Monday, 5 January 2009

Why Bother With Ideology Critique?

From time to time I'm asked why I bother writing stuff like this, this and this. It's tempting to give the bourgeois reply and say "Because it's my blog and because I can".

But it's not that. Really. I think Terry Eagleton, the well-known Marxist literary theorist, offers a position that explains why criticism of seemingly inane cultural phenomena can be useful:
Marxist criticism is part of a larger body of theoretical analysis which aims to understand ideologies - the ideas, values and feelings by which men [sic] experience their societies at various times. And certain of those ideas, values and feelings are available to us only in literature. To understand ideologies is to understand both the past and the present more deeply; and such understanding contributes to our liberation (Marxism and Literary Criticism 1976, p.viii).
Substitute 'literature' for film, TV, music, etc. and you've got a powerful justification for teasing out the ideologies curled up tightly in the likes of Mamma Mia, The Sopranos and Eric Prydz videos. And what's more, you have a critical practice that is very well suited to the blogging format.

That is why I occasionally write about tat.

15 comments:

Madam Miaow said...

Why on Earth wouldn't you want to dig deeper into the world in which we live? The ideology of the dominant class manipulates and has us flipping from one set of beliefs to another. Why wouldn't you want to know how that works?

If no-one else does it, I may take a BFG to that Hovis ad ...

splinteredsunrise said...

There is this attitude on the left that we should really confine ourselves to high culture (Austen, Springsteen) and pretend the tat doesn't exist. But I think that if 14 million people watch X Factor, that's at least worth teasing out a little. That's why I thought Ben Watson's book on Zappa was so good, though there were some low-culture refs that I think went under Ben's head...

Phil BC said...

Lol, Zappa is high culture as far as I'm concerned!

MM, that Hovis ad is interesting. A nice and sneaky way of putting across hegemonic historical tropes, that one. I really fancy a rant at the "peoples' post office" ads, but they make me sick so much I don't know if I could stomach it.

Jim Jay said...

Do people really ask you why you write about Dead Set, etc.? I suspect if someone said something like that to me I'd have to resort to giving them a funny look - or worse!

I wouldn't automatically call it tat either. Just because something doesn't have the approval of some self appointed academy doesn't mean it's not worthwhile stuff.

Charlie Brooker is unlikely to ever get that knighthood he so craves (well, he might) but he's one of the best columnists out there. Dead Set (which I saw last night as it happens) wasn't great - but he's still a genius.

Cat said...

I hate zombies so I did not watch Dead Set. Why is QVC or X Factor tat? Is it opium for the masses, bread and circuses?

Though things have changed when I was wee we were not allowed to watch STV because it was not state owned and had comercials. If it was not BBC1 or 2 it wasn't on!

hysperia said...

An ignorant Canadian would like an explanation of the word "tat", though I think I've got the drift.

I've long been an afficionado of discussions of ideology in the context of law. But all forms of cultural production are goldmines for me - I find myself constantly having to remind myself of why so many people believe as they do, lest I become cynical about the human spirit.

Neil said...

Phil, if your uncomfortable with using bourgeois trerminology why don't you go for a more proletarian response to your critics:
" Get stuffed, your not paying me to write this stuff"

When are we going to have more commentary on the ideology behind computer games, probably one of the bastions of right wing cultural tropes.

Foxessa said...

There's Marxist criticism, like Raymond Williams, that remains valuable even these many decades post its initial publication.

Then there is this stuff that thud-handedly drops a Marxist, Trotskyist, Lenin-Stalinist (why never Maoist?) house on every current event and concludes that the only adequate response can come from 'the people,' the masses,' and / or 'the proletariat.' You don't even need to read the screeds any longer. This is as useful a reading, apaplication and response as putting tits on a boar pig, as a rural prole I grew up on the farm with liked to say.

Ideology alone isn't ever enough, either for diagnosis or remedy. It is essential, perhaps, but more that that is equally called for.

But then, maybe I don't understand these things. After all peasants were regarded as much of a class enemy as any banker.

Love, C.

Renegade Eye said...

I wonder who Foxessa is talking about?

This is a moment to pay homage to professional wrestler and artist George Gordienko, who was deported to Canada, during the McCarthy period,

Charlie Marks said...

As regards the content of the blog post - this is something Zizek is always banging on about, how ideology informs film, etc. Though really I think his continuous film references are just a way to pad out his books and make his public appearances more entertaining...

Foxessa's distinction between Raymond Williams-type id-crit and the "thud-handed" stuff, is a bit problematic. What's the point of Marxist theory without the Marxism bit?

This is my problem with Zizek, as it happens. His next TV series will be the Pervert's Guide to Ideology - one assumes he'll be using examples from film rather than just reading from Hegel - but unless there's some thud-handed Marxism, we might well ask, what's the point in recognising ideology?

Jim Jay said...

Because it's fun.

Phil BC said...

Zizek's been given a TV series? Now that will be worth blogging about!

Charlie Marks said...

Don't tell me you missed The Pervert's Guide to Cinema?

Infantile and Disorderly said...

The past entries you linked to are the sort of thing that attracts me to blogging. At the end of the day, we can read "deep" Marxist theory in plenty of books or thousands of texts on marxists.org. We can access news items and world events with remarkable ease, even on the move. But left-wing blogs can provide something totally different- up to date Marxist perspectives not only on news but also cultural phenomena. Through blogging, we have a way to interpret the present and share our interpretation with other people.

In short, writing about tat is a good thing. Do it more.

Phil BC said...

Neil, I can't write about computer games because, sad though it is, Civ III is the only one I play (and not too often either!) If you fancy penning something on Gears of War or Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games, I'll be happy to carry it as a guest post!