The spring portion of the 2020-2021 The Trouble Begins Lecture Series, presented by the Center for Mark Twain Studies, continues Wednesday, May 19, with “‘A Work of Art?’: Mark Twain’s Influence on the American Use of Humor in Criticism,” presented by Silas Kaine Ezell. The lecture is free and will be available to the public on marktwainstudies.org.
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.
About Elmira College – Founded in 1855, Elmira College is a private, residential, liberal arts college offering 35-plus majors, an honors program, 17 academic societies, and 18 Division III varsity teams. Located in the Southern Finger Lakes Region of New York, Elmira’s undergraduate and graduate student population hails from more than 20 states and nine countries. Elmira is a Phi Beta Kappa College and has been ranked a top college, nationally, for student internships. The College is also home to the Center for Mark Twain Studies, one of four historically significant Twain heritage sites in the U.S., which attracts Twain scholars and educators from around the world for research on the famous literary icon. Proud of its history and tradition, the College is committed to the ideals of community service, and intellectual and individual growth.