House and Philosophy: Everybody Lies by William Irwin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Recently, I was asked by a friend to list fifteen of the most influential fictional characters in my life…characters that would always stick with me. Since the list didn’t specify between literary and television/film characters, I had difficulty, at least in retrospect, leaving Gregory House off of that list. House is a character that has always resonated with me. On my, how should I say, less than optimistic days, I’ve been told that I have everything in common with him except walking with a cane. There’s something about being so good at what you do that you can get by with saying whatever you think that is alluring to me…though perhaps it shouldn’t be. That, though, is exactly the appeal.
This book was loaned to me by a friend. I haven’t explored philosophy in popular culture titles much as of yet, but have been interested in doing so, and this was as good a place as any to begin. The book is a collection of essays from philosophy professors at various American universities, and the content varies from literary analysis to arguments presenting which philosophical perspectives the character of House espouses. With respect to the individual scholars, the quality of the content of these essays varies dramatically from the thought provoking to the unbelievable. One essay discusses in depth the inspiration of the character of House by the character of Sherlock Holmes, and points out fascinating correlations between House’s television program and the literary world of Doyle. One essay discusses House’s presentation of Sarte’s philosophy (“Hell is other people”), and an entire section of the book discusses the ethics of the physicians in the show as they correspond to accepted medical ethics in the “real world.” Other essays leave you flipping pages quickly to reach the end of the them because they lack all credibility from their premise forward (House as Zen Bhuddist rhetorician? Really?).
What fascinates me most about the book, however, is that it speaks to the quality of the character of Gregory House as he has been conceived by the screenwriters and brought to life by Hugh Laurie. There is something about this character, as much as he alternately repulses and attracts us, that makes us unable to look away, almost as though we’ve driven by a car accident. Whether it is disgust or admiration that motivates the viewer, almost everyone I know that watches this show has something constructive and insightful to say about House. The character is simply that powerful.
The academic ventures of recent years to discuss the rhetoric, philosophy, and theology of popular culture is an important pursuit to our society, and this book is evidence of that. The philosophy isn’t presented at a deep academic level, but rather in a well-balanced style that meets both the philosophical novice and the student who has studied philosophy at some depth in the middle. The language is accessible, and overall the book goes by very quickly once you begin. All in all, If you’re a fan of the show, this is a worthwhile read, if for no other reason than the fact that you will be able to discuss the next episode with much more insight and depth.
I agree. The character of Gregory House was created and is played with a rich depth that provokes thought. He was a regular topic of conversation in many of graduate rhetoric classes.
I think one of the most fascinating aspects of House, however, is that we are drawn to him with all of his layers of good and evil and humor and degradation… but often fail to see the similar compositions living so close by. This show motivates me to try to recognize this mash-up of characteristics in the people with whom I interact.
What you’re doing is what every viewer should do, Christina. Leaving the character on the screen as only entertainment is the worst thing we can do…with House or any other character, especially one of this depth. The challenge that House presents to us is meaningless if the audience doesn’t participate and attempt to rise to the challenge…or at least acknowledge that it exists.