In the course of this essay I'm going to argue three things: one, that popularizing the work of academic cultural criticism is something we absolutely must do, something that we cannot not want; two, that there isn't a chance in the world that academic criticism will ever be popular; and three, that the kind of criticism known as critical theory already is popular. In other words, one of the primary things I want to address here is the question of what we mean by 'popular' and 'popularization'. Let me dispense with my second argument first. Academic work will never be truly popular, in the American sense, until it gets televised. Nationally televised. We're talking about a syndicated, sponsored public-airwaves program. And because academics tend to ramble and make nuanced arguments, we'd also have to be talking about mediaworthiness - punditry, sound bites, talking heads, movie stars, swimming pools. My own nightmare version of this scenario would be critical theory as performed by the McLaughlin Group. First, McLaughlin barks: 'Item one: The Performance of Gender Is Simultaneously Its Subversion. Eleanor!' Eleanor Clift gets four seconds. 'Wrong! Mort!'
But that's another subject entirely, and I'm not going to talk about it here. Besides, when it comes to competing with television, we're all too familiar with how marginal we are. Evan Watkins has recently argued with admirable and depressing clarity that academic work is constructed not only so as to make a virtue of that marginalization, but so as to make it a source of our continual frustration as well. Watkins's argument, especially where it discusses the relation between American colleges and secondary education, is specific to English departments, but his account of the 'circulation of value' holds for related fields as well. Those of us in the human sciences tell ourselves that we have a 'general and universal' function in circulating cultural values, but we're notably unable to circulate the content of the work we do throughout the culture at large. Comparing