Friday, August 14, 2015

Cultural criticism

There's something to be said for being of a generation that has birthed the connoisseurship of irony. It made it a little easier for me to read Tabloid Culture, at any rate. It's a book that's deeply engaged in criticizing powerful institutions for their criticism of populist media, but it does so in a remarkably sanctimonious and impenetrably academic style. I'm a smart lady, and I've done my time as an academic, but I had a lot of trouble making the connections that Kevin Glynn strives to make and I struggled to make myself give a shit about what Baudrillard would have to say about Maury Povitch.

Which is not to say that Tabloid Culture is unreadable or worthless or not totally engaging in a lot of ways. It's just, you know, kind of snooty about it, which is to be expected in what started as a dissertation written for Duke University.

The book talks a lot about postmodernism and the fact that even postmodernist thinkers can't agree on what postmodernism is, but I'm guessing that that whole argument exploded at some point in the early 2000s, before cell phones had cameras on them and before the question of "who watches the watchmen?" had been resoundingly answered with "everyone." It's fascinating to look at a book on media that essentially predates the internet (at least the modern internet) and talks about the democratizing influences and postmodernist flavor of reality TV before Survivor first hit US airwaves. I want to know what Glynn thinks of the Kardashians. I want to hear Glynn talk about Ferguson. I kept reading this book and page by page thinking "wow, the shit that's been going on in the last fifteen years must have blown this guy's mind." And I probably could learn what he thinks about a lot of those things, but I don't feel like going to New Zealand for a seminar would be worth it.

I read this book because I spent a long time as a journalism major and because it seemed interesting and kitschy. It looked like a time capsule, and that's exactly what it was. Glynn had a lot of very insightful things to say about a lot of media that had died off. He was also pretty significantly ahead of the curve on discussion of things like white fragility and trans issues, though his discussions of these topics also date the book (for instance it's pretty clear that the self-selected pronouns issue wasn't as settled in 2000 as it is today). Sometimes I found myself nodding along and thinking "yes, this is still relevant today, this is important, this is USEFUL" and then I would get to a page that went in-depth about the disassociation of the bodies of network broadcasters and realized again and again that the world has changed. Fifteen years has been enough to completely transform our media landscape, for better and for worse, and as much as I enjoyed (and was frustrated by, and was bored by) reading Tabloid Culture it's written for a world that doesn't exist anymore. Still. If I gave stars for my reviews this fascinating book would sit at four out of five. Check your local guide for showtimes.

     - Alli

Glynn, Kevin. Tabloid Culture: Trash Taste, Popular Power, and the Transformation of 
     American Television. Duke University Press. Durham: North Carolina. 2000.

Dude, look at that fucking TITLE. If you're in college and you're ever stuck for a title on your paper this is the PERFECT, PROTOTYPICAL format. Take a two-word title and follow it with a subhead that has three ideas, the first two of which are in some way repetitive (alliteration or rhyme) and the third of which breaks pattern. So, for example:

Walk Hard: Short Steps, Heavy Hearts, and Community Healing in Remembrance Walks.
Heavy Petting: Friendly Felines, Doting Dogs, and the Spread of Domestically Hosted Parasites.
Tour Talk: Lies, Sighs, and the Truth about Groupies.

Pro-tip: Don't fuck with this style too much. I once called a paper "Faceted Franklin: Four Faces Formulated for Founding a Functional Federation" to snark at the idea of formulaic title construction and got called on it by my professor. The only marks I lost on that paper were for the snarky title. Academia wants what academia wants.

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