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Delving into the philosophy of ‘Arrested Development’

BY JOSEPH BELK | JANUARY 29, 2010 7:30 AM

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While fans of the cult TV sitcom “Arrested Development” were hoping for a spin-off movie, UI graduate student Kris Phillips had his mind on another adaptation: a philosophy book.

Phillips — who said he has watched the show’s episodes “millions of times” — frequently shows clips from the show to his Introduction to Philosophy course and relates themes from the show to philosophical principles.

For some time, he has discussed the notion of a philosophy book about the show with his colleagues in the UI philosophy department.

“There needs to be an ‘Arrested Development’ and Philosophy,” Phillips said he told others.

The pop culture and philosophy genre applies branches of philosophy to popular movies, television shows, and other forms of media. Bill Irwin, a professor of philosophy at Kings College, created the genre.

Phillips tried to sell Irwin on the idea of an ‘Arrested Development’ and Philosophy book for months, he said.

But with the show off the air for some time, Irwin was concerned about how well the book would sell.

Irwin finally agreed to oversee the project when the movie adaptation was officially announced in 2009. The book is completed and is expected to coincide with the movie’s release, which cast members have said will likely begin filming this year.

Phillips signed on to the book as a co-editor and wrote one chapter along with the book’s introduction.

The book raises philosophical questions about issues that make up much of the show’s humor, such as social status and business ethics.

Another popular aspect of the show discussed in the book is the interactions among the family members — most of whom are adults — including sibling rivalries, the youngest son’s attachment to his mother, and the teen-age grandchildren’s awkward sexual curiosity.

Phillips’ chapter deals with the theme of personal identity in the show, specifically “how we continue to be the same person over time.”

An example he uses is the character, Ann, the conservative girlfriend of George-Michael.

“There’s virtually nothing interesting about her,” Phillips said. “And that’s kind of what makes it fun.”

However, the pop culture and philosophy genre does have its detractors.

The other co-editor of ‘Arrested Development’ and Philosophy, J. Jeremy Wisnewski, said he recognizes a divide in sentiment toward the genre.

“Some philosophers think you can’t write philosophy about anything popular,” he said. “[But] Plato wrote popular culture.”

Wisnewski, a professor of philosophy at Hartwick College, said that the genre can introduce more people to philosophy and eventually to the more classical texts.

“The point of the books is to show people how fun and accessible philosophy can be,” he said.


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