Brian Holmes on 9 Feb 2001 15:17:00 -0000

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<nettime> Stockholding and Cultural Studies

1. Stockholding
The notion that you could have a popular capitalism - i.e. workers, or more
often retired workers, becoming owners by buying stock - is, I think, an
awful outcome, and not only because the small players have poorer info and
slower reaction time, and therefore tend to lose their savings in the
downswings. The worst thing is when huge numbers of people become owners,
not of any directly usable tool, but of a possible cut of the proceeds of
exploitation. But the stockholder can't see it that way (it would be
illegitimate, unbearable), so any such critique goes out the window:
stockholding makes social critique of the economy impossible for the
holder. Instead it means watching the movements of the market like they
were your own beating heart. It makes people narcissistically anxious about
the extra income they might have. A very private, even privatizing,
feedback loop is set up, where the world news is important insofar as it
affects my stocks, which in turn affect my fantasies and mood, which in
turn affect the way I see the world news. The day the US goes to war to
buouy up the fantasy market will be a sad day indeed.

2. Cultural Studies

McKenzie Wark writes:

"..People particpate already in culture in ways that are complex, subtle,
and require that we treat them with some respect. There is, in short, a
democratic impulse in cultural studies..."

Well said, that's why I read so much Birmingham school and Raymond
Williams. The impulse was definitely there. But the results are before our
eyes now, and they are very ambiguous. By equating "pop" with the popular,
by focusing so heavily on the range of meaning and use-value that can be
created in reception, while preferring to ignore the degree to which the
initial consumer-media product actually sets that range of possible
meanings and uses, cultural studies has pushed itself entirely away from
its early critical position. If you reread, say, Resistance Through
Rituals, you will see that the point is not to celebrate people's ability
to do whatever they want with music or fashion etc., but to observe how
they negotiate their class position and preserve or develop their
particular take on society _despite_ bombardment with a message that tries
to impose another view. What the authors of that book, at that time, found
most positive were the rare moments when people became fully aware that by
shifting their interpretations and uses of the dominant cultural products,
they could transform the social order. At that time, the authors thought
they could encourage those moments. I rarely see that point being made

I did, however, see Dick Hebdige give a slide/video/music show at the
Tapies Foundation in Barcelona about three years ago. Basically he was
documenting subcultural or even cult variants on the reception of musical
and filmic icons, culminating with evident delectation in a report on a
Scottish (or Welsh or Irish) village where the main activity of the
primarily retiree population is to dress up as the characters in Western
movies (cowboys and Indians I mean). Freedom and community as lived
fantasy. Notably absent from the entire show was the idea or reality of a
productive, transformative social conflict.

I don't mean that good work can't still be done out of a very rich
tradition. And it is true that in Britain (I don't know about Australia)
it's a lot harder to disconnect cultural studies from class issues than in
the US. But I do think that cultural studies, in its worldwide extension
from the US springboard, now mainly documents the ways that people
"negotiate" the dominant ideological messages, which were actually
formulated in Britain: "society doesn't exist" and "there is no
alternative." The negotiated answer, at least in Hebdige's version above,
is to make micro-societies and autistic alternatives out of the very
products that deliver the message. I don't think the academic celebration
of that answer really deserves our respect.


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