Thursday, September 17, 2009

Pop(ping) Cultural Studies' Balloon

Michael Berube, in his article "What's the Matter with Cultural Studies" in The Chronicle of Higher Education, discusses the history and effectiveness of cultural studies, mostly in the United States.

He takes on the role of devil's advocate, questioning the past successes and failures of cultural studies - and the possibilities and prognosis for the future.

Berube also discusses the misunderstanding of what cultural studies is and the frequent practice of "'doing'" cultural studies by critiquing pop culture:
The result is that cultural studies now means everything and nothing; it has effectively been conflated with "cultural criticism" in general, and associated with a cheery "Pop culture is fun! " approach. Anybody writing about The Bachelor or American Idol is generally understood to be "doing" cultural studies, especially by his or her colleagues elsewhere in the university. In a recent interview, Stuart Hall, a former director of the Birmingham Centre and still the most influential figure in cultural studies, gave a weary response to this development, one that speaks for itself: "I really cannot read another cultural-studies analysis of Madonna or The Sopranos."
Too many in English departments (the department most influenced by cultural studies, according to Berube) have abandoned more conventional pursuits in favor of studies of pop culture divorced from a literary context.

A thesis on TV depictions of King Arthur with historical comparison to slightly older movies, but with no knowledge of or reference to Tennyson or Mallory, galls me for its ignorance and arrogance (and worries me for the future of human knowledge).

Berube is hopeful for the future of cultural studies, believing it can improve from its present state and practice:
...cultural studies can do a better job of complicating the political-economy model in media theory, a better job of complicating our accounts of neoliberalism, and a better job of convincing people inside and outside the university that cultural studies' understanding of hegemony is a form of understanding with great explanatory power—that is to say, a form of understanding that actually works.
Let's hope he's right and, in English departments at least, we see less superficial "study" of tattoos and TV.

Two of Berube's books are Life as We Know It: A Father, a Family, and an Exceptional Child and Rhetorical Occasions: Essays on Humans and the Humanities.

I would like to invite Michael Berube to my soiree.

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