The Importance Of Mr. Feeny

When I was young, I watched a lot of T.V. It was my reward for getting homework finished and for making it through the school day alive. And in that twilight era of innocence and naiveté, one of my favorite

Mr. Feeny

shows to watch was Boy Meets World on Disney Channel. One day sometime during my 6th grade year, I caught an episode called “The Play’s the Thing.” In this episode, Cory Matthews and the gang are part of a school staging of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Cory hates it and, of course, ends up complaining to Mr. Feeny (his teacher for you uninitiated viewers) about how boring it is. Mr. Feeny, with his usual sarcastic wit, responds with “Of course you’re right, Cory. Shakespeare is dry, tedious and there is no way for a person your age to be affected by it.” However, as he says it, the lights above the auditorium stage that he and Cory had been sitting on dim and Mr. Feeny stands and grabs a spear.

As he slowly approaches a shocked Cory, he begins to recite the monologue delivered by Hamlet’s father.

“I am thy father’s spirit,

doomed for a certain term to walk the night

And for the day confined to fast in fires,

Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature

Are burnt and purged away.”

While the scene is clearly played for laughs in the show, it had me fascinated. And while it will probably never be ranked in the top 10 or even top 20 scenes in the show’s long run, it brought something to light for me.

I’ve always been a bookworm. I spent so much time in the library as a kid that the librarians recognize me to this day when I go in there. I have bookmarks that I’ve had since the 1st grade and I still use them. Books have been one of the biggest parts of my life for as long as I can remember.

But, strangely enough, it was this sitcom that introduced me to William Shakespeare. After watching Mr. Feeny recite the monologue, I did exactly what I’m sure he wanted Cory to do. I realized that Shakespeare is fascinating. I read as much of Hamlet as a 6th grader could understand and I memorized the entire monologue. Now, 11 years and one B.A. in English Literature later, I can still recite most of it from memory.

Pop culture is something that is often maligned and more often ignored. I’m guilty of it myself. I don’t care about Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke and Katy Perry. I don’t care about most movies and the vast majority of pop music seems to fly straight over my head.

With that said, I think that more attention should be given to pop culture nonetheless. We should pay attention to what shows we watched as a child. We should pay attention to what messages are out there within even the poppiest of pop culture.

It’s true that pop culture is often stupid. It’s often meaningless. However, it can also be incredibly powerful. It can contain moments of such intense beauty and bewildering meaning that even the most ardent of poets would have to stop and admire.

I have run into this power many times. When I first began to really struggle with clinical depression, I picked up the first volume of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. It’s a series of graphic novels focused on a personification of Dream, a character named Morpheus. In one scene, Morpheus heads to Hell itself and battles a demon for something that belongs to him. The rules are simple.  Each competitor names an object or idea and the other competitor has to say something that would, if real, top that object or idea. This is how the game ends:

Choronzon: “I am anti-life, the Beast of Judgement. I am the dark at the end of everything. The end of universes, gods, worlds … of everything. And what will you be then, Dreamlord?”

Dream: “I am Hope.”

– Choronzon and Dream, playing “the oldest game”in Sandman #4: “A Hope in Hell”

As I began to fight my own mind, I too had hope simply because someone else believed that it could triumph over all.

Often, seemingly simple pop culture holds the deepest meanings.

The Dementors of the Harry Potter series represent depression. J.K. Rowling has said that they are characters that she crafted from her own experience with depression. That’s why the best thing to do after a dementor attack is to eat chocolate. That works pretty well for attacks of anxiety and depression too.

It’s so difficult to describe [depression] to someone who’s never been there, because it’s not sadness. I know sadness. Sadness is to cry and to feel. But it’s that cold absence of feeling — that really hollowed-out feeling. That’s what Dementors are. – J.K Rowling

The Ents of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings are Tolkien’s way of showing how much he hated the destruction of the Earth that came with Britain’s entry in the Industrial Age.

X-Men could easily be seen as a very fitting metaphor for the Gay Rights movement.

Pop culture, in ways I never really appreciated until I went to college and started really thinking analytically, shaped me. I’m not the only one either. Harry Potter is what got me most of the friends I have today. We played Quidditch instead of handball and we spent our lunch hour dissecting plots and deciding what houses we would want to be placed in by the Sorting Hat.

12 years later, we’re busy freaking out together about the new set of movies set in the Harry Potter universe that J.K Rowling is now penning.

My mother once told me why reading was important. She said that it lets you enter an entirely new world. You can be a pirate or a dancer or an alien. It doesn’t matter. Words let you do that.

However, I’d add this to that idea. Pop culture, whether in the form of movies or books or music or television, also provides your first real introduction the world. It teaches you. It shapes you. It shapes you into a way of thinking that does follow you into adulthood.

And that, in a nutshell, is the importance of Mr. Feeny.


72 thoughts on “The Importance Of Mr. Feeny

    • I too miss Mr. Feeny. He was always my favorite character and people thought that was strange. Pop culture is definitely a strange beast. I am odds with it pretty often too (Miley Cyrus or Robin Thicke being my latest targets of ire). However, there are also awesome bright spots that get sadly overlooked, I think. Thanks for reading!

    • This article touched close to home for me. I grew up watching TGIF on ABC on Friday nights (which was pretty much the only time that my mother allowed the television to be on), and Boy Meets World quickly became a lifelong favorite. Mr. Feeny is such a well-written character and I’m sure that he greatly impacted the show’s longevity. Due to the lack of television and genuine interest, I, not unlike yourself found myself engulfed in the pages of myriad books in every genre. It was and still is my place of ultimate peace and intrigue. Pop culture, although often seemingly “pointless”, DOES have such a power over the human race, and through this and us being on the top of the food chain, we mold the world.

      Great post. I am definitely now a follower.

      • Thanks for reading. I too find peace in my books but I also love it when I can find a show or movie that is well-written and touches me in some way. I feel like it’s just another story to get lost in.

      • I agree, entirely. I love feeling the genuine intrigue in a well-written character and feeling that connection that draws me to a story-line. I often find myself susceptible to series such as the Showtime series’, Mad Men, Breaking Bad… the list is never-ending. 😉

  1. My boys (6 and 8) were out in the backyard last night playing Quidditch with their friends (hockey sticks as brooms and garbage cans as goal hoops). I’m currently reading the 6th HP book to the boys and we often stop and talk about how it is similar to real-life. “Mudbloods” and “Purebloods” are one of my favorite teaching points. Thanks for the great post! ( I love that JK made the remedy for a Dementor attack be chocolate! That’s how I deal with my low days.)

  2. I grew up a little earlier than you. The first TV show I remember being totally in love with was the original Star Trek. Talk about pop culture shaping the thoughts of a very young girl! Star Trek begged me to go! Explore! It showed me that I while I should be ready to defend myself if necessary, I should also be ready and willing to befriend those I meet, no matter where they lived or what they looked like. That differences are what make us interesting.

    • The great thing is that you’re not alone in that. My dad is a huge Star Trek fan and grew up with the original series and his love of that ended up influencing him and myself. Since he’s such a big sci-fi fan, I grew up to be one too. It’s just so fascinating to see how we’re shaped by what we love.

      • I actually just read a really interesting interview with Nichelle Nichols the other day where she talked about that. She was talking about how Martin Luther King told her how important he thought Uhura was in terms of giving black audiences a positive representation. It was such a unique thing to have a brilliant woman of color represented on national t.v. Sci-fi is awesome about doing things like this.

      • Yes, I read an interview where she talked about that. She said that she want to give up the character, but MLK persuaded her to stay in the role because it was so positive. And the idea of having a Russian on board was pretty amazing, considering we were all locked in the Cold War.

      • Yeah it was that interview. And I’ve never really thought about it but I can see how Chekov would definitely be a big deal. I’ve always seen Star Trek as kind of the mother of all progressive sci-fi, on t.v. anyway.

  3. “Have you tried… not being a mutant?”

    And yes, Boy Meets World was awesome. It makes me sad that it’s not on Netflix, because that’s a series I could definitely stand to watch again, from start to finish.

    • I too am a bookworm at heart. I’m an English major and I read quite a bit but I think it’s important to recognize that there is value in the storytelling t.v. and movies do too. Thanks for commenting!

  4. It is amazing how television and music are main stays in our lives. What did man or women do prior to that but toil in the fields hours upon hours. The repeating pattern of constant farming and the dullness of life. No background music as one toiled in the fields. No television at night after a hard day reaping the fields. No we are a culture of extras, the internet, the games the audio visual world. Does it enhance us or just distract us is the question?

    • That’s an interesting question to be sure. Sometimes I wonder if pop culture is a good thing or a bad thing. Are we better off now or worse off. Before t.v., the internet, and modern music there were definitely distractions including oral storytelling, reading (which I think more people need to do now), singing and playing instruments. I try in my own life to reach a balance between old world crafts and new world entertainment. It’s interesting to see how we’ve changed as a culture though. Thanks for commenting!

  5. I agree that pop culture has an influence, and that if you’re lucky the influence will be positive. Or you can find something to celebrate and learn from in it. People who were the right age at the time love Disco music (shudder). My early TV favorites were things like Bugs Bunny and Ernie Kovacs, but there was also a ton of sexist, violent, superficial crap. That probably had an influence I had to outgrow.

    By the time William Daniels played Mr. Feeny (for the money) on “Boy Meets World”, I knew him from being Dustin Hoffman’s dad in “The Graduate”, originating the lead role of John Adams to great acclaim in the play and film of “1776”, and having been a memorable doctor on “St. Elsewhere”. I had a hard time believing he would even accept a role like Mr. Feeny, an obvious come down in quality. But he introduced you to Shakespeare. There are always unanticipated benefits to the arts.

    • I agree that often pop culture can be of low quality or a downright bad influence. Like I said in the post, there’s a lot I ignore and a lot I was exposed to in childhood that I’ve chosen to forget. It’s definitely interesting to see how different mediums change different people though. Even relatively bad shows or bad movies can have some kind of impact if a person is exposed to them at the right time. And seeing William Daniels in The Graduate later in life definitely helped me to appreciate his talent more!

  6. Ah, I enjoyed this and related to it so much. Mr Feeny was definitely an influence in my childhood and I find that I still enjoy listening to him. Thank you for your reflection on how he benefited you and for thinking critically about pop culture. I agree that it’s crucial to understand the messages that are being communicated to each generation and how that shapes our worldview, values, etc.

    PS. Have you seen the musical, 1776? Mr. Feeny plays John Adams and he’s almost just as endearing (hence the name of the high school in Boy Meets World – John Adams High). Yes, I’m a fan. 🙂

  7. Really enjoyed this post. I tend to love pop culture, but it definitely can be a bit mind-numbing sometimes – it’s nice to have a reminder that it can be more meaningful, too.

  8. Shows like Boy Meets World really helped define our generation. I am so proud to grow up having watched something that is not just entertaining, but that also teaches morality in a genuine and understanding way. I know this may sound cheesy, but looking back on it now, I just really hope that the kids of today have a special show capable of teaching them more than stupid humor.

  9. Boy Meets World is such an underrated TV show. It had such wisdom and wit in its writing. For me, that episode was “Wake Up, Little Cory” – where Feeny finds Cory and Topanga asleep in the school AV room after a late night of editing their video for class about THE SCARLET LETTER, resulting in a popularity spike for Cory and Topanga seeking her “good name back” (that is actually what she says to Cory!) I used that a few years ago as a teaching tool about the power of gossip and the high school hierarchy.

    Few sitcoms aimed at teens and children today display any sort of didactic nature. In the 80s/90s, our channels and schedules were chock-full of Boy Meets World and its cousins which asked/answered the BIG questions (in no particular order): The Cosby Show, Full House, Roseanne, Step by Step, Family Matters, Sister Sister, Smart Guy, Roundhouse, George Lopez, Lizzie McGuire, and That’s So Raven (of course!) to scratch the surface.

    The most recent show in this genre with any traction was Nickelodeon’s ICarly, partly thanks to the excellent cast chemistry and some brilliant performances by both the younger actors (Miranda Cosgrove, Jennette McCurdy), and the older ones (Jerry Trainor), and even the recurring characters/guest stars (Mindy Sterling). I wasn’t a monstrously huge fan of ICarly – in fact, I was probably too old to be watching it – but I have to acknowledge that it was a show that kids/parents could watch together and find different things funny, and it promoted a lot of good values and lessons, including the price of celebrity in this day and age. What Nick and Disney play now is pretty awful – Spongebob has outlived his usefulness, Sam and Cat’s poorly-written dialogue and dumb plots ruined ICarly and Victorious for me, and Shake It Up (ending soon) relied waaaay too much on the image of “fame.” And among the newer shows, Jessie (starring Debby Ryan) is completely unwatchable.

    Will Girl Meets World live up to our expectations, or fall short?

    That’s So Jacob

    • That’s a very insightful analysis. I definitely think that few shows manage to be both educational and entertaining, but I tend to think at least one gets made every once in a while. I’m looking forward to Girl Meets World and am very much hoping it lives up to expectations.

  10. I need to read more Neil Gaiman. I loved one book of his and couldn’t quite get into another but Sandman sounds right up my alley. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed and for giving Mr. Feeny his due!

  11. I wonder if so many people from our generation can identify with the need for Mr. Feeny. Boy Meets World is one of the few shows from my adolescence that I still miss (that and Who’s the Boss). I could so identify with this post. With the cultural icons of our age and with you. I also have a BA in English Lit (and I teach English now). I also struggled with depression as a teenager and into my early 20s. Sounds like we have had similar life journeys. Check out my blog, if you’re interested!

  12. Thank you for being of the view that pop culture isn’t less than traditional literature. Like you said, TV and movies also have relevance and allow us to enter a different world.

    P.S. I am so excited about the Boy Meets World spin-off!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂

  13. I think just as much as Mr Feeny opened your eyes to Shakespeare, it was the man behind the character who convinced you of it. William Daniels is an incredible and often under-rated actor. I love that his legacy is more than just K.I.T.T from the original Knight Rider, or Dr Mark Craig on St Elsewhere. He has influenced many people with his characterisations and it is lovely to see someone acknowledge Mr Feeny aka William Daniels as their inspiration.

  14. You’re right, I have always felt that, pop culture seems to hold our attention, and even though there are some not so great things happening there, there will always be good to counter that… I love Mr Feeny and the feeeny call.. :D..
    After reading this I might have to ditch work and start another Boy meets world marathon..

  15. I honestly teared up whilst reading this post. I am not sure at what point the emotions started kicking in. I am sure it was when you stated that you love books more than life or that Mr Feeny taught you something. I don’t know. I just felt a lot from this post. Thank you. =]

  16. It was so good to read this. Sometimes we write pop culture off as being stupid or worthless, but sometimes big lessons are served in seemingly useless mediums.

  17. Just seeing Mr. Feeny’s scowl made my night. It brings me back to the days of grass stains on my jeans, TGIF, and that disgustingly-buttery popcorn from the microwave. Ahhh, to be young again… Thanks for the read!

  18. So thoughtfully put. I often think the same thing about Boy Meets World, as well as Gilmore Girls – with its quick wit and literary references that I felt so accomplished for understanding because I was a “nerd” and not always up to date with pop culture. I always preferred it that way! And who didn’t talk for hours about which house they would be sorted into at Hogwarts? What a great, shared epiphany.

  19. This is a great post! It’s interesting to note that in the Pilot episode of Boy Meets World, Mr. Feeny teaches Romeo & Juliet.
    It’s a great show, and your examples are wonderful!

  20. I was watching Boy Meets World just the other day, and was blown away with how Mr. Feeny can still tell me exactly what I need to hear. I love that pop culture got you so interested in Shakespeare, and I absolutely agree that even though we may not always like or want to deal with what is popular at the moment–it still needs to be acknowledged. Why something becomes a piece of pop culture is so indicative of the current culture, that is gives us not only an insight into the interests and trends of the moment, but how to speak to generations we are not a part of, and how to better understand where our culture is headed.

    • That’s very, very true. I was an English major in college and fortunately had an amazing professor who often brought current pop culture into our discussions in class. He said something similar to your comment. We often write off pop culture as though it isn’t important while it is in fact often a really great way to see what the culture values. After all, everything we consider a classic was at some point also “pop culture.”

      • It’s so true. Pop culture acts as a sort of mouthpiece for the state of things. The problem is, that mouthpiece often comes by way of the Miley Cyrus’ and Justin Biebers of the world.

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