More About Popular Culture & Academe

I'm reading a lot of books about spectator response, reader response, popular culture, etc. etc. and I've reached the conclusion that one reason academics like Marxist theory so much is because (1) it gives them something to say and because (2) they honestly don't believe artistic productions are worthwhile unless said productions are changing people and/or society. Nobody is really devoted to Marxism these days, but they can't give up the ideology (hee, hee) that artistic productions are just riddled with icons: that every word, image is a by-product of the dominant culture (which it probably is) and therefore, academics can remove every word, image, icon from the production, examine it separately and learn all kinds of clever things about the production's culture and then, get all steamed up how racist and sexist and capitalist everything is. You may think that show, commercial, book is innocuous but it isn't! (Picture sinister villain twirling mustache.)

I am writing an entire thesis about why I think this approach misses the point. (We're talking heading for Seattle and ending up in Jerusalem here.) And one way in which I think this approach misses the point is something I've mentioned earlier, which is that academics make people too right-brained on the one hand (open to all the underlying meaning to all these words, images, icons, etc.) and too left-brained on the other hand (not as good as academics about seeing the overall context of the images) so if a man watches a show where a woman wears skin-tight black leather, he is receiving an image that objectifies women, but he won't just say, "That's a movie," he will go right out and treat women as objects.

Now, academics who really, really, really want all this popular culture stuff to be okay will argue that the man isn't getting an image that reinforces the dominant culture's concept of women as objects BECAUSE, in fact, the show was written by a woman and the image is REALLY reinforcing female sexuality and power. So presumably the man will go out and respect women. Which just proves that you can prove anything you want when you actually ignore performance.

What I mean by performance is what happens when you put all the images and icons together. Academics who go in for iconic explanations insist that putting everything together is, like, soooo naive. They're always writing sentences along the lines of, "Well, of course, how people respond to the show has SOME merit but we all know that that's just too childish and ignorant of them. We have all these fancy labels so we must be right to insist that there are all these underlying messages that we can apply the fancy labels to." But labels are, Meier-Briggs aside, just labels.

I back performance. For instance, take a romance. Old-school feminists say romances are sexist because the heroine is always hoping to be dominated by the masterful hero and then, voila, she gets dominated. New feminists claim that romances assert female sexuality, etc. etc. I say, Could you people stop being so obsessed with your STUPID icons and look at what is actually happening?

What is actually happening is pretty straight-forward. 9 out of 10 romances, the male viewpoint is included alongside the female viewpoint. So you get to listen to the heroine think, "I wish he would put his big, strong hands on me," and you get to listen to the hero think, "She's so beautiful, I've got to get my hands on her silky skin," and if haven't laughed yourself sick because the writing is so bad (and one is, I contest, allowed to think writing is bad without being an elitest; just because something is trite and silly doesn't make it unconsumable: take Captain Crunch), you will notice that as the reader you have become complicit in the act of domination, which is a fancy way of saying that although it might be rape in real life for a man to seduce a woman who keeps saying, "No, no, we mustn't," in a romance it isn't rape because you, the reader, know she is complicit.

In other words, IT'S FICTION, and most readers are both left-brained and right-brained enough to figure that out. If the readers are entirely right-brained, they will live in the fantasy as fantasy; if they are entirely left-brained, they will take the characters as literal individuals without consuming any iconic meaning, but only academics want readers to be left-brained (literal) and right-brained (susceptible) in just the right ways to make the academics' point.

I am referring here to academics who write pseudo-Marxist, sociological blather about popular culture. There ARE academics who write intelligently about popular culture, they're just rather difficult to find.


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