Cultural Studies


Cultural Studies

Cultural Studies can be understood as the working title for an assemblage of theoretical approaches that are often interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary but also anti-disciplinary. Such work focuses on the analysis and critique of culturally constituted cultural forms and practices and on historically constituted social identities and agencies in the context of their imbrication with the asymmetrical relations of power that permeate the production and reproduction of the economic, political, and ideological dimensions of specific societies.

I love that opening: "can be understood." By whom? The evasive use of the passive voice here is a clue to the passage. What it really says, boiled down to its essence, is that Cultural Studies is a way for academics to explain how rich white guys use their cultural power, as in the writing of books and teaching of grammar, to screw minorities, women, and the poor. If they said that in their application grant to the Republican legislature in Virginia , the chances of this program's getting funded would be rather low. Hence, the use of words like "imbrication" when "overlapping" would have said the same thing. This kind of language does more than puff up the ego of the people who use it; it also obscures their nefarious purposes.

One of my favorite "Shoe" cartoons shows the Perfessor interviewing an eagle from the Pentagon. He asks the eagle, "General, why is it that I can go into any hardware store and buy this wood screw for 2 cents but the Air Force pays $372.17 for the same screw?"

"Very simple," says the general, "You pay 2 cents and you get a wood screw. We in the Air Force pay $372.17, but we get the M18 fully-slotted, manually activated, fiber-intrusive materials securing unit."

The temptation to read this simply as the posturing of fools needs to be resisted. Far more is at stake. The reason the Air Force pays that much for a screw is because someone is making a profit of $372.15 per screw. That is real money going to a contractor who then pays back his old friends at the Air Force to say nothing of the congressmen who voted for the expenditure.

Voters who are impressed with the pompous language of the Cultural Studies crowd or the inflated descriptions of the Air Force get what they deserve: screwed. Those who insist on the plain style, and who insist that politicians and professors speak in a language we can understand, are the heroes of democracy. Some professors mystically argue that the complex language of Cultural Studies "empowers" students when in fact it belittles them. It makes them feel stupid. True empowerment comes, as Luther and the Reformers knew, when the peasants are taught to read and write in a language they can understand.

Do not therefore be intimidated by complex books. Don't think you have to imitate them. Say it plain and say it proud.

Thank you.

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