Banality in fan studies

  • Oct. 8th, 2009 at 6:40 PM
crypto: (sarah looks ahead)
Michael Bérubé has posted a lengthy response to criticisms of the CHE essay "What's the Matter with Cultural Studies?" that I'd linked to last month, with bonus elaborations and clarifications. And for those playing along at home, special guest appearances from Lisa Duggan, Jody Berland, and Simon During!

I'm just going to highlight here this one section that touches on fan & television studies, and emphasizes the history of their critique by and within cultural studies:
cut for length )
So, okay, but what's happened to fan studies? Sure, a lot of later work dialed back on the rhetorical excesses of "active audience" boosterism, but so much of it still seems governed by a "the fans are alright" orientation. On the one hand, you have Henry Jenkins and friends, the Convergence Culture coterie, whose collective intelligence has apparently led them to stop worrying and embrace the brand extensions, and wherever possible to embrace industry itself. On the other hand, you've got the cult of the fanwork, where transformative is the new subversive, pleasure becomes its own politics, and the material/economic domain is largely reduced to questions of copyright and creativity. Sure, that's a gross generalization of a lot of really interesting work being done -- but I look at the (excellent) fan(works) studies articles from the In Focus section of the latest Cinema Journal (pdf), and I see, albeit posed in more sophisticated and nuanced terms, yet another valorization of active audiences which, all in all, doesn't seem to have moved very far beyond the orbit traced by Jenkins' Textual Poachers, published nearly two decades ago.

Am I missing something? Has fan studies simply defected from cultural studies, rejected its presuppositions and preoccupations as inadequate or irrelevant, or shrugged off the '90s critiques of cultural populism?

I'll close with a bit of Meaghan Morris' most excellent "Banality in Cultural Studies":

If banality keeps on coming back around in our polemics, it is less because of the residual elitism of individual intellectuals, and populist reaction to it, and more because "banality" as mythic signifier is always a mask for the question of value, and of value-judgement, or "discrimination". If I find myself in the contradictory position of wanting to reject the patronising idea that "banality" is a useful framing concept to discuss mass media, and yet go on to complain myself of "banality" in cultural studies, the problem may arise because the critical vocabulary available to people wanting to theorise the discriminations that they make in relation to their own experience of popular culture -- without debating the "validity" of that experience, even less that culture as a whole -- is still, today, extraordinarily depleted. It seems to me, therefore, that the worst thing one can do in this context is to accuse people trying to develop a critique of popular culture of succumbing to "elitism" or pessimism.