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Awkwardness: An Essay Kindle Edition
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Kotsko discusses three types of awkwardness, everyday awkwardness (where social norms are violated), cultural awkwardness (where society has moved on and the old social norms do not fit as well), and finally radical awkwardness (where there are no social norms at all). After an introductory chapter invoking Heidegger and Hegel (although in a very accessible way), Kotsko examines these three types of awkwardness through the lens of "The Office" (UK and US versions), Judd Apatow's films, and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" respectively.
Kotsko's essay is an intelligent and stimulating read. I felt he really got under the skin of awkwardness and the programmes he analyses (although readers not familiar with them might get less out of the discussions and are inevitably going to come across spoilers). The book ends by offering a rousing solution (or maybe accommodation) to the problem of awkwardness. I might be tempted to give it a try next time I'm in an awkward situation, although the very thought is inducing that familiar cringing feeling...
The general arc of the theory is that the default setting of American interaction is awkwardness, that the 90s mode of detached irony (typified in Seinfeld) was a fragile shield against this awkwardness, and that in a post-ironic era we are coming to embrace awkwardness (typified in Curb Your Enthusiasm). Kotsko might have something here, but he is in immediate danger of conflating his favourite tv shows and movies with the cultural climate as a whole. He also seems to be under the impression that you can substantiate claims with television shows, rather than simply using them as illustration.
I would still recommend this essay to anyone who is interested in awkwardness, irony and post-irony, simply because I believe this essay could be a primer for a better written piece in the future.
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Well, generally me. I spent the better part of my undergrad attending and contributing to the meetings of a certain association that studies both popular and American culture, and by the end of undergrad had become increasingly frustrated with the lack of honest rigor to almost all of the analysis out there. At a certain point, I just became totally disinterested in analysis of popular culture; even the most respected academics I encountered seemed to simply engage in a kind of smart-sounding fandom.
I say all this simply to highlight the fact that what Kotsko has written here is far from that. In fact, if one reads this book, one might find that what seemed lightweight due to its subject matter and avoidance of unnecessary jargon sneaks in a both cogent and rigorous analysis of human sociality and possibilities for political act.
Anyway, just read it.