Critics Unpack “The Suitcase”
September 6th, 2010
It’s pretty much consistent across the board: last night’s Mad Men, “The Suitcase,” was a season and even series highlight. As Todd VanDerWerff put it in his must-read review at The A.V. Club,
This is the kind of episode that, years from now, we’ll think of when we try to remember just what it was we loved about Mad Men, an episode that uses virtually every weapon in the show’s arsenal, yet leaves almost all of its moments and scenes unexpected. It’s so good that I want to call off the rest of the TV season and say this is as good as it’s going to get.
That’s generally the consensus, albeit to different degrees of hyperbole, which would make delving further into the episode myself a bit redundant: I already wrote my rave about the episode, and the week’s reviews pretty much cover everything else. So, instead, I want to spend a bit of time dialoguing with the recently returning Maureen Ryan, who is now the lead television critic at AOL Television (which runs TV Squad). She posted two substantial pieces on the season thus far last week, and then jumped back into the review game with “The Suitcase,” so I figured there’s no better way to welcome her back than to delve a bit further into her commentary (which I’ll do after the break).
While I don’t often delve too far into my academic experiences here at Cultural Learnings, this past weekend offered an interesting convergence of my various different hats, and since I’m going to be more academically involved in television studies in the years ahead I figure now seems like a good time to introduce some of that material here at the blog.
I was in Madison, Wisconsin over the weekend for Fiske Matters, a conference celebrating the legacy of John Fiske, professor emeritus at University of Wisconsin-Madison and considered to be one of the most influential figures in cultural and media studies. In particular, the conference was organized to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of his retirement from academia, and to begin the process of rescuing his work from a few decades of reductive criticism which has unfairly marginalized his contribution to the field.
The majority of people at the conference were themselves products of Fiske’s influential work: most of the attendees were former students, many of whom are now prominent academics within the field and who continue to rely on his teachings when inspiring a new era of scholars. And while I never had the pleasure of studying with Fiske, nor have I ever learned about Fiske in any of my direct academic experience, the conference was a fantastic introduction into the collaborative, creative and engaged academic environment which owes a great deal to Fiske’s work in the field.
I’m not going to be posting my entire presentation (for reasons I’ll get to beneath the fold), but I do want to discuss my paper and then raise some of my observations from the weekend which will hopefully be relevant to both academics and readers who may not be academics but might be interested in seeing how television and media are filtered through an academic lens.
The Scourge of Fandom: Why Lost Owes Us Nothing
January 28th, 2010
If you haven’t seen it yet (which seems unlikely, but whatever), The Onion’s fantastic bit of satire surrounding the final season of Lost making fans more annoying than ever is a wonderful piece of work. With the help of executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, they capture the sense of obsession that surrounds the show’s fans, and there’s just enough nods to the show’s mythology (and to other fandoms: check out the ticker for a shout-out to The Wire that slayed me) to make even the most obsessed crack a smile.
Final Season Of ‘Lost’ Promises To Make Fans More Annoying Than Ever
However, I believe that the Onion has failed to represent an even more annoying segment of Lost viewers that will threaten to destroy the internet as we know it come February 2nd (which is, let’s remember, only five days away). These are the viewers who have either predetermined how producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse must end the show or predetermined that they absolutely cannot end it to their satisfaction. These are the people who believe they deserve to have their questions answered, and that they are in some way owed a finale that lives up to their precise expectations.
And they’re the real problem here.
[Before reading the remainder of this particular article, you are required (okay, okay – urged) to go check out Maureen Ryan’s fantastic, spoiler-free interview with Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, which I’ll be referring to liberally throughout the piece. You can find Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 at her blog]