I’ve got to start grading, so I don’t have time for a full post, but I’m looking forward to reading Michael Bérubé’s discussion of Tom Frank’s latest book What’s the Matter with Kansas?. I remember reading the Salon interview with Frank a few months ago that Michael mentions in his blog entry:
You have a whole critique of pop culture that is difficult to summarize, but let’s talk more about your sympathy with the right-wing activists. When they bemoan how coarse and cheap pop culture has become, you almost seem to agree, or at least to feel that they have a certain kind of point.
Well, look. I should say this: I started out as a punk rocker, and we try to deal with cultural dissent, genuinely shocking things, at the Baffler. But as I have written about many, many times, so much of the shockery that surrounds us is not genuine. There’s no avant-garde about it. It’s not the real thing, it’s a watered-down capitalist projection. You’ve seen this argument before, “the commodification of dissent.”
The argument I’m making is not that they’re absolutely right to be disgusted by our culture—although when I’m away from the country and I come back and turn on MTV, I’m always like, “Holy shit!” I’m just trying to play up the flagrant contradiction. If you hate this stuff, talk about capitalism! Talk about the forces that do it! I’m focusing on the contradiction there, rather than accepting their argument about obscenity or whatever.
Right, so your real problem is with the kind of cultural-studies intellectual who believes that pop culture really is subversive.
Yes, exactly. The cultural studies people read these products of capitalism as face value. They see fake rebellion as the real thing. To put it in very vulgar terms, that’s the argument.
Madonna kissing Britney is somehow actually socially meaningful.
Right, exactly. And the heartland people often see it that way also. I’m saying it’s not that, it is as pure an expression of business rationality as is a McDonald’s hamburger.
While I’d certainly agree that the Madonna-Britney kiss is far from subversive, I’d argue that his characterization of cultural studies here is pretty misrepresentative. I doubt there are many serious cultural studies cholars who will read that event without thinking about the dollar signs that framed it. I’d planned to blog this interview when it first appeared, but never found the time, and right now, I really do need to be working on other things.
Also just wanted to note that the comments in Michael’s post led me to UC Irvine film and media professor Catherine Liu’s very cool blog, Don’t Ask Me!, which I’ll read regulalry from now on.