A former sportswriter and current college professor, Murray Jay Siskind is one of the tough, media-obsessed New York émigrés who teach in the American environments department at College-on-the-Hill. Like the other émigrés, Murray is preoccupied with the iconography of American popular culture and dreams of someday devoting himself to the study of Elvis. Murray makes no distinction between his scholarly and everyday lives. He always uses highly academic, intellectualized language, and he constantly analyzes and deconstructs the mundane world around him. For Murray, analysis is romantic in that it allows him to elevate and celebrate the seemingly insignificant. The supermarket, for example, reminds Murray of the Tibetan holding place for dead souls. He believes that television emits enormous quantities of spiritual and psychic information, which people don’t know how to read properly.
Murray is a satire of the postmodern college professor, who finds deeply significant meaning in everything—particularly things that other people would consider shallow or irrelevant. Often, however, at the heart of Murray’s lectures on television and consumerism lies an accurate, if perhaps somewhat extreme, perception of the contemporary world. Beneath his deliberately constructed intellectual persona, complete with pipe and corduroy jacket, Murray is prone to generalizations and stereotypes. Murray enjoys being contrary and pushing other people’s buttons.