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Dead horse, assume the position

April 16th, 2005

In a stunningly original essay in today’s Australian, Stephen Matchett assails ” Elitist dismissal of mass entertainment as intellectual ‘prole food’”, when it is in fact, “recognisably subversive”[1]. He’s quoting one Alan McKee, who turns out to be a fellow Brisvegan and (via Google) a colleague of mine at UQ. Reading between the lines, I suspect McKee has more to contribute than this hackneyed point (he makes a valid observation about omnivorousness and cultural capital later on), but he’s not well served by this piece.

No doubt there are people out there who still adhere to the idea of a fundamental and unbridgeable gap between art and mass culture, but I’ve followed debates on this and related topics around the blogosphere for a few years now without running into them (probably, they’re waiting for this Internet fad to pass before they get a computer). The real problem now is to articulate some sort of criteria from distinguishing good from bad that does not rely on the failed assumptions of high art.

fn1. I see this point being made all the time in cult-stud writing. No doubt it explains why the recent collapse of capitalism, in the face of withering postmodernist critiques, began in the United States, the home of mass culture.

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  1. April 16th, 2005 at 15:33 | #1

    You inspired me to write a potted history of cultural studies and politics, John.

  2. petero
    April 17th, 2005 at 17:13 | #2

    The Matchett piece is doubtless the phoniest piece of writing to grace the Oz’s pages since … The intro about the girl at the dinner party has “bullshit” all over it. The rest is poor man’s Imre – and that’s pretty bloody poor!

    No stars from me.

  3. April 18th, 2005 at 07:32 | #3

    “The real problem now is to articulate some sort of criteria from distinguishing good from bad that does not rely on the failed assumptions of high art.”
    Yes, and can someone articulate the failed assumptions of high art? Is this the assumption that there is some standards embodied in the western canon that makes it “high” in comparison with the modern products of mass culture?
    If we concede that some work is better than others then it begs the question about the standards that are being applied, then the next question is, should the same standards be applied to all kinds of work or not (with allowance for different genres of course)?
    Sporting analogies might help, just to get some of the principles sorted out without treading on sensitive toes in the cultural battlefield.

  4. Andrew Reynolds
    April 18th, 2005 at 10:42 | #4

    IMHO some art is better than others – but that is the point, it can only ever be my (humble) opinion. The major difference between high art and pop culture is the humbleness of those giving the opinions.

  5. April 22nd, 2005 at 18:52 | #5

    Alan now works at QUT, for anyone interested, and has done for over a year. He’s head of the television degree.

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