Saturday, February 07, 2015


I came across this book by Paul A. Cantor this morning from Google Alerts (a most useful source on “invisible hands”) and my first thought was that it was a candidate for Lost Legacy’s  “Loony Tunes” irregular column. But reading on I realised it was meant seriously, though not, in my view, really relevant to our debate.
What the author means by the invisible hand is not as a Smithian metaphor; he refers, instead to the IH in its post-Samuelson sense as a so-called catch-all phrase for the current meaning of free-market, laissez-faire capitalism in which the role government is the enemy of hard Libertarianism.
The Book
 “The Invisible Hand in Popular Culture: Liberty vs. Authority in American Film and TV” by Paul A. Cantor, The University Press of Kentucky (2012).
The Book’s Blurb:
“Popular culture often champions freedom as the fundamentally American way of life and celebrates the virtues of independence and self-reliance. But film and television have also explored the tension between freedom and other core values, such as order and political stability. What may look like healthy, productive, and creative freedom from one point of view may look like chaos, anarchy, and a source of destructive conflict from another. Film and television continually pose the question: Can Americans deal with their problems on their own, or must they rely on political elites to manage their lives?
In this groundbreaking work, Paul A. Cantor explores the ways in which television shows such as Star Trek, The X-Files, South Park, and Deadwood and films such as The Aviator and Mars Attacks! have portrayed both top-down and bottom-up models of order. Drawing on the works of John Locke, Adam Smith, Alexis de Tocqueville, and other proponents of freedom, Cantor contrasts the classical liberal vision of America -- particularly its emphasis on the virtues of spontaneous order -- with the Marxist understanding of the "culture industry" and the Hobbesian model of absolute state control.
The Invisible Hand in Popular Culture concludes with a discussion of the impact of 9/11 on film and television, and the new anxieties emerging in contemporary alien-invasion narratives: the fear of a global technocracy that seeks to destroy the nuclear family, religious faith, local government, and other traditional bulwarks against the absolute state.”
One of the book’s reviewer’s comments:
“Ryan’s” Amazon Review (6 May 2013:) HERE“Ryan’s” Amazon Review (6 May 2013)
Cantor, an expert on Shakespeare and a professor of English at the University of Virginia, has again returned to the topic of television and film with his new book The Invisible Hand in Popular Culture: Liberty vs. Authority in American Film and TV, and further expands on the topics of globalization, markets, and state power first presented in his 2001 book Gilligan Unbound.
This new volume is even more substantial than the previous one, featuring ten essays on film and television ranging from UFO movies to Westerns to South Park. In addition, the introduction provides an extensive discussion on the very nature of pop culture, how it is produced, and how it should be interpreted.
Written in clear language for the curious layman, but carefully footnoted for the scholar, Invisible Hand helps us look in a new way at the images on the screen that undeniably have an enormous effect on the viewer's notions of history, government, freedom, and the human experience.
Cantor begins by explaining the conflict between liberty and authority by looking at two distinct and opposing options in the Western genre offered by the television shows 'Have Gun - Will Travel' (1957-1963) and 'Deadwood' (2004-2006).
'Have Gun' provides the (conventional and authoritarian) view offered by Westerns, and as Cantor notes, the show's hero Paladin imposes order on a frontier composed largely of racist rubes, petty tyrants and superstitious fools. Every town, it seems, has a lynch mob, and the "unending sequence of tyrannical rich men" in 'Have Gun' sets the stage for many showdowns between the enlightened and refined hero Paladin and his backward enemies.
Paladin, Cantor notes, looks remarkably like the members of the ruling class in Washington D.C.

It was of course inevitable that once the non-Smithian fable that Smith’s wholly innocent use of the “invisible-hand” metaphor was transmuted by some classsical economists into “laissez-faire” markets (for ‘merchants and manufacturers’ - but sadly not for consumers), followed later by neo-classical economists into an alleged miraculous property of ‘capitalism’ and the original error would be compounded when non-economists re-applied the notion to their own subject specialisms. Hence Professor Cantor’s innocent contributions, which while interesting are not really funny enough for Loony Tunes.
[A correspondent has chastised me for spelling Loony Tunes without and 'e'. I am always grateful for helpful readers correcting errors but my reasons for spelling 'Loony' without and 'e' is to avert any litigious claims that I am using a protected copyright title from the owners of the popular film/tv cartoon programme's use of Looney with an 'e'. OK?]


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