Monstrous Thesis @ MLA

, Malcolm A. Kline, 3 Comments

It’s hard to say what is more astounding in academe: the projects academics get emotionally attached to or the odd disconnect their finished products have with reality.

For example, Daniel T. Anderson of Emmanuel College has made something of a life’s work of studying the 1981 film, “An American Werewolf in London.” In that movie, he found profound metaphors for “Assimilation as Nightmare: An American Werewolf in London and the Jewish American experience.”

At the Modern Language Association’s annual meeting in Chicago this year, during a panel discussion on “Jewish Monsters,” he elaborated on these:

  • “David Kessler, the film’s tragic protagonist, is not only an American but a Jewish American;”
  • “The pub he and his friend stop in is called The Slaughtered Lamb;” and
  • “David’s ‘Wandering Jew’ hiking equipment.”

“In the final scene, David is riddled with bullets,” Anderson noted. “I would say he is a stand-in for Christ.”

Finally, Anderson asserted that “The dream sequence of Nazi werewolves gunning down David’s family shows the danger of assimilation.”

It is hard to find any of this symbolism in tracing the available notes on the production of this film. Instead, we learn from the Internet Movie Data Base,  that the director, “John Landis wrote the screenplay for this film following an incident while shooting Kelly’s Heroes (1970) (while he was a go-fer) in the countryside of Yugoslavia. While driving along a country road with a colleague, Landis encountered a gypsy funeral. The body was being buried in a massively deep grave, feet first, while wrapped in garlic, so as he would not rise from the dead.”


3 Responses

  1. Daniel P. Anderson

    February 1, 2014 2:15 pm

    Thank you for your work in keeping academia on the straight and narrow. I actually do agree with much of your focus on traditions, which should have been apparent when, during this panel, I brought up the name of Lionel Trilling. While I don’t really expect this project to be for everyone, it was intended to explore some of the complications that an ethnic community steeped in traditions experiences when it comes into conflict with modernity.

    By the way, since you’re so interested in “Accuracy in Academia,” my name is Daniel P. Anderson, not David T. Anderson.

  2. Zachary Rogers

    February 1, 2014 11:08 pm

    Have you not read Roland Barthes? Barthes writes, “the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author.” Dr. Anderson offers a fair interpretation of a film, and his interpretation offers insight into the Jewish American experience. John Landis is dead (figuratively), and his film, like any work of art, says more than he may have intended.

  3. Garrett

    February 2, 2014 1:19 pm

    As the moderator of the panel referenced above, I am completely flummoxed by your response to Professor Anderson’s paper. I suppose in an ideologically insulated world like this kind of website, merely listing some of his statements is evidence enough of whatever you find loathsome or ridiculous about it. But in the spirit of “true” and “unbiased” academic inquiry your site claims to practice, you could at least offer some…I don’t know…reasoned argument against Anderson’s thesis? Your opening sentence claims Anderson’s paper was “disconnected” from “reality.” But the multiple obvious references to Jewish identity in the film are clearly very, very real (as he demonstrated with frequent visual images and examples) and it is you who seem “disconnected” from that “reality” by casually dismissing his remarks without a counter-argument.

    Unless your hasty IMDB search on the movie was your attempt at reasoned debate. How does Landis’ Gypsy story in any way “disprove” Anderson’s argument. The film is not about a gypsy funeral and that one anecdote would hardly be enough to constitute an entire full length feature film. Whatever inspiration that event provided Landis, he still went about making a film that put a clearly-identified Jewish American hero in that spooky context. So even if you believe in the supremacy of “authorial intent,” the hero’s Jewishness is clearly fair game for discussion since Landis clearly added it to the original story.

    Anyway, perhaps it’s a waste of time to engage with a blog post that merely is meant to ridicule “trendy” academic inquiry into pop culture and you thought you found a classic Exhibit A. But if any of your readers truly value honest unbiased inquiry and are interested in the depictions of Jewish Americans in Hollywood cinema (which I think many across the ideological spectrum would agree is a legitimate topic of inquiry) I ask them to merely watch the film and then see if Anderson is making all this up. His conclusions of course can be argued with–but please don’t reject such a mild and non-extreme argument as ridiculous on its face. Especially if you haven’t even seen the film, which it seems like you haven’t.

    Anyway…. thanks for coming at least! Bad–and ill-informed–publicity is better for a scholar’s work than none at all I suppose.

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