A Former Chair on The Chair

First, the best thing I’ve read on The Chair is Karen Tongson’s piece. Go read it now if you haven’t.

We finished The Chair last night and since every academic in my social media feed has a take, here are my hot takes. No spoilers.

1. I still think the most interesting campus drama would be written from the perspective of graduate students and part-time faculty. The in-built possibilities for drama, narrative arcs, and backstory are great. I also think they, as well as the university staff, are the people whose stories most need to be told right now.

2. That said, it’s nice to see professors represented as human beings on TV. I probably enjoyed that fact more than the story itself. For me, Dear White People was probably more entertaining even though it got pretty silly by the end.

3. It doesn’t depart too much from the standard formats of campus drama and workplace dramedy. I did like some of the subtle backstories for characters. TV is pretty much the only format where character development interests me at all. There were some nice, small touches that could have been much more developed in a longer series, especially in terms of Jie-Yoon Kim’s family, as well as her career. They probably tried to pack in too much. Yaz MacKay is sadly underdeveloped and felt more like a foil for the other characters.

4. I am not any more concerned about the realism of the show than I am what lawyers have to say about The Good Fight. I have been on campuses that look like that; mine doesn’t. American TV is where working and middle class families live in multi-million dollar homes; anyone expecting different hasn’t watched much American TV. The cancel culture narrative is cheesy and easy but then so is every other one on TV (and in the press, for that matter).

5. As to what department chairs actually do, a reality show about different juggling challenges would probably be the closest TV could get. It’s middle management: a lot of responsibility, very little power.