Call for Comments: There’s a TV Show About an English Department… So We Have to Discuss It?

From Hannah: On August 20, Netflix will release its new mini-series The Chair featuring Sandra Oh. It also happens to be about an English department at the fictional, elite Pembroke University. A new trailer dropped a few weeks back and, well, I already have thoughts:

promo poster for The Chair

There’s a conversation that goes beyond this one show. For example, we can certainly talk about how professors, universities, and academia is portrayed in popular culture and how well that matches up to reality. There’s also something particular about thinking about the humanities and literature in pop culture (although how much of that we’ll see in The Chair remains to be seen).

But who am I kidding? I just … feel a compulsion to watch this and talk about it with other former and current members of English departments. Is this not tailor-made for our show and many friends of the show?

From Mav: I think there’s a lot to talk about here. The concept of the academic novel has long “been a thing.” A big part of this, I think is because of egotism… novelists, like everyone else, have a bit of self-interest and people like to write what they know. So there’s a tendency to sort of glamorize (and also criticize) the academic life that… uh… academics have. From Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to Wonder Boys to Publish and Perish to Stover at Yale and a bajillion others, there’s a tendency to mythologize the scholarly life and make it… sexy… for those of us involved in it.

But I also think there’s more to it than that. I think there’s an interest outside of the academy… there must be or Netflix wouldn’t be bothering with this. Part of it is maybe trying to say “You know Animal House and American Pie movies aren’t really what it’s like. It’s like this!” but I don’t think that’s just it either. I think a lot of what academia is can be kind of a black box (or… well, ivory tower) to those on the outside and that leads to a fascination with it… just like with hospital doctors or lawyers or cops… or whatever else we make procedural drama TV shows about.

Also, Sandra Oh is really funny.

So yeah, like Hannah said, how should we approach this? We obviously have a lot of friends and listeners who are going to relate to this (for better or worse) so what are your thoughts?

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