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August 3, 2009

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Sacred Texts

All this gabbin’ ‘bout Shakespeare makes me wonder - what are the sacred, that is, foundational, texts for us? (Feel free to variously define “us.”)

I mean Shakespeare’s plays are one; I think the Bible is or ought to be another; The Simpsons, seasons 2-8; the original Star Wars trilogy; Sophocles; The Great Gatsby; Goodfellas…

I’m half kidding, one quarter reaching, and one quarter deadly serious; what cultural references are now, for you, and in your interactions with others, just assumed, like the way Moby Dick assumes King Lear, Paradise Lost, and the King James Bible?

Posted August 3, 2009 at 5:44 | Comments (8) | Permasnark
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Briefly Noted, Movies, Society/Culture, Television


Of course this is fairly dependent on the "others" with whom one is interacting, right? I don't assume my mother knows Star Wars, but I shore do 'xpect my brothers to. I teach at a small liberal arts college, and I tend to assume my colleagues would get a Shakespeare ref (although you won't find me making them all that often), but I'd probably keep it to myself if I was with my brothers.

And I'm assuming you're asking about taken-for-granted texts among a larger group than one's family or close friends--not the "inside jokes" of a decades long friendship, though those are fascinating to uncover when you encounter someone else's in the wild.

I'll take Simpsons, Star Wars, and the Bible in your list, and I'll add the following:

- Coen Brothers films, especially Raising Arizona, Bib Lebowski, and O Brother
- American Idol
- Harry Potter books and movies
- Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe
- Superman, Batman, maybe Spiderman
- Pygmalion/My Fair Lady and Singin in the Rain
- Gone with the Wind and Casablanca

Gonna stop there, but am intrigued to see what others would add delete--great post idea.

Lol. Now I want to see The Bib Lebowski.... "It's 40 years in the past, and Jeff Lebowski is a bit of a slob, with constant creamy white milk stains on his bib wherever he goes."

- Infinite Jest
- Dark Side of the Moon
- Seinfeld
- The Sopranos
- The Stand
- Kid A

Ooh, I forgot about music! The Beatles, definitely - and Bob Dylan and Kind of Blue...

There are a LOT of indie rock references on the net, which is probably a generational/shared-subcultural thing more than anything else.

Definitely second "The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe" and superheroes. Superheroes are a big one--the fact that Matt Yglesias could reasonably advance a "Green Lantern theory of geopolitics," and expect people to understand the reference, is meaningful.

Google, honestly. I know Google isn't a text, but... maybe it is?

Certain video games. Super Mario Brothers 1-3. Legend of Zelda.

Maybe another way to parse "sacred text" is "something you can quote to win an argument." In this sense, this might include - The Beatles, sure, and The Simpsons, maybe The Godfather, but also Gandhi, or Walter Benjamin... Anytime you can conclude a point with "It's like _____ says: .... " you're really quoting secular scripture.

Ah! I *like* that definition. Very sharp.

Such a great question. Strongly disagree with the first few comments though - those just sound either like popular texts or ones that are really great, but perhaps under-recognised. It didn't seem like that's what was being asked.

I would, however, still stick with the Simpsons. I'd do so for more than just the unending references - the ubiquitous cromulence, if you will. I think it's about the way the pacing and cadence and inflection of that humour has permeated web culture. What is the "...wait, what?" joke but the manifestation of the Simpsons' style?

But as for those texts you could win an argument with, my totally biased list:

- Derrida: funnily, in disagreeing with Fukuyama, he showed why we had sorta', kinda' *have* reached 'the end of history' or something like it; but instead of the reign of liberal-humanist democracies, we're seeing the first signs of their obsolescence.

- Baurdrillard: yeah, he got people angry with his 9/11 stuff, but his schtick is still *really* fucking eerie in just how prescient it seems, even despite its flaws.

- Star Trek: it envisioned the future as the universe-al spread of eurocentric, liberal-humanism; every time we use the term 'developing', we're living in the same legacy.

- Yes to Kind of Blue. I wonder though if there's other stuff - I dunno, The Velvet Underground or Lead Belly or something - that becomes like the always-present unconscious of music, unknown in its influence, but there nonetheless.

- I guess there's always the Freud/Darwin/Nietzsche trifecta - the people who 'gave birth to modernism' (no, not really - but you know what I mean, right?)

- if it were up to me, in 30 years from now, Gayatri Spivak would be on this list, but it isn't, so...

- As for fiction... DeLillo? Rushdie?

Anyway, hastily thought out, but a great question.

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