Gilligan Unbound is a work by Paul Canter, a professor of English Literature, which focuses on four popular American television shows: Gilligan's Island, Star Trek, The Simpsons and the X-Files. Although writing a book about the cultural importance of Gilligan's island could turn into either an intentional or unintentional farce, Dr. Canter manages to show in a serious yet entertaining way how these shows closely reflected the worldviews of the 1960's and 1990's, respectively.
One of the parts of Dr. Canter's central thesis is relatively obvious, that the television shows of the 1960's generally reflected a more optimistic view of American society and scientific progress, while the shows of the 1990's were either cynical or paranoid about the government and the culture of America. The skill and nuance with which he explores these concepts covers some interesting ground. Especially in the way that he shows that the cultural movement in the 1960s seems to be of American culture moving outwards, while the 1990s shows involved American culture being moved into from outside.
He describes the core thesis of Gilligan's Island that a group of Americans could recreate the success of America anywhere on the planet, and that although the economic, military and scientific elites were represented on the island, it is still the island of Gilligan, the stereotypical average man. In the section on Star Trek, he points out that The Enterprise is much like Gilligan's Island, an isolated group of people espousing the liberal democratic ideals of America, seperated from their main cultural base, but still able to evangelize the cause of liberal democracy.
In contrast, he shows that The Simpsons and the X-Files both show a distrust of the government, in the form of the Simpson's constant cynicism and the X-Files' parnaoia. He notes however, that as the idea of the nation state is eroded in both of these series, they strengthen the idea of both the local community (as in the town of Springfield, which is by far the most fully developed community on a television show; and in the community of those "who know the truth" that the X-Files both portrayed, and which it created in real life amongst its cult following), and of the globalization of the world (in the constant foreign adventures and foreign visitors the Simpson's host, and of course in the sinister global conspiracies that are featured in the X-Files). With this, he comes to his central thesis, which is that in the 1960s, America was the agent of globalization, while in the 1990s, it is the subject, or perhaps victim, of globalization.
Dr. Canter is affilated with the Libertarian Institute of Humane Studies, but he doesn't seem to be infusing too much propaganda into this book, it is over all very fair and scholarly. For those with a taste for culture studies, it is a good read, and it is nice to be able to read the line,
the decline in the importance of the nation state leads to a richer life for the citizens of Springfield
with a straight face.