Thursday, August 30, 2007

public television and academic discourse

Earlier this week, I did something I used to do a lot of when I was much poorer than I am now...I watched PBS.

Now, I enjoy PBS. They do great programming, and their shows are usually intelligent and insightful. However, it's hard for them to compete with stupid, campy fun...what would you rather watch at the end of a long day, Nature or an American Gladiators repeat?

But I did catch a very good episode of Nova on Typhoid Mary. It was cool, and not just because they gave Tony Bourdain a long interview (he's my hero, and I'm contemplating ways to teach his book on Mary). No, it was cool, because it was truly interdisciplinary.

History? Sure it was, but it was more. It also went into the history of science, on how people used to think about diseases...we sometimes forget that antibacterial handsoap has not always been ubiquitous. It also went into class...because the working poor at the time had much greater pressures than the rich. Of course, it went into race...Mary was Irish, and this was at a time when everyone (including government officials) treated them as one of the lowest groups of scum. Damn straight that gender was an issue. And there was plenty of more stuff as well, more approaches.

It does go to show, though, that most of the academic divisions we normally use are fairly arbitrary. We divide disciplines for many reasons, but it's infrequently a neat or surgical affair. There is always overlap. You cannot talk about one thing without having to talk about many others.

And it addressed these issues in a forum available across the country, for free. Man, I need to watch more of this channel.

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