester?

Scriblerus said...

None--I'm now ABD. I can hardly remember how I managed to do the reading for a full courseload, in fact; but then, I wasn't teaching.