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McMaster University
Cultural Studies and Critical Theory
Helene Strauss

Cultural Studies 1CS3 Exam Notes Monday, April 18, 2011 9:00am IWC 2 (9) --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- January 6, 2011 Introduction • Matthew Arnold: Culture seeks “to make the best that has been thought and known in the world current everywhere; to make all men (sic) live in an atmosphere of sweetness and light” Mass Culture vs. Folk Culture Mass Culture: is produced for an unknown, disparate audience. While the transmission of folk culture is generally technologically simple (face-to-face, oral), mass culture depends on electronic media to convey its message to the largest possible audience Folk Culture: cultural products and practices that have developed over time within a particular community or socially identifiable group, and that are communicated from generation to generation and amongst people who tend to be known to one another The Culture of Everyday Life • Popular culture: “something like the communicative practices of everyday life that are shared among many members of society, including and especially those who aren’t particularly socially, economically or politically powerful” (PC 10) • Internet (social networking), television, music are all examples of communication through popular culture • Culture includes a range of texts: Wii game, newspapers, television, etc • Practices and ways of life are included in this field of cultural studies because we can identify meanings when we look at them: sports, shopping, fashion, etc • “More abstract structures such as language, beliefs, the contradictory forms of ‘common sense’ which have taken root in and helped to shape popular life, and the institutions that surround them” (Stuart Hall – PC 14) Power • All these forms of culture are concerned with the distribution of both material and symbolic power in the context of capitalism • Capitalism has cultural power. A currency of exchange with goods and services. Means of production and distribution in order to make profit. The overall goal of capitalism is to gain as much profit as possible without looking negative. (See page 11) • Culture both constitutive and symptomatic of the distribution of power in capitalist societies • Example: Will Smith movies – starting off poor, crying, struggle, then working hard and making it to the top Cultural Studies • Analyses culture in the context of capitalism • Investigates the institutions, technologies, histories and power structures that make (im)possible the production and reproduction of certain kinds of culture • Asks questions about resistance and transformation • Embraces a number of different disciplines and methodologies • Deeply concerned with the connections between culture, politics and economics. Who makes culture? For whom? Why? • Why have certain forms of culture been excluded from serious study? What is at stake in certain kinds of inclusions and exclusions? Brief History • Arnold and the Leavises  Remnants of this approach to culture today?  The term culture used by Arnold is not clearly defined • Williams, Hoggart, and Thompson • Decolonization of culture • Feminism and the Culture Wars --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- January 11, 2011 Flashmob • Youtube video of flashmob in Welland, Ontario • Popular recreation: we have certain kind of spaces that are preserved for different kind of activities, and with flashmobs the boundaries of each tend to blur a little bit • Mob = a group of people coming together to perform the same thing Two key questions: 1) How did popular culture and popular forms of recreation change from the 18 century to the present?  Intensification and acceleration of capitalism: -Enclosure and the disappearance of public space -Urbanization -Industrialization (a cultural and economic shift from agriculture or small scale activity to large scale industries) -Working-class culture and middle class reform (class consciousness) -Rise of mass media culture and new technological innovations (including technologies of transportation and transmission) -Development of consumerism -Birth of the entertainment industry  Popular recreation in preindustrial England: -Community based (getting together from various towns to play football for example) -Took place on lands that were generally shaped by the community so it was easy to get access to these places -Reflects the actual world (example: dancers, sports) -Social solidarity tended to be privileged -People connect more in public places 2) What led to these changes?  Flashmobs are banned in some areas  Some of the flashmobs are extremely political – sending a message across (example: pregnant women break dancing) Ideology • The process whereby a set of beliefs or values are represented as natural rather than as the product of particular histories • By obscuring the real conditions in which people live, ideology works to maintain the existing distribution of power in society • Class consciousness generally works against dominant ideology Hegemony • Coined by Antonia Gramsci • Domination by consent • “Unequal distribution of power appears to both legitimate and natural” • Never complete – constant negotiation with emerging forms of oppositional consciousness --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- January 13, 2011 Semiotics • Linguistic turn and Structuralism • Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913): langue vs. parole  Known for creating a linguistic theory that looked at how languages developed historically. He looked at them as structures at a single moment in time. He was interested in how individual elements of language – signs – worked together. The relationship between the two “parts” of a sign – a word (signifier) and the concept it refers to (signified) is not natural but arbitrary. Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) • Signifying chains • Signs always indebted to their “others” • Every sign then becomes relational  There is nothing outside the text  Why does this matter? • Using cultural identity, Derrida explains:  “We often insist nowadays on cultural identity – for instance, national identity, linguistic identity, and so on. Sometimes the struggles under the banner of cultural identity, national identity, linguistic identity, are noble fights. But at the same time people who fight for their identity must pay attention to the fact that identity is not the self-identity of a thing, this glass, for instance, this microphone, but implies a difference within identity. That is, the identity of a culture is a way of being different from itself. Once you take into account this inner and other difference, then you pay attention to the other and you understand that fighting for your own identity is not exclusive of another identity, is open to another identity.” Binary Opposites • Roland Barthes (1915-1980):  He uses the word mythology in a much more generalized sense, to talk about how sign systems work ideologically to reproduce and legitimate particular social relationships • Representation plays a determining role in shaping the world we live in • Binary opposites: Saussure’s argument that the process of signification or “meaning making” works according to principles of difference a.k.a binary opposition • Things and concepts acquire meaning through what they are not, through their relation to terms that are more or less opposite --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- January 18, 2011 Mythologies • Roland Barthes (1915-1980) • He defined myth as a form of representation that works to express or justify dominant values • Myths reinforce dominant structures • “Dominici, or the triumph of literature” … Language that we speak is unintelligentable to the people who makes judgments/laws, etc Discourse • Michel Foucault (1926-1984) • Describes a way speech and writing work in conjunction with structures and institutions to shape social reality • Was interested in the science of language and how people make certain judgments on health and illness • Knowledge is power – through operations of power, it exercises power by what truths will be recognized • Certain kinds of medicine are valued where as other kinds are discriminated against – these values and judgments are historical • Midwives: until recently were not covered by ohip – they didn’t fit into dominant discourses because it was female dominated, it is a pretty old system, grounded in a lot of everyday practices that eventually became to be included Questions • Representation: we need to be conscious of the significance of representation not because it is possible to get the accurate, authentic truth about cultures, but because we should be aware of the way that such representations shade our perceptions and interpretations. Example: the way we know about the 80s culture is through t.v shows, but is this the authentic information/truth? Or is it just a representation? • Representation plays a determining role in shaping the world we live in: Yes? No? We make choices/assumptions – they are Myths of mass media manipulation gathered by representations Truth – the way we access and view the world Reader responses Texts – first seeing a person and first Social consequences and an outlet for the impressions are important in creating imagination assumptions of their social and class status Media – subliminal messages Encoding, decoding Making the news (why don’t homeless people It is tempting to think of representation as make the news) encompassing “News values” – The impact of violent images on children photographic/televisual/cinematic realism The politics of representation – stereotypes, etc --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- January 25, 2011 Production • “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” –Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach (1845) • Production: the ways in which human life is sustained and wealth is accumulated  Mode of production  Forces of production  Relations of production • Marx: “The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general.” • Sancts that are limited by economics will shape the way we think about ideologies Post-Industrial Society • Post-Fordist: mode of economic organization characterized by smaller, more flexible and decentralized networks of labour and production, catering to more specialized ranges of consumer demands. Shift from manufacturing toward the service sector (including hospitality, tourism, and cultural production) • Cultural production in a post-fordist world: the way in which culture is produced is different then earlier times. For example, things are mass-produced today. Another example is it takes an entire team of people and producers to manage successful songs and artists (for example Britney Spears). Britney’s role was basically to dance. • Walter Benjamin: (1892-1940). When art is produced in an age of mechanical reproduction, it’s no longer useful to rely on “outmoded concepts, such as creativity and genius, eternal value and mystery” when we try to understand culture. The Culture Industry • Max Horkheimer (1895-1973) and Theodor Adorno (1903-1969)  First people to use the term “culture industry” to describe the conditions in which contemporary popular culture was produced • Frankfurt School  The production of culture  The limits/constraints that cultural mass production places on ideology  Members of the Frankfurt School include Horkheimer, Adorno, • Culture industries vs. “The Culture Industry”:  Culture industries: music industries, film, entertainment industries, things that we associate with cultural products, video games, television, etc  “The Culture Industry”: borders between types of cultural industries and other forms of consumer production become blurry, products such as clothing, vehicles, etc, have become an experience of culture because of the symbolic meanings that associate with within our culture. • These 2 theorists criticized:  Myth of progress: have we progressed from earlier periods? What do you think might be wrong with the idea of our world progressing over time? We haven’t progressed socially due to dehumanization of our culture through mass media industry.  “Enlightenment as Mass Deception”  Instrumental rationality infiltrates all areas of life: complicated term but basically can be explained be referring to rationality or reason in a fashion in which we try to achieve the most efficient means to a desired end. Efficiency is held up, it is not neutral. Consequences of the Culture Industry • Standardization: What happens to the cultural products that we give access to? For example, when something becomes popular like Harry Potter, marketers pick up every other wizard book, etc. we get more and more predictable forms of culture, which are produced, at an increasingly limited number. Someone controls what is being put out there and it becomes more standard/predictable • Pseudo-individualization: Production of false notions of individuality. It helps with standardization – we think if we buy a blue iPod cover, we will be different then a person with a purple cover, but really, it is still an iPod cover • Distraction: 2008 elections, Canada had a small turn out of voters – Frankfurt school theorists might draw this back • Commodification of dissent: Dissent exists, it becomes part of consumer culture – resistance is useful because they are always trying to find something new that people will buy – any form of resistance provides people with that. There is a lot of dissent but the basic structures of capitalism remain in place • Meaning is determined entirely at the label of production --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- January 27, 2011 “A Star is Born” and the Construction of Authenticity • Norman is convinced that Esther (Judy Garland) is “it”, and that she has star quality after hearing her sing with a band • Esther gives in to Norman by signing to a label which makes her change her name to Vicky, not let her show her face at times, etc • She eventually marries Norman, and as her career rises, her husband’s declines and he commits suicide Stardom and the “star text” • “Star text”: star as a meeting point for many even contradictory, cultural meanings – the star must be understood ideologically (Richard Dyer, Stars) • Example: Marilyn Monroe who’s “star” image changes values in North America about women’s sexuality, etc Authenticity • Dyer, Heavenly Bodies (Dyer’s Book): Judy Garland was seen as a gay icon for many years • Links to individualism  With the rise of humanism, the individual becomes the focal point on how humans work – questions whether individuals are acting truthfully or not • Marxism/psychoanalysis/discourse theory (Michel Foucault): all disrupt belief in the sovereign nature of the individual • For example: when someone disputes the fact that Jennifer Aniston isn’t an innocent, hurt person that the media puts her our to be, they are still going along with star authenticity and questioning it • Celebrities: overtly public individuals (P. David Marshall, Celebrity and Power) • Dyer’s Key Question: how can we simultaneously believe that stars are both manufactured and authentic? Layering of Revelatory Discourses • Fatty Arbuckle  he was hired by studies to do mainly comic roles, he was accused of raping a women at a wild party, this was seen as a break of control of the layers • We are offered a tease of revelation – however they are all just layers of discourse Incorporation of Resistant Layers of the Star Text • Examples:  Name: Esther Blodgett/Vicki Lester -There are many moments in the film that represent Judy Garland’s life off screen -Judy Garland was really born as Frances Gumm and was shoved onto a stage at 2 years old and forced to sing a chorus of jingle bells, then she was put into a group with her sisters called the Gumm Sisters, due to improvement her names was changed to Judy Garland -So one can see the relation between her real life and the movie -They fed Judy Garland diet pills, put strips on her nose, which altered the shape of it, completely changed her -In the movie, when Esther had a makeover and was traumatized by it, Norman asked her if the nose was real and she said no, and he picked off a strip just like the one she used to wear when her studio made her, again showing the relation to her actual life Oblique References to the Difficult Years • Judy Garland experienced various mental breakdowns and suicide attempts due to stress in her stardom • However, in the movie, Norman is the one who represents someone who needs help by his alcoholism, stress, etc • It is a layer of Garland’s star text which gets embodied by Norman --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- February 1, 2011 Consumerism • What is the foundational myth of consumer culture? • Commodities: objects and services produced for consumption or exchange by someone other than their producers Consumer Culture • It is historically unique th • Around the end of the 19 century we saw a shift in long-standing patterns of consumption • Crisis of capitalist overproduction – new and expanded markets were then needed  Not only increase in wages  Also required a shift in values From saving to shopping • Max Weber: from Protestant asceticism to materialism • James Twitchell: the culture of consumption…replaced the culture of contrition • Government and manufacturers worked together to promote economy and culture of consumerism 1) New Spaces of Consumption • Wal-Mart, West Edmonton Mall, etc 2) Advertising and Marketing • Pantene, McDonalds, etc • Branding: through symbols and advertising, creating a trademark that is recognizable 3) Credit and Debt • Urban Sprawl: the growth of urban areas --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- February 3, 2011 Consumption as distinction • Agency: the ability of individuals to act as self-conscious, willful social actors, and to exert their will through involvement in social practices, relationships, and decision making ‘Taste’ and distinction • Sociocultural differentiation: what we “choose” to consume includes us in some groups and excludes us from others. What we consume (or don’t consume) has always functioned as a form of social distinction Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929) • Conspicuous Consumption: “A pattern of behaviour that began in the nineteenth century as a result of increased incomes and leisure time along with the growth of marketing. “Wasted” consumption (that which exceeds what is strictly necessary for life) began to be used by members of different classes in a way that was ‘conspicuous’ – obvious, noticeable, visible – in order to signal or symbolize social distinction” Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002) • Taste closely tied to the distribution of power in society • ‘Taste’ has been mobilized to reinforce existing class distinctions • Bourdieu: “Objectively and subjectively aesthetic stances adopted in matters like cosmetics, clothing or home decoration are opportunities to experience or assert one’s position in social space, as a rank to be upheld or a distance to be kept.” Consumption, desire and pleasure • “Confessions of a Shopaholic” • The cost of consumption has many consequences which can be seen in representations in movies such as Confessions of a Shopaholic – debt, lies, etc --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- February 8, 2011 Identity and the Body • Essentialism: certain groups have characteristics that come from their physical bodies that determine the characteristics • Social Constructivism: draws attention to the cultural and political contents that an identity is formed • Pay attention to the “symbolic and material weight of identity, both as an ideological force that inserts us into particular roles we may or may not have chosen in a social script we do not ultimately control, and as a platform for self-expression that may allow us limited forms of rewriting” (O’Brien and Szeman 184) • Identity can be seen as a form of narrative • The idea of the individual arrived only recently Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) • One of the first influential theorists to pay attention to identity • He suggested that identity is not self evident or unified • Socialization through repression of desires, drives and fears • As he puts it, “each individual who makes a fresh entry into human society repeats this sacrifice of instinctual satisfaction for the benefit of the whole community” • He developed most of his ideas about identity through working with mentally unstable patients • Psychosocial Development:  Psyche split into conscious, the unconscious and the preconscious parts  Two key moment in the process of psychosocial development: -The recognition of sexual difference -The acquisition of language (language is a symbolic system that shapes our relation with the world, so it is an important state in the process to challenge our desires)  Function as unstable/unreliable barriers between the unconscious drives and instincts and the world of social acceptability – our identities always at risk of being destabilized  Feminist objections?  Babies go through various stages of development until they are socialized • Freud’s theories have been widely criticized Identity and Ideology • Marxism: ideology as an expression of basic economic relations • Louis Althusser (1918-1990): ISA’s and RSA’s, interpellation • Ideology really serves to camouflage the real conditions in which people live • Through ideology individuals were convinced of the naturalist, later theorists (Louis) redefined ideology saying that it played an independent role on its own to shaping how identity works in society and culture • 2 Mechanisms that were used to ensure peoples obedience:  ISA’s: ideology state apparatuses – include things like schools, religion, family, and general media  RSA’s: repressive state apparatuses – police, army, and criminal justice system • As a result of the power of these systems, individuals are interpolated, which means that we are constantly being compelled by these forces to identify with the cultural identities that we are assigned in the larger social order • What type of identities do you find yourself being conformed to and why? As students, we cannot really do anything else because we need education to land a decent job and career so we are forced/interpolated to go to school and use this as our identities, etc • These ideological forces are not only policed by larger social structures, but we police one another – we are constantly busy reinforcing rules and calling other people to prescribe to these rules and to live by them Frantz Fanon (1925-1961) • Incredibly influential theorist • He was a psychiatrist • Wrote “Black Skin, White Masks” --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- February 10, 2011 Identity and the Body • Performativity: performative utterance is uttering and saying things like “I promise” or “I do” • Performative acts “congeal over time to produce the appearance of a substance of a natural sort of being” Knowledge, Power and Sexuality • Power shapes society productively • Discipline (noun and verb) • Example: Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon • Millbank Prison – London, 1821 Biopower and Biopolitics • Disciplinary technologies worked “to optimize and standardize the body’s functions” • “The disciplinary knowledge developed in the fields of embryology, endocrinology,
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