The spring portion of the 2020-2021 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, continues with “‘A Work of Art?’: Mark Twain’s Influence on the American Use of Humor in Criticism,” presented by Silas Kaine Ezell.
Ezell’s talk will explore the influence of Mark Twain’s famous roasting of James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales and its unspoken influence on contemporary film criticism found in comedic video essays on social media. Using parody and satire, Twain vents his rage at Cooper’s fiction and does much to convince his reader of Cooper’s crimes against literature. The essay has had remarkable staying power in American anthologies even though multiple critics have dutifully and successfully revealed Twain’s manipulations and exaggerations of Cooper’s text to arrive at his conclusions. Nevertheless, reception to Cooper’s novels has been forever altered by Twain’s criticisms. Many YouTube channels that provide satirical commentary on popular culture fulfill a similar function for the early 21st century, but the best example of Twain’s combination of humor and satire are the “Plinkett Reviews” on RedLetterMedia. Both Twain and RedLetterMedia serve as clear examples of the use of humor in the critical review of fiction that seeks to make broader arguments about how criticism can inform our sensibilities as consumers in American culture.
Ezell is an associate professor of English at Oklahoma Baptist University, where he teaches courses in American Literature and English Education. He is the author of Humor and Satire on Contemporary Television: Animation and the American Joke (2016), which explores the influence of American literary humorists on American animated television programs. In case it isn’t obvious, Ezell is fascinated with linking the past with the present, and his current research involves tracing the use of humor in critical review and its influence on the rise of the YouTube critical video essay.
About The Trouble Begins Lecture Series – In 1984, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies initiated a lecture series, The Trouble Begins at Eight lecture series. The title came from the handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco. The first lectures were presented in 1985. By invitation, Mark Twain scholars present lectures in the fall and spring of each year, in the Barn at Quarry Farm or at Peterson Chapel in Cowles Hall on Elmira College’s campus. All lectures are free and open to the public.