Sunday, 7 February 2010

Britney is cheaper.....

Seeing this clip inspired me to dig around for some media sociology. You probably won't find anything comparable in the blogosphere though, where Kittler, McLuhan, Baudrillard, Zizek et al are the order of the day. An excellent critical response to the Canadian media theorists, McLuhan, Innis, can be found in Alan O'Connor's book on Raymond Williams, but I can't pass up this article. Here is another good overview of the contemporary relevance of Williams to television studies. I ordered a whole swag of books yesterday, including McGuigan's Cool Capitalism, so fortunately the aforementioned theoretical prejudices have been unable to completely dictate the terms of what publishers are willing to produce.

What I'm pointing to here, of course, is the publishing trend I've discussed before on this blog. I could have just as easily written that "Continental philosophy is cheaper", or Zizek is cheaper, or "Baudrillard is cheaper". The analogy holds in so far as the crisis in scholarly publishing has pushed more towards the production of textbooks or recondite, philosophically oriented cultural analysis, operating at a level of abstract generality where they are less likely to alienate readership outside of their original context of production by being too specific. An added bonus, from a publisher's point of view, is that production is both cheaper and faster, and hence more adaptable to market fluctuations, as it is not detained too much by painstaking empirical considerations. The irony therefore is that the theorists in question are prone to reading "abstraction" at face value as the dominant feature of contemporary capitalism, but don't seem prepared to countenance the fact that their networks are the beneficiaries of what they claim to deplore. So there's some compelling reasons why reflexive disclosure must be avoided by some bloggers! This common pitfall makes me more appreciative when I come across someone like kvond who can think reflexively.

Luckily I am also able to find solace with authors such as Bryan S Turner and Chris Rojek, who have attempted to mobilise sociology against the style of analysis I've been describing, which they refer to as the decorative turn. One of its chief characteristics is the penchant for oracular pronouncements, with the theorist descending upon the readership, like a god from a machine. Take Zardoz for example, who has nailed Zizek's style perfectly:

Now before anyone gets too judgemental about the justifications for this critique, it is advisable to first thoroughly study Turner and Rojek to understand the alternative they are substituting. They are offering more than the relativism associated with strong social constructionism, in their turn to "the social". But I still appreciate how social constructionism can act as a way station for later arrival at a more epistemologically robust position.

I can actually date my awareness of social constructionism to when I was about 12 years old. I was at home watching the "Punky Business" episode of The Goodies comedy series. I didn't know much about punk at the time, but I still sensed that most of the satire was hopelessly out of touch with why people wanted to become involved in such an exciting scene. The part though that did catch my attention was the program's scepticism about some of the music journalists who attached themselves to punk. The basic idea that some people were really making the news, and not just reporting [sic] it, brought home to me the opportunism that can be a feature of any scenius. To this very day, I chuckle at the memory of the satire of Caroline Coon in the form of a character called Caroline Kook (wonderfully played by Jane Asher). Kook cynically observes that the music press faces the imperative to always have a new scene to hype, or they would lose their market appeal to inform the otherwise clueless about what was hip. This can amount to much ado about nothing, which I was reminded of many times when reading Melody Maker and New Musical Express throughout the course of the 1980s (I found the Manchester scene after Joy Division, for example, boring beyond belief).

The point of this anecdote is that the novelty of change is commonly exaggerated. I say this in part because it concurs with Turner and Rojek's reference to Kierkegaard's words from 1846 to summarise the limitations of certain forms of contemporary theory. The Present Age describes a faux revolutionary age which purports to be addressing action, but which:

"transforms that expression of strength into a feat of dialectics: it leaves everything standing but cunningly empties it of significance. Instead of culminating in a rebellion it reduces the inward reality of all relationships to a reflective tension which leaves everything standing but makes life as a whole ambiguous: so that everything continues to exist factually whilst by a dialectical supplies a secret interpretation that it does not exist" (p. 42-3).

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