Throughout our book we discuss assumptions about literary value - conceptions of excellence - and the way that they are frequently assumed to be self-evident. Moreover, we are concerned with the way that the "taken for granted" aspect of certain literary approaches to the study of comics (and other forms of popular entertainment) create blind spots in scholarship. For many, no argument is necessary in the contention that Jack Kirby (chapter four) is worthy of research within the field of comics studies while Rob Liefeld (chapter seven) is not.
Of course, this attitude is hardly limited to comics studies - far from it. In a piece in the newest issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Justin E. H. Smith argues that a renewed focus on philology could rescue the declining humanities, mend rifts with STEM research areas, and end the sad tyranny of identity politics. Of course, none of these are the goals of The Greatest Comic Book of All Time! Nonetheless, I was struck by an almost throw-away dog whistle at the beginning of the article, an unproven contention that:
It's surely the case that there are more dissertations published per year on Buffy the Vampire Slayer than on Baudelaire.
Smith takes this as a tragic reflection on society's "radical and unprecedented presentism", and the implicit ideological position (canonical French poetry > popular American television) leaves its assumptions unspoken. It is a classic(s) formation of "us versus them".
But is it even true?
In chapter one we spend considerable time surveying the current state of comics studies. One of the tools that we use is the MLA International Bibliography. Turning again to that tool, and examining only the three most recent years, we find that Charles Baudelaire turns up in 152 articles indexed by the MLA while Buffy turns up in but 10. However, to be fair to Smith, he did stipulate dissertations. So, turning to ProQuest's Dissertations and Theses Global and searching by "Abstract" (with the goal of ruling out casual references and the assumption that a dissertation that is about a topic will mention that topic in its abstract) returns 233 dissertations on the author of Les fleurs du mal and 58 on the protector of Sunnydale. Limiting the search to only the past five years, to be more fair to Smith's assertion, returns 30 for Baudelaire and only 8 for Buffy.
So, it is clearly not the case that there are more dissertations published per year on Buffy the Vampire Slayer than on Baudelaire. In fact, it is not even close.
For readers of our book, this will not come as a surprise. As we demonstrate, the canon is a powerful instrument of disciplinary agenda-setting. Off the cuff dismissals of Buffy should be understood for what they are: fact-free position-takings seeking to shore up ideological agendas in arguments about the future of the humanities.