A Chair On The Chair with Karen Tongson

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Last week Netflix released an original series, The Chair, starring Sandra Oh, and created by Amanda Peet and Annie Julia Wyman. The show tracks the personal and professional life of Ji-Yoon Kim, during her first semester as Chair of the English Department at fictional Pembroke University.

Over the next few episodes of The American Vandal Podcast, we’ll be featuring conversations not only about the show itself, as a cultural produce, but of the profession of literary studies, and the higher education system in which it is embedded.

In this episode, Matt Seybold is joined by Karen Tongson, who wrote one of the first, and most incisive, reviews of The Chair for Slate. In it, she acknowledges,

“Given that my own relationship to The Chair’s premise is so profoundly overdetermined, I approached the series by managing my own expectations about what it might mean to be finally seen on any screen, big or small, and on so many levels: as an Asian American woman, as a recently minted department chair, and as a Sandra Oh fan from as far back as Under the Tuscan Sun.”

But Dr. Tongson is also a media critic who has extensively researched the history of U.S. television. She is currently working on a book about what she calls #NORMPORN, focusing on genres which The Chair is, as she puts it, “flirting.” She is also the author of Relocations: Queer Suburban Imaginaries (2011), and Why Karen Carpenter Matters (2019), nominated for a 2020 Lambda Literary Award in LGBTQ Non-Fiction; Pitchfork’s Best Music Books of 2019). Her writing and cultural commentary have appeared in NPR, The Los Angeles Times, The AV Club, Entertainment Weekly, L.A. Weekly, BuzzFeed Reader, The Washington Post, and Public Books, as well as in the academic journals Public Culture, Social Text, GLQ, American Quarterly, and Nineteenth-Century Literature, among other public and scholarly venues. In 2019, Tongson received the Lambda Literary Jeanne Córdova Award for her body of work in Lesbian/Queer Nonfiction.

During the episode, Dr. Seybold also alludes to Dr. Tongson’s Pop Culture Happy Hour interview about The Chair, and Dr. Tongson mentions Inkoo Kang’s review in the Washington Post.