Cultural Studies is Not a Free-For-All

Lately something has been bothering me.  Maybe because it’s been bothering me I’ve been noticing it more often or maybe it is actually becoming more prevalent.  What I’m referring to is the “anything goes” attitude of articles and “scholasticism” published under the category of cultural studies.

I am a big fan of cultural studies on account of that’s what I do: I write about T.V. and fashion and culturally relevant aspects of American society.  I fully believe in the legitimacy of cultural studies as a rigorous academic discipline just like chemistry or history.  As a legitimate discipline I believe that anyone publishing/researching/generally dabbling in the arena of cultural studies should engage in serious scholarship.  Which is why it is maddening to encounter the erosion of cultural studies until it is merely opinions about popular culture; where popular culture is anything that happens in America.  Take, for example, this article published today under Aljazeera’s opinion section.  There are a few interesting points that come at the end of the piece, but the majority of her article is surface level engagement with why humans love origin stories.  This lackadaisical attitude is also rearing its ugly head in undergraduate and graduate classrooms.  I cannot count the number of classrooms I have been in where students seemed to have believed that cultural studies means observing and blithely commenting on a cultural trend and then moving on.  Once again, not every classroom or every student is guilty of this offense but I have dealt with this problem enough times to feel compelled to address it. 

Yet even as I write this I am aware that I am toeing a fine line.  Legitimating cultural studies has been and continues to be a difficult undertaking.  As a television scholar I find myself, more often than not, defending my work and my subjects as serious areas of study and not just happy fun t.v. time.  I am grateful and happy that more people are working with cultural studies, quite frankly I think it’s about damn time.  Voicing my complaints feels a little like I’m betraying my tribe when that is not at all my intention.  The only way to continue to legitimize cultural studies is by holding all of its scholars accountable for the production of quality work.

 I believe in cultural studies.  I do not believe in lazy, sloppy, unengaging work masquerading as cultural studies.


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