I’m having a really hard time with the idea that taste is merely relative. Of course, I agree with Bourdieu that our taste is shaped from an early age and is shaped by a various forms of knowledge. However, despite acknowledging rationally that there is no real foundation for a hierarchy of taste and culture, my gut instinct is that the idea of pure relativity in terms of taste is false. ( I have the same problem with supposed relativity of morals.)
In Jenkins’ Textual Poachers it almost seems that in the cultural studies shift to looking at the individual’s method of relating to and using an object has gone too far. Jenkins argues that “Fan culture muddies” the boundaries between legitimate and non-legitimate culture (or taste) by “treating popular texts as if they merited the same degree of attention as canonical texts.” However it seems clear to me that the fact that fans of star trek are interacting with star trek in the same way academics interact with Dostoevsky does not immediately mean that both Dostoevsky and Star Trek are on equal playing fields. It seems to be that there is a huge discrepancy between knowing and interpreting Dostoevsky’s work because it fascinatingly and imaginatively grapples with huge problems, such as the role of the Catholic Church, the problem of evil, man’s relationship to freedom, etc. etc. and knowing and interpreting a particular chick flick because it fascinatingly and imaginatively grapples with problems of finding and and seducing a goofy, nearly useless husband. (Wow this is really going off a deep and mushy end, but even if you look at food, it seems very hard to argue that something such as Warheads cannot be seen as anything other that worse taste than fresh bread. Bread provides nutrition in a way that warheads don’t and Crime and Punishments provides more nourishment for the “soul” than a chick flick ever could…..wow I know some of you are going to rip me apart for this. In my defense I haven’t been sleeping lately.) Although, to kind of argue against my own point, Jenkins also seems to suggest that fans are not messing with the legitimized hierarchy of taste with the recognition that culture should not be hierarchical. Rather they are “muddying” the boundaries because they believe that the work which they are a fan of is superior to other works. Jenkins gives the example of a fan of Beauty and the Beast who paints a history of TV shows which is dominated by particular works that stand out from the crowd of broadcasts that are “characterized by their ‘poor writing, ridiculous conflicts offering no moral or ethical choices, predictable and cardboard characterizations……’”(17).
I’m not sure what to make of this…
In The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon raises the concern that in the process of decolonization, nations are faced with the threat of failing to make systemic changes to the colonial goverment and merely replacing the white leaders with “natives”. In Culture and Imperialism Edwards Said further examines how the process of decolonization involves a constant struggle with the colonized ideology. Said argues that the first struggle in decolonization is for land, and the second is for ideological freedom. This is more difficult than it seems because the decolonized people’s struggle for an independent identity and culture needs to include their history as an oppressed group. Said’s description of the fluidity of culture highlights why determining an independent identity (which is often required to fight colonialist ideology) is so difficult:
Cultures are not impermeable; just as Western science borrowed from Arabs, the had borrowed from India and Greece. Culture is never just a matter of ownership, of borrowing and lending with absolute debtors and creditors, but rather of appropriations, common experiences, and interdependencies of all kinds among different cultures. This is a universal norm. (217)
In my Gender and Women’s Studies class we’ve been discussing the idea of using an interesectionalist approach to understanding people’s situations (ie being careful not to over-generalize individual’s experiences — looking carefully at class, gender, sex, nationality, race, etc. to understand situations.) Though I realize the importance of this, I have struggled with the alienating and isolating view of human experiences which this creates. I think Said’s suggestion for the ways decolonized people should understand their experience offers a solution.
Said argues that decolonization creates “dangers of chauvinism and xenophobia (“Africa for the Africans”) [which] are are very real” (214). The solution to this problem, Said suggests is when decolonized people see their own history “as an aspect of the history of all subjugated men and women, and comprehends the complex truth of his own social and historical situation” (214). This offers a critique to the intersectionalist approach to understanding ones situation. In addition to looking at all of the complex factors which led to a groups experience, it is also necessary to situate this experience within a larger context. This same idea comes up in Said’s discussion of the native peoples ability to revise western narratives. One of the main means of resistance which Said highlights is the idea of “writing back.” Citing Salman Rushdie’s work as an example, Said explains how this consists of, “disrupting the European narratives of the Orient and Africa, replacing them with either a more playful or a more powerful new narrative style” (216).
Most Americans are aware of the fact that we consume too much, that our lifestyle is possible only because of the great environmental harm being done to the world (specifically other parts of the world) and is built off of the hard work and low wages done of other people, and that we live in a society of extreme wealth while 25,000 children die each day because of poverty1. Yet, we all continue to buy: ipods, personal laptops, large-screen tvs, $100 dollar jeans. How can these actions be explained? What cultural explanations are being used to justify our lifestyle?
In “The German Ideology” Marx and Engels argue for a materialistic understanding of history. “Humans,” they argue, “begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence” and these means of production create and shape the individual: “the production of ideas, conceptions,consciousness is directly interwoven with the material activity and intercourse of men.” Marx and Engels trace the increased division of labor and the corresponding increase in forms of private property from tribalism to today’s large-scale, world wide industry which was well underway by the 17th century. Marx and Engels argue that the “universal” competition” encouraged by global capitalism “ destroyed as far as possible ideology, religion, morality, etc. and, where it could not do this, made them into a palpable lie” (81).
Two lies that our culture regularly advocate in order to justify our selfish consumerism stand out to me in particular: first, the lie of publicity highlighted in the last essay of Berger’s Ways of Seeing and secondly, the increased importance of the individual. The first is obvious, consumerism feeds off of man’s natural unhappiness in an alienating, dehumanizing society grounded in the increased division of labor to suggest that buying things and acquiring money leads to happiness and empowerment.
The idea of the increased importance of the individual comes out of Marx and Engels’ argument that division of labor creates a contradiction between what is best for the individual and what is best for the group of interacting individuals (52). American culture seems to gloss over a consideration of “the common interest of all individuals who have intercourse with one another” — which now would include nearly everyone in the world – in order to encourage the individual American’s consumer-based lifestyle. We seem to have raised the status of the individual in order to morally justify our mass consumerism and consequential exploitation of the earth and the global population. The praise which we merit for the individual allows each person to justify his or her own lifestyle by arguing than he/she needs [insert any object] in order to make his own life better.