Sunday, February 15, 2009

5 questions plus 2 other things...

Two preliminary things:

First: perhaps the Hulu Super Bowl ad has already come up in class discussion? If so, skip this next paragraph. If not, you might want to skip it anyway.

Hulu is a 'YouTube'-like video site which is distinguished from YouTube by three main things: 1) run by 'old media' conglomerate (NBC-Universal), 2) pro-shot video only /no user-generated content, 3) and its turning a profit (according to The Economist, Hulu is oversold on ads by major corporate sponsors; hailed as a 'business model').

Back to the ad: I couldn't embed it, but here's the link. Made me
think those Frankfurt schoolers might have been on to something. (And no, I'm not being sarcastic.)

Second: I have to confess great frustration with the library's ebook thing. I'm no Luddite, and rather enjoy reading ebooks, but the library's ecatalog--inconsistent and of various formats--truly frustrating. I experienced several browser crashes, major difficulty saving and/or printing files and just gave up. Lots of time wasted. Maybe its just my laptop...? Anyway, about the third crash it occurred to me that it would be pretty awesome if each week one of us could download the weekly assignments and post them as pdfs (maybe on blackboard?) for ease of retrieval and printing...maybe each of us
take turns? Just a suggestion.

Now on to my five for the week.

1) On p. 16 of Kellner's "Theory Wars and Cultural Studies" chapter in Media Culture, the author writes: "New media technologies provide powerful forms of social control through more efficient subtilely concealed techniques of indoctrination and manipulation. Indeed, their very existence might sap political energies and keep people safely ensconced within the confines of their home entertainment centers, far from the maddening crowds and sites of mass political action." This was published in 1995, contemporaneous with Robert Putnam's 'Bowling Alone'. Does this perspective idealize some imaginary real-world political interaction? Ten years on, don't we seem more (not less) politically engaged?

2) Also in "Theory Wars" on pp. 32-33, Kellner offers a vivid summary of British Cultural Studies as compared to (esp.) the Frankfurt school. Cultural studies seems distinct in essentially three features: less elitist (embracing 'low' art), advocates subversion as a remedy, and, views all of society's relationships through the lens of subjugation and domination (i.e., 'culture'). Is that correct? Are those the main distinctions? I wonder if we can draw a map/diagram of the evolution of Critical-Cultural Studies? It might be too early, but I'd like to try.

3) In Hardt's chapter on British Cultural Studies' encounter with American mass communication research, the author (on p.112) discusses the ebb of critical studies as both an indictment of the academy and something inevitable because of the inherent rigidity of the BCS ideology. But if the perceived 'politicization' of cultural studies diminishes the perceived value of radical and eclectic thought (which the author seems to concede), is it not possible to relocate the realm (or locus) of cultural studies from the ideological to some "other thing" (i.e., the historical, the individual, the civil, or even the 'moral'?)

4) In the fabulous editor's introduction to Stuart Hall's autobiographical essay (p.97 of The Cultural Studies Reader) Simon During discusses Gramscian understanding of conjunctural knowledge as "knowledge situated in and applicable to specific and immediate political or historical circumstances; as well as an awareness that the structure of representations which form culture's alphabet and grammar are instruments of social power requiring critical and activist examination. Question: how is this definition changed by removing the words "and activist"? Helpful or harmful?

5) In his autobiographical essay, Stuart Hall writes (on p. 100) about the 'dirtiness' of the cultural studies tradition--with some degree of satisfaction. I've noticed that defenders of the cultural studies also approach like to talk about its messiness...indeed, sometimes seem to revel in the description (like Southerners sometimes revel in saying y'all). What is the 'dirtiness of the semiotic game' Hall describes? A lack of scientific precision? Something else? To my 'ears', it rings a little like that phrase Harley riders like to use
to dismiss critics: "If I had to explain it, you wouldn't understand." Seems a cop-out.

David D. Brown

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