Move over Dickens: TV series are new academic mainstay

Move over Dickens: TV series are new academic mainstay

PARIS - Television series, once considered too low-brow to be worthy of academic study, have become a mainstay of university curricula and frequent fodder for critical analysis.

Academics delve into TV series not only for their artistic merit but also for their sociological or historic value, often comparing them to literary standards such as Shakespeare or Dickens.

"Intellectuals scorned TV series for around 40 years," said French writer and philosopher Tristan Garcia. "And suddenly, with quality television in the United States and the emergence of cable in the 1990s, there was a sort of revelation, beginning with 'Twin Peaks' and 'ER'. Then there was a golden age at the end of the '90s and the start of the 2000s," he told AFP.

Before the advent of cable and speciality channels, "quality TV" was limited to programming on government-funded public stations.

Garcia, who authored a 2012 book on the taboo-shattering hit series "Six Feet Under", said: "Today, series enjoy total cultural legitimacy," putting "Six Feet Under" on a par with the works of Proust or Dostoyevsky.

"The impact of this series on me was similar to that of reading Tolstoy or watching (Ingmar) Bergman's 'Fanny and Alexander'," he said, adding that the series on a family of undertakers "teaches us to die".

Media specialists as well as historians, sociologists, literary critics and philosophers pore over the series to analyse what they say about their time and place, and how their narratives are constructed.

"You don't study them as mere transient TV programmes but as cultural works that convey a certain view of the world and a certain way of narrating it," said Sarah Hatchuel, a professor of English literature at the University of Le Havre in northwest France.

Her specialities include both Shakespeare and the survival drama series "Lost".

"These series are complex in aesthetic and narrative terms, maybe even more than cinematic works, because they play out over time," she added.

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