Dark Comedies/Dark Universities: Negotiating the Neoliberal Institution in British Satirical Comedies The History Man (1981), A Very Peculiar Practice (1986-1988) and Campus (2011)

Michael-Fox, Bethan and Calver, Kay (2023). Dark Comedies/Dark Universities: Negotiating the Neoliberal Institution in British Satirical Comedies The History Man (1981), A Very Peculiar Practice (1986-1988) and Campus (2011). In: Harmes, Marcus K. and Scully, Richard eds. Academia and Higher Learning in Popular Culture. Palgrave Studies in Science and Popular Culture (PSSPC). Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 197–214.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-32350-8_10

Abstract

In this chapter, three British satirical comedies about universities are examined. These are The History Man (1981), A Very Peculiar Practice (1986-1988) and Campus (2011). These comedies produce and negotiate popular cultural understandings of the academy, serving to demonstrate how certain ideas about British (and in an increasingly homogoneised higher education system globally) universities have shifted or intensified over time, set in periods ranging from the 1970s to the 2000s. Each series is set in a modern university, a space where tensions between industry, education, the financialisation of higher education and its role as a public good are at the fore. Their narratives feature tropes familiar to anyone working in a university, including funding cuts, corruption, redundancies, new buildings, stressed students, bureaucracy, and sexism as well as stereotypes of neurotic professors and ruthless Vice-Chancellors. As satirical comedies, they function to challenge shifts toward the neoliberal university, mocking the absurd and sometimes surreal practices of global higher education. We argue that whilst television can operate as a powerful form of popular culture mediating academia, it can also act as a form of critique, contributing to the cultural production of critical knowledge about the university, its staff, students, and discontents.

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