From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Seinfeld Ethnography (6)—Mr. Bookman, Library Detective

Click here for an introduction to the Round and Square series Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific.
Click below for all "Seinfeld Ethnography" posts: 
Marine Biologist         The Doorman          Opposite George   Newman's Mail   The Bootleg         Marriage
Just Dessert               Sleep Desk             Late Coffee            High Stakes        Motor Oil              Downtown 
Code Cracking           Nonfat Yogurt          Bad Boy                 It's Not You         I Can't Be...          Exploding Wallet
Elaine Flies Coach    The Close Talker     The Alliance           Broccoli               Coated Culture    Dinner Party
Click here for the reference to the "Argonauts" title, below.
[a] I know your type
Argonauts of the Seinfeldian Specific
First, watch the clip.
[b] Pit Bull
Detectives don't get much more earnest than this, at least since the (postmodern) turn toward irony in the televised version of the profession. I had thought that the unambiguously not self-reflexive detective had died out with the last episodes of Dragnet and the original Hawaii Five-O. "Book him, Danno" was the last salvo (or so I thought) of utter seriousness of purpose with nary a hint of the absurd (this is difficult to pull off when hunting criminals on Oahu). I could add a dozen shows to the "serious and unreflective" list, but I'll just mention the first runner-up (it was close): Barnaby Jones.
[c] Now look here
The late-1970s and early-1980s brought a series of detective shows of a completely different nature—intensely aware (in both comic and high drama forms) of their place in a complicated world of good and evil, chance and causation. The first of these was the greatest television show of all time (this is not open for debate on this blog), The Rockford Files. I will be opening a new series of posts on the show, but probably not until 2012. That show was followed by other self-reflexive detective series, from Magnum PI (a sort of playful anti-Hawaii Five-O) and the painfully serious, yet exquisitely ironic Hill Street Blues (which probably would have been the greatest show of all time if it had lasted a few more years).  Runners-up in the reflexivity (if not quality) department? Simon and Simon, The A-Team, and a whole passel of others.

[d] Dragnet, 1952
Take a look at short clips from these detective shows, and see for yourself. If it seems that we are skirting Seinfeld this week, you are very badly mistaken. Mr. Bookman has everything to do with the three decades of television before its time.  In fact, if you don't understand "the history," you don't really understand anything but a funny, isolated character on one episode of Seinfeld.  Mr. Bookman plays Dragnet and Hawaii Five-O to Jerry's Rockford Files and Magnum P.I.  If this seems a little less "intellectual" than other posts, well, you don't quite understand this blog (yet).  Let's take a quick look at each of the key shows that lead us (in my narrative sequencing) to Monsieur Bookman...Library Detective.

We will begin by looking at the very, very, little irony anywhere batch of shows.  Feel free to peruse them. If you are of a certain age (forty or older), these will bring back a few memories.  If you are not of a certain age (say, twenty or younger), you have no idea how serious these matters were on the small screen.  And here is the other historiographical lesson that will have to wait for full explanation on another day. Even these shows are "ironic"...because WE HAVE CHANGED.  Now that's deep.
[e] Ironic-ford Files
Let's now take a look at the "self-consciously ironic turn" in 1970s and 1980s television detectives.  Even the theme songs will tell you that something was different (compare Rockford or Hill Street with Dragnet; it really isn't very difficult to see the point). Even when matters are serious in the shows below, there is a self-referential character that differs markedly from, say, Joe Friday's discourse on pot or the grilling of suspects in a big office on the island called the Gathering Place.
And this all leads to the postmodern, post-ironic turn found in Seinfeld's Mr. Bookman, Library Detective. He is a character, as we say back home, and he channels Joe Friday ("the names have been changed to protect the innocent") and Steve McGarret ("book him, Danno").  He is on the trail of a scofflaw, and he has tracked him down.  His name is Jerry Seinfeld, and he stole a library book in 1971.  Allegedly.

Now watch the clip again. Today's lead-up has been less theoretical than historical.  If you "get" that, you're starting to "get" this blog.  If not, keep reading.  The simple way to put it is this—life is complicated.  Sometimes you need theoretical firepower, and sometimes you need to understand a bunch of stuff.  The latter is true today (until we get to the theory...after the episode).  For now, enjoy Mr. Bookman.  There is plenty of time here to sip your freeze-dried coffee and enjoy a 1950s-1960s the 1990s (while you read in the early 2010s).  Anachronism (sort of), anyone?  That, too, will soon be a Round and Square series, but not quite yet.
Library Detective Mr. Bookman 3:43
It's hard to beat Mr. Bookman as just plain ol' pure television art.  We are going to add a little theory, though.  It just makes it all more fun, if you train yourself to think that way. Yes, I realize that these theoretical readings are "a stretch" when thinking about Mr. Bookman. As I have written already on these pages, I think it is well worth our time to "juxtapose" readings and behavior. Strange and interesting things can happen at any point, and I suggest Georg Simmel, Max Weber, and Edward Shils for this week.

Authority and Social Order—
Theoretical Reflections
Georg Simmel
Authority and Prestige
[f] Simmel

Relationships of superordination and subordination play an immense role in social life. It is therefore of the utmost importance for its analysis to clarify the spontaneity and co-efficiency of the subordinate subject and thus to correct their widespread minimization by superficial notions about them. For instance, what is called "authority" presupposes, in a much higher degree than is usually recognized, a freedom on the part of the person subjected to authority. Even where authority seems to "crush" him, it is based not only on coercion or compulsion to yield to it.

The peculiar structure of "authority" is significant for social life in the most varied ways; it shows itself in beginnings as well as in exaggerations, in acute as well as in lasting forms. It seems to come about in two different ways. A person of superior significance or strength may acquire, in his more immediate or remote milieu, an overwhelming weight of opinions, a faith, or a confidence which have the character of objectivity. He thus enjoys a prerogative and an axiomatic trustworthiness in his decisions which excel, at least by a fraction, the value of mere subjective personality, which is always variable, relative, and subject to criticism. By acting "authoritatively," the quantity of his significance is transformed into a new quality; it assumes for his environment the physical state—metaphorically speaking—of objectivity.

But the same result, authority, may be attained in the opposite direction. A super-individual power—state, church, school, family or military organizations—clothes a person with a reputation, a dignity, a power of ultimate decision, which would never flow from his individuality. It is the nature of an authoritative person to make decisions with a certainty of automatic recognition which logically pertain only to impersonal, objective axioms and deductions. In the case under discussion, authority descends upon a person from above, as it were, whereas in the case treated before, it arises from the qualities of the person himself, through a generatio aequivoca ["equivocal birth"]...The believer in authority himself achieves the transformation. He (the subordinate element) participates in a sociological event which requires his spontaneous cooperation. As a matter of fact, the very feeling of the "oppressiveness" of authority suggests that the autonomy of the subordinate part is actually presupposed and never wholly eliminated. [1]

Max Weber
The Three Pure Types of Legitimate Authority
There are three pure types of legitimate authority. The validity of their claims to legitimacy may be based on: 
[g] Weber
(1) Rational grounds—resting on a belief in the "legality" of patterns of normative rules and the right of those elevated to authority under such rules to issue commands (legal authority).
(2) Traditional grounds—resting on an established belief in the sanctity of immemorial traditions and the legitimacy of status of those exercising under them (traditional authority).
(3) Charismatic grounds—resting on devotion to the specific and exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him (charismatic authority).

In the case of legal authority, obedience is owed to the legally established impersonal order. It extends to the persons exercising the authority of office under it only by virtue of the formal legality of their commands and only within the scope of authority of the office. In the case of traditional authority, obedience is owed to the person of the chief who occupies the traditionally sanctioned position of authority and who is (within its sphere) bound by tradition. But here the obligation of obedience is not based on the impersonal order, but is a matter of personal loyalty with the area of accustomed obligations. In the case of charismatic authority, it is the charismatically qualified leader as such who is obeyed by virtue of personal trust in him and his revelation, his heroism or his exemplary qualities so far as they fall within the scope of the individual's belief in his charisma.

Edward Shils
Charisma, Order, and Status
[h] Shils

The first focus of the concept of an institutionalized power system is, analogously, a relational system within which certain categories of commitments and obligations, ascriptive or voluntarily assumed—e.g. by contract—are treated as binding, i.e. under normatively defined conditions their fulfillment may be insisted upon by the appropriate reciprocal agencies. Furthermore, in case of actual or threatened resistance to "compliance," i.e. to fulfillment of such obligations when invoked, they will be "enforced" by the threat or actual imposition of situational negative sanctions, in the former case having the function of deterrence, in the latter of punishment. These are events in the situation of the actor of reference which intentionally alter his situation (or threaten to) to his disadvantage, whatever in specific content these alterations may be. 

Power then is generalized capacity to secure the performance of binding obligations by units in a system of collective organization when the obligations are legitimized with reference to their bearing on collective goals and where in case of recalcitrance there is a presumption of enforcement by negative situational sanctions—whatever the actual agency of that enforcement...

Secondly, I have spoken of power as involving legitimation. This is, in the present context, the necessary consequence of conceiving power as "symbolic," which therefore, if it is exchanged for something intrinsically valuable for collective effectiveness, namely compliance with an obligation, leaves the recipient, the performer of the obligation, with "nothing of value." This is to say, that he has "nothing" but a set of expectations, namely that in other contexts and on other occasions he can invoke certain obligations of the part of other units. Legitimation is therefore, in power systems, the factor which is parallel to confidence in mutual acceptability and stability of the monetary unit in monetary systems. 

[1] Georg Simmel, On Individuality and Social Forms (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), 98-99.
[2] Max Weber, "The Basis of Legitimacy," in S.N. Eisenstadt, Political Sociology (New York: Basic Books, 1971), 43.
[3] Edward Shils, "Charisma, Order, and Status," in S.N. Eisenstadt, Political Sociology (New York: Basic Books, 1971), xxx 

Shils, Edward. "Charisma, Order, and Status," in S.N. Eisenstadt, Political Sociology. New York: 
     Basic Books, 1971.
Simmel, Georg. On Individuality and Social Forms. Chicago: University of Chicago 
     Press, 1971.
Weber, Max, "The Basis of Legitimacy," in S.N. Eisenstadt, Political Sociology.  New York: 
     Basic Books, 1971.

Wednesday, May 11
George Saves a Whale
Can we rise to the occasion when circumstances require? Is it possible to fill roles to which we have only aspired (or about which we have lied to others)? We will study George Constanza in his role as "marine biologist," and consider the presentation of self in everyday life, and the social foundations of even the quirkiest individual behavior.

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