Cultural criticism: A brief introduction and things to be thinking about

 

Hi all,

Although my presentation on Cultural Criticism has been pushed back until next week, I thought I’d give everyone some things to think about, since some people might have already read the Tyson chapter.

Think back to the Apple readings from the very beginning of the semester. Apple’s thoughts on how ideology is ingrained into our schools gives us a great jumping point for understanding cultural criticism. Like Apple and the New Historicists, Cultural Critics believe that there is no such thing as objectivity, and that all human-made texts are tainted by the ideological beliefs of the creator. Cultural critics look for signs of politics and ideologies in a texts.

Tyson gives us some good ways to engage a cultural lens. How the “working class culture has been misunderstood or undervalued,” is one aspect of a cultural examination (296). Tyson states that we must ask what “social understandings” the work depends on (297). In other words, we might look for the status quo that is represented by a work, what beliefs create the status quo, and how the author praises or denounces those beliefs.

Although it can be difficult to decode our own culture in terms of ideology, I encourage you all to be cultural critics of our surroundings. I found myself unconsciously performing a cultural examination the other day as I looked at a magazine ad. The ad was for an affluent New York City hotel. The ad’s prominent image featured a doorman standing in the golden lobby. I thought it was interesting that our culture’s representation of luxury and comfort includes the subordination of others. The ad was saying that the hotel is a good one because someone will be serving you, and in a sense, that person will be beneath you. Of course, the doorman is undervalued. This is capitalism and social-class structure at their best, and most people would never notice it. This ad demonstrates how ideology is always at play in human-made texts.

Feel free to add your own observations as cultural critics throughout the week.

Allison

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Cultural criticism: A brief introduction and things to be thinking about

  1. sofiapenna

    Allison,

    I am really glad you bring up the idea of “the doorman ad” as an example of cultural criticism. It seems like most luxury ads we come across always paint a picture of someone being subordinate, don’t they? Recently I stayed in a hotel on the other end of the country, and their telephone greeting was “Bringing You Paradise”….I suppose one of those posters could also play into your critique. Thanks for the food for thought. -Sofia

  2. sunyprof

    Yes, WHO’S “bringing you paradise.” Good point.

    Because cultural studies researchers often concentrate on how a particular phenomenon relates to matters of ideology, nationality, ethnicity, social class, and/or gender, a CS critique can inform any text we read as it does in your examples of ads for luxury services. KES

  3. jillian24

    Given that I often find Marxist and Feminist criticism enlightening, but limiting, I was very excited about cultural criticism and plan to use it when writing my article on “Story of a Girl” by Sara Zarr. I think it would be interesting to see how many of the questions we listed during our discussions of Marxism, Feminism, etc. come up again in our discussion of cultural criticism. I’m also in the process of doing some further reading on cultural criticism for my paper, so I’ll keep you all posted.
    Jillian

  4. sfarah19

    Yes, I agree. Our society is one that depends on a “class system” even though we claim to be a classless society that revels in equality. Allison’s example of the doorman is great example of class structure. Why would having a doorman at a hotel make it “swanky?” Are wealthy people incapable of carrying their own luggage? I know this question seems a bit dramatic but are there doormen at the Holiday Inn (a more middle class hotel)? I think this can also be examined in our school systems: ie: the tracking system. Some would argue this system keeps students from cetain socioeconomic backgrounds in the working class. This goes back to our discussion earlier in the year about the dominant discourse. Who has access to the language of the dominant discourse and who does not? Who decides who has access and who does not?

    Suzanne

  5. allison

    Jillian, I think you’re absolutely right- cultural criticism is more all-encompassing than marxist and feminist lenses alone. Certainly a good lens to use on a YA.
    Suzanne, great observation about the Holiday Inn. I wonder what some of the less expensive hotels have in terms of service.
    You’ve got me thinking about more places where we see this kind of service. An immediate example comes to mind. At one of the local country clubs in Syracuse, the service staff seems worth examining. I’ve heard of service people driving cars all the way to Florida when a member goes there for the winter. This is so that they will not have to drive their own car. They can fly down and their friendly country club staff person will be waiting with the keys when they get there. When I heard this, I was shocked! It seems like an extreme type of doorman, transporting a car instead of luggage. How can we look at this “text” through a cultural lens.” I think it says a lot about money, power, and structure of our society.

    I’d love to hear some more examples about how we can read our society and the texts in it!!

    Allison

  6. sunyprof

    Great thinking women. Class divides in America are huge.

    We all know that wealthy people live very differently from the rest of us as you point out here in your driver example. But helping our students develop a language of critique to read the texts all around them is very important. It is what Freire calls a pedagogy of possibility.

    Understanding the Discourses that oppress us is the first step toward liberation. Remember GEE–“Liberating literacies reconstitute and resituate us.” KES

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