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Anxious gatekeeping

Analogous to nervous cluelessness is something we might call “anxious gatekeeping.”   This is desire to police the borders of poetry, or of...

Monday, March 25, 2013

Can Cultural Studies Do Without Anxieties?

Can cultural studies do without anxieties? One very common trope in this field is the idea that a culture, as a whole, is worried about something. People are anxious about something happening (or what they think is happening, or will happen soon) in the "culture," and so different movies, or television shows, or popular songs, express or reflect this general level of anxiety. Usually, it is about women going back to work, or gender roles in general, or sexual boundaries, or race or class.

I'm not saying this is not a valid way of looking at culture, but it strikes me that I have rarely if ever seen it theorized or argued. It is just taken for granted that this is a valid model of how a culture works. All the cultural critic has to do is find out what the source of the anxiety is, and go to work finding symptoms of it. But does culture really work this way? How do we know this? Is this a Freudian model, in the end? The culture is like a guy with some complexes, some anxieties, which he expresses through some cultural symptoms, like making movies about monsters eating New York.

I haven't looked, but I can guarantee that I could find a cultural studies article arguing that zombie tv shows and movies express a cultural anxiety about whatever the critic happens to think people are worried about.

UPDATE

2 comments:

Andrew Shields said...

The anxiety model might be related to the anxiety of the cultural-studies scholar: since the object of study is not a privileged object, the scholar is anxious about whether or not such scholarly work is legitimate. This anxiety gets projected into the work. But of course this reading uses the same model (though at the level of the individual rather than the "culture").

The anxiety model must be related to the basic gesture of literary scholarship, which is based on a metaphorical structure à la Lakoff, Johnson, and Turner, according to which "meaning is deep": the text may have a surface meaning, but its real meaning must be worked out by interpretation. The surface is the symptom, if you will, and the depth is the anxiety.

In fact, that is the basic gesture of research as such: the "surface" may look one way, but when you look at it closely, it turns out to be something else. The world looks flat at first, but when you study it, think about it, and do the math, it turns out to be curved.

profacero said...

Hmmm ... I think the anxiety model is marketed by tv. Since a lot of cultural studies people are really looking at mass culture, they pick up on this and accept it. You need anxiety on tv because they are selling products to calm it and legislative bills to assuage it.