The TV miniseries, The Chair, premiered last month on Netflix to much fanfare, especially in the community it represents. The show traces the internal politics of a fictional English department which has recently elected its first woman of color to the position of Chair. Sandra Oh plays Ji-Yoon Kim, who, in her first weeks a chair faces three interrelated crises, all brought about by an antiquated and discriminatory institutional culture which has frequently oppressed Dr. Kim and now, through her position of authority, expects her to do the same to her colleagues.
Among other things, the show depicts the wheelings and dealings between faculty and administrators focused on averting public scandal by censoring each other and their students. The habitual exchange of silence for survival within the institution, particularly by women and people of color, is also among the central interests of a May 2021 essay in PMLA by Kyla Wazana Tompkins, titled “The Shush.”
This episode of The American Vandal Podcast uses The Chair as a vehicle for talking about “The Shush.” How did the toxic culture of Pembroke University (and places like it) come to be? How is it sustained? How is it resisted?
Michelle Chihara is Associate Professor of English at Whittier College. She is Section Editor of Economics & Finance at Los Angeles Review of Books, as well as co-editor (with Matt Seybold) of The Routledge Companion To Literature & Economics (2018). Recent work on Post45 U.S. Literature, critical finance, economics, gender, podcasting, and surveillance appears in publications like American Literary History, ASAP, Los Angeleno, and Post45.
Kyla Wazana Tompkins is Associate Professor of English and Chair of Gender & Women’s Studies at Pomona College. She is the author of Racial Indigestion: Eating Bodies In The Nineteenth Century (NYU Press, 2012), which won the Lora Romero Award for best first book in American Studies in 2013. She has since written extensively about C19 U.S. Literature, Food Studies, race, gender, queerness, civility, and biopower in publications like American Quarterly, ASAP, GLQ, PMLA, and Social Text, the latter of which hosted “Eleven Theses on Civility,” co-authored with Tavia Nyong’o.
Philathia Bolton, Cassander Smith, & Lee Bebout (Ed.) Teaching With Tension: Race, Resistance, & Reality In The Classroom (Northwestern UP, 2019)
Michelle Chihara, “Rise of Behavioral Economic Masculinity” (American Literary History, Spring 2020)
Michelle Chihara, “Neoliberal Gaslighting, Quality Journalism, & Podcasting” (Post45: Contemporaries, August 30 2020)
Garth Greenwell, Cleanness (FSG, 2020)
Heather Love, “The Mom Problem” (Public Books, October 2 2012)
Koritha Mitchell, “Identifying White Mediocrity & Know-Your-Place Aggression: A Form of Self-Care” (African American Review, Winter 2018)
Koritha Mitchell, “Stop Asking If The Chair Is Realistic” (CNN, August 28 2021)
Kyla Wazana Tompkins, “The Shush” (PMLA, Spring 2021)
angel Kyodo Williams, Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, & Liberation (North Atlantic, 2016)