Is Max Bickford a Burkeian Dialectician?

Herbert Simons hsimons at
Sat Apr 20 09:28:40 EST 2002

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HWS wrote:

Dear KBers:

I'm seeking confirmation of an hypothesis. Max Bickford, (played by
Richard Dreyfuss), a sitcom college professor,  is typically confronted
by two perspectives, each appealing to a degree, but also
limited--hence, in KB's terms, a subcertainty. His solutions are ironic,
creative, dialectical in Burke's sense of a perspective on the

Two episodes ago, the issue was whether to permit a rather fascistic
invited guest to speak on campus. Max's daughter led the fight against
it. Conservative students and faculty said the guy was ok and that, in
any case, everyone should have the right of free speech. Max shared his
daughter's revulsion and the conservatives' case for free speech. His
dialectical solution: to air his analysis of the competing perspectives
to all assembled and then set an example for the rest by walking out on
the speaker. Dialectical synthesis: YOU HAVE TO LET HIM SPEAK BUT YOU
DON'T HAVE TO LISTEN TO HIM.  In the fantasy world of network TV, even
the conservatives joined Max eventually; the speaker was beyond even
their pale. Burke would undoubtedly have said, the issue is more
complica... Still, I think his method worked.

Last episode, a TV crew is investigating the alleged "dumbing down" of
the American university. Atttitudes among the faculty in Max's American
Studies Dep't are mixed. e.g., (1) Refuse to cooperate with the TV team;
(2) Play to the cameras with juicy but superficial soundbites. Max,
caught unawares by the TV interviewer, nevertheless makes an eloquent
defense of today's students. In sound bite terms, they're not dumber,
just different. That's his dialectical synthesis, and he argues it
rather than just stating it, as one might who plays only by television's

Hail Max Bickford, Burkeian dialectician.

Herbert W. Simons
Prof. of Speech Communication
265-65 Temple University
Philadelphia PA 19122
Coordinator, Temple Issues Forum,

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