McCann, Graham, The Independent (London, England)
Cultural Studies is going to pieces. History has a piece of it, sociology has another, so does psychology, and anthropology, and literature, and modern languages, and geography, and so does philosophy. Just about every university department nowadays has - or is about to have - its own course on popular culture, rather as just about every town now has, or is about to have, its own branch of Burger King and Pizza Hut.
Not all of the locals are pleased, but most of them are learning to live with it. True, their tired ears may prick up when they hear mention of Snoop Doggy Dogg or Quentin Tarantino during examiners' meetings, just as they may wince at the sight of another half-eaten McWhopper discarded on the street outside; but life is short, and time is money, and few look back in anger.
It is, none the less, a strange state of affairs. At least in the old days these academics behaved more consistently: they hated popular culture, and were happy to see it consigned to the relative obscurity of "Cultural Studies", once described - by a sympathetic observer - as being little better than "a rag-bag of butterfly interests". Now, all of a sudden, they say they cannot live without it. Strange days indeed. It would make a little more sense if these people had experienced some kind of epiphany and been converted to the cause, but they have done nothing of the kind. They still giggle at the thought of "serious" studies of movie stars and pop singers, they still mock all the solemn seminars on soap operas and earnest lectures on The X Files. Nothing has changed. Even those who deign to teach it seem unconvinced about its potential for intellectual seriousness: some strive to sober it up with cheek-puffing empiricism, elaborate diagrams and personalised jargon ("mass- mediatisation", anyone?) in the vain hope that it may be invited to sit at the grown-ups' table, while others just let their hair down and resign themselves to the fact that they are slumming it. So why do they do it? Why do they stoop so low for low culture? Why do so many departments find space for a subject they so obviously have no respect for? Money, one imagines, must be a major factor: in these harsh and competitive times, they know that a course that revolves around the Spice Girls will be easier to sell to eager 18-year-olds than one on Spinoza. Convenience, perhaps, is another reason: well, surely anyone can waffle on about advertisements? …