The Square Circuit

Academia, parenthood, living in a bankrupt city, and what I read in the process.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

michael berube

Last week I got to hear my all-time favorite blogger, Michael Bérubé (blog since retired, alas), speak on "Whatever Happened to Cutural Studies." Basically, he was sketching out the general argument about cultural studies that's been going on since, well, since it started: are the products of pop culture always and necessarily only the carriers of capitalist, consumerist ideology (i.e. is their meaning determined by their PRODUCTION), or can pop-cultural artifacts and products carry diverse or even oppositional meanings because of they way people make use of them (i.e. is their meaning determined by their CONSUMPTION and RECEPTION). Marxists versus postmodernists. Bérubé comes down on the second side of this, and spent much of his time talking about how Robert McChesney and Thomas Frank are sharp writers but get this question all wrong.

It was exciting to be there--not for the celebrity aura that he has, because an academic "celebrity" these days doesn't really carry that kind of aura anymore, that's so Duke 1980s. No, it was the excitement of being in a room where people were really going to hash over ideas. And that's truly what happened. Berube spoke for more than an hour and took questions, at length, for another hour, but I never started fidgeting or feeling that he was running out of interesting things to say. Some of the things he covered: cultural studies, McChesney, Frank, Stanley Fish, the Social Text/Alan Sokal flap of about 15 years ago, creationism versus scientific anthropology, astrophysics concepts that I don't remember, the Mackinnon/Dworkin antipornography campaign, 1980s indie rock, the future of the internet, the effect of political blogs, and several other things that slip my mind. He's definitely enamored of his own intellect, and not at all hesitant to talk about all of those things for two hours, but the fact is that he's got the goods and so I don't mind.


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