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Democracy and 'Gilligan's Island'

Paul Cantor remembers Sherwood Schwartz.

8:25 AM, Jul 22, 2011 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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UVA professor and Weekly Standard contributor Paul A. Cantor recently reflected on the passing of TV legend Sherwood Schwartz, who died last week at age 94. Writing in the Washington Post, Cantor shares his correspondence with the creator of Gilligan's Island and The Brady Bunch. (Cantor, who wrote Gilligan Unbound: Pop Culture in the Age of Globalization, says, in part, that the island sitcom "reflected the political confidence of 1960s America in the midst of the Cold War.")

"Gilligan is the perfect democratic hero because he has no claims to superiority," Cantor writes in the Post. "The Professor has wisdom; the Millionaire has money and social status; the Skipper has a kind of military authority as captain. Gilligan is the pure common man. And, of course, the only time the castaways hold an election, he is chosen as president. Throughout the series, Gilligan represents the triumph of the ordinary over the extraordinary."

Much to Cantor's delight, Schwartz had written Cantor before delving into his book.

He explained that he had always thought of “Gilligan’s Island” as a show about democracy. His favorite episode, he said, was the one about the exiled dictator “because it’s the most meaningful” and demonstrates how democracy can go wrong. He was particularly proud of the “dream sequence in which Gilligan realizes he’s simply a puppet dictator of the real dictator.”

(My favorite episode featured guest star Phil Silvers as the DeMille-like director Harold Hecuba.)

Schwartz sent a followup note after reading Gilligan Unbound. According to Cantor, "it had always bothered him that people criticized 'Gilligan’s Island' for being silly; they didn’t understand it, he said. 'Not a single critic got it, with the basic concept of democracy staring them right in the face.' He viewed my book as a vindication of his work: 'I never thought I’d see the day when an English Professor of some note would use ‘Gilligan’s Island’ as one of four pillars on which rest the liberal democratic view of the recent past in America.'"

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