Saturday, January 26, 2019

HT Alan Jacobs-- Justin Smith "It's All Over" , Smith's reply to criticism, invoking Adorno, and demonstrating that an opposition between Adorno and Scruton isn't opposition anymore

https://blog.ayjay.org/request-for-permissions/
Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse looks essentially the same to me as these videos that have been appearing on YouTube using copyright-unrestricted lullabies and computer graphics designed to hold the attention of infants. “Johnny Johnny Yes Papa,” for example, now has countless variations online, some of which have received over a billion hits, some of which appear to be parodies, and some of which appear to have been produced without any human input, properly speaking, at all. It is one thing to target infants with material that presumes no well-constituted human subject as its viewer; it is quite another when thirty-somethings with Ph.D.s are content to debate the merits of the Marvel vs. the DC Comics universe or whatever.
Okay, but could I please have a list of topics it’s okay for thirty-somethings with Ph.D.s to talk about? Also somewhat older people with Ph.D.s? 


Jacobs quoted a newer version at The Point of something that was a little older.


https://www.jehsmith.com/1/2018/12/its-all-over.html 


https://thepointmag.com/2019/examined-life/its-all-over


 

I admit I am having trouble at present differentiating between the perennial fogeyism that could always be expected of people who make it to my age (I’m 46), and the identification of a true revolutionary shift in human history. But when I check in on the discourse, and I witness people only slightly younger than myself earnestly discussing the merits of action-hero movies that as far as I can tell were generated by AI, or at least by so much market data as to be practically machine-spawned, I honestly think I must be going insane.

Once in a while someone might comment that I seem like a middle-aged guy lamenting kids these days.  I'm not suggesting that anyone who enjoys superhero films is operating at an infantile level, though.  Whatever fogeyism is ... it can happen at any age. 

There is such a thing as young fogeyism but it tends to be associated with reactionary sorts ... but this might be a useful way to point out that reactionary is not always an explicitly or implicitly "right" leaning impulse. The invocation of any kind of "true revolutionary shift in human history" could read like a tell in itself ... but ... the paragraph quoted above is the kind of thing that could be written by a guy in his 20s, too.

The assumption that action hero films are generated by artificial intelligence rather than flesh and blood human beings is as lazy a flourish as the shoehorned character development scenes setting up the action scenes can often be in films.

Yet somehow even in the pages of the by now defunct Village Voice someone could riff on Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight as follows:




Nolan is, in effect, already setting up his finale with this scene. After the Joker has been defeated and Dent killed, Batman assumes responsibility for the latter’s victims, so that the memory of the crusading attorney can survive, guilt-free. During the stirring montage when Batman relays to Gordon that the cops must now turn on him (“You’ll condemn me. Set the dogs on me. Because it’s what needs to happen. Because sometimes the truth isn’t good enough. Sometimes, people deserve more.”), we see Fox destroying the surveillance system by doing what Batman had earlier instructed and setting off a self-destruct mechanism. The surveillance state is Batman’s great crime. He knows it, and has known it all along, and perhaps always planned to assume the guilt for it. When he tells Gordon to blame him for Dent’s crimes, he isn’t merely accepting blame for people whose deaths he did not cause; he is in fact punishing himself for his own breach of ethics and decency.

Where then does that leave Gotham? The Dark Knight ends with the city living a lie, but seemingly out of the darkness. (At least for now, since The Dark Knight Rises would show the disastrous consequences of Gordon and Bruce’s duplicity.) And yet it’s hard to look at this movie, made at a time of violent divisiveness in the country over issues of surveillance, of complicity, of violence born of fear, and not see a snapshot of a society — not Gotham’s fictional one, but our own, real-life one — ready to plunge into the abyss of fragmentation, of self-serving chaos. Maybe that’s why Nolan’s film now feels so poignant. Today, it’s hard not to feel that humanity’s worst impulses have won, that those without conscience or shame were allowed to sow endless dissension, hatred, and cruelty, using our own sense of guilt against us.

To put it another way: We detonated the other boat. And we watch The Dark Knight now from a world where the bad guys won.

Simply because Smith can't accept that academics could play with superhero stories is hardly a sign that superhero stories can't be analyzed as art.  If given the choice between Jackson Pollack and Spider-man comic books I'll go with the latter.  It's not that I even have anything strongly against abstract expressionism ... even if it could be argued that chunks of avant garde highbrow culture in the last sixty years may have been somehow bankrolled by the C. I. A. The point is that if people are going to "force" the issue of which of the two you "have" to pick, I'll pick Spider-man.  

Or ...  iCharles Mudede liked the new Black Panther film and used it as a springboard to discuss a shift from Afrocentricism to Afrofuturism; or discussed how Thanos in Infinity War is a negative Malthusian rather than a positive Malthusian and ties it to variants of critical theory in Europe then it's possible that Smith is unable to come to grips with the reality that people he thinks too old to have any legitimate reason to talk about popular cinema can do that just fine.  


But Smith has a point to make ... 
Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse looks essentially the same to me as these videos that have been appearing on YouTube using copyright-unrestricted lullabies and computer graphics designed to hold the attention of infants. “Johnny Johnny Yes Papa,” for example, now has countless variations online, some of which have received over a billion hits, some of which appear to be parodies, and some of which appear to have been produced without any human input, properly speaking, at all. It is one thing to target infants with material that presumes no well-constituted human subject as its viewer; it is quite another when thirty-somethings with Ph.D.s are content to debate the merits of the Marvel vs. the DC Comics universe or whatever. If I were an algorithm, and I encountered an adult human happily watching Spiderman, I would greet that human with a “You may also like…” offer to next watch “Johnny Johnny Yes Papa” on a ten-hour loop. That is how worthless and stunting I think this particular genre of cultural production is.

Back in the 1890s the worthless and stunting cultural production white Americans of enlightened consideration were bewailing was ragtime. The trouble with worthless and stunting cultural production in one era is that it can turn into the mainstream art of another era.  Fans of Renaissance ars perfecta thought the newly emerging musical idioms of opera were trashy and worthless and required no musical talent to create and then opera became the new high art norm for a couple of centuries before movies got developed.


The "well-constituted human subject" is where the reactionary impulse is revealed, and an elitism that not only seems hard to cure but that can tragicomically reside in the minds of those people who consider themselves enlightened and progressive.  Who gets to decide what is "the well-constituted human subject"?  An American academic living in Paris?  It's not that people can't decide these questions, it's the categorical nature of the term as it's used.  I could reformulate the observation as a question--Do fans of Burroughs really get to be this condescending or are they simply that condescending?  Smith's polemic could be restated as an assertion that no one who has a humanity worth considering in adulthood should enjoy stuff that he dislikes.  

A century ago white guys who thought themselves progressive on the plight of the black man could nevertheless simultaneously insist that the only good American Indian was, basically, a dead one, or one whose cultural legacy was obliterated so as to let them assimilate into the mainstream of civilized society.  The kinds of people who insist on casting human existence in black and white binaries don't always have to be conservatives or reactionaries, after all. 

A hundred symphonies by Haydn all sound the same to people who have no affection for or interest in the symphony in general or symphonies by Haydn. Haydn didn't live in an era of mass production as we know it.  As Adorno put it, Haydn crystallized an approach to developing material but he did not standardize the symphony as American pedagogy about the symphony was proposing was the case.  

We live in an age of mass production and that can blinker our understanding of and relationship to the arts.  A hundred songs by John Lee Hooker will tend to sound the same in the era of mass production but what I'm suggesting is that this cognitive collapsing process effects us and infects us more generally.  


Perhaps Smith wants to vent about the culture industry but he basically failed to vent about the culture industry in a meaningful or successful way.  I think there is a way to formulate what Smith "could" have been trying to say about the culture industry, about the superhero trope, and about the nature of the narratives in the superhero genre but ... it seems Smith hasn't watched any superhero film long enough to even get that down.  By Smith's account he gave up after ten minutes of trying to watch Black Panther because it was too stupid.    If Slonimsky assembled a Lexicon of Musical Invective revealing the unabashed vitriol and class-comfortable loathing of established critics in the 19th century regarding music that was not good enough ... perhaps in the 20th and 21st century there could be a Lexicon of Cinematic Invective in which film critics and pundits who regard this or that as infantile, impotent, uncivilized and the like could be compiled.  Or as one author put it, there was Scott Pilgrim vs the unfortunate tendency to review the audience and not the actual film.


Venting about algorithms is ultimately not the same thing as venting about cultural artifacts--it's certainly not the same as actually engaging with the material being vented about. There are probably countless variations of the Faust legend and the regional variations can be instructive ... if you're open to considering the Faust legend and its variants worth literary study. If Barthes and company really ushered in the "death of the author" (or merely tried to in a bid to battle capitalism) then part of the associated string of deaths could involve what is or isn't worthy of any kind of variant of reader-response theory and interpretation.  
In other words, the cognitive tools of critical engagement with material can be deployed across all possible genres and objects whether or not academics in the United States or France think there's any profit in playing with the idea that Fluttershy could be Jane Bennett and Nightmare Moon could be Lady Catherine de Beorgh in a Pride & Prejudice adaptation.  You didn't misread that, I did just do a mash-up of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic with a Jane Austen novel.  I'm also in the same age range as the author named Smith who can't imagine how anyone in his age range could have anything to say about Spiderman. 
There's actually a lot that could be said about a proliferation of superhero films in an era of increasing income inequality and social inequality. One of the most salient things that comes to mind is that, particularly with Spiderman and Batman these are two characters that are presented as being physically or intellectual elite but who are, generally, not elitist in their convictions.  The phrase "friendly neighborhood Spiderman" springs to mind.  I've already written in the past here about how in Christopher Nolan's Batman films and Batman: the animated series we see an elite Bruce Wayne who is nonetheless not an elitist and is, if you will, a pop culture depiction of an ideal "one percent", the sort of ultra-rich that, if we've no choice but to have those kinds of guys around, we have writers hoping a few of the ultra-rich and powerful could be.  

There is a lot that has been said about the relationship between any iteration of Spiderman (including Spider-Gwen), power, and responsibility.  Basically every version of the character is racked by deserved guilt at having had the opportunity to use power to do something good but failed to do the good either through neglect, resentment, envy or misuse of power.  Powerful people regretting how they used their power goes back a long way in world literature.  King David's regret at how he used his power to have one of his most loyal soldiers killed comes to mind.  Given that Spiderman was co-created by a Jewish man (the late Stan Lee) I don't feel a great need to belabor the way the Decalogue informs the traits of the more famous superheroes who tend to be orphans committed to honoring the memory of father and mother and who generally refuse to murder.  With the exception of the WASP Batman some of the most famous superheroes in the whole genre were made by Jewish artists and authors and I frankly think American pop culture is richer and more fun for that.

Smith built up to one of those "what we've come to" moments that is as predictable coming from a conservative or reactionary author as it is in Smith's progressive rant.
I often think of an essay I read a while ago by a prize-winning photojournalist who had tracked down Pol Pot deep in Cambodia, had taken pictures of him, spoken with him, conveyed this historical figure’s own guilty and complicated and monstrous human subjectivity to readers. The essay was about the recent difficulty this journalist had been having paying his bills. He noted that his teenage niece, I believe it was, had racked up many millions more views on Instagram, of a selfie of her doing a duck-face, than his own pictures of Pol Pot would ever get. She was an influencer, poised to receive corporate sponsorship for her selfies, not because any human agent ever deemed that they were good or worthy, just as no human agent ever deemed “Johnny Johnny Yes Papa” good or worthy, but only because their metrics signaled potential for financialization.
My own book may be crap, but I am certain, when such an imbalance in profitability as the one I have just described emerges, between photojournalism and selfies, that it is all over. This is not a critical judgment. I am not saying that the photos of Pol Pot are good and the selfies are bad. I am saying that the one reveals a subject and the other reveals an algorithm, and that when everything in our society is driven and sustained in existence by the latter, it is all over. [emphasis added]


Couldn't Adorno have said that both forms of activities are reflection of the affirmative lie of the culture industry? 

Saying that one reveals a subject and the other reveals an algorithm can only be said on the assumption that whoever has taken the selfies cannot, by definition, constitute a subject.  The selfie-taker has to be dehumanized for the point Smith makes to even be considered a coherent, let alone plausible, point.

Maybe "it" should be over, whatever "it" is. 

A photojournalist could describe all sorts of photographic work.  The term could describe someone who did war correspondence photography and it could just as easily describe someone who did fashion photography and, that far, Margaret Bourke-White did both war correspondence and fashion photography.  Did only her "serious" work ever reveal a "subject"?  Would we say Richard Avedon is a less profound photographer (I would!) than Bourke-White for his particular style of photography?  What about Muybridge's motion studies?  


I simply don't take as given that "one reveals a subject and the other reveals an algorithm." That's the cheat in the whole polemic. It's not a matter of whether or not a photojournalist takes better or worse photographs of "a subject" than someone who takes selfies; it's that there's no evidence that the one isn't revealing a subject. We might be tempted to suggest that whoever takes selfies is a narcissist or perhaps a model or perhaps a model and a narcissist but there's no reason to think the person taking selfies isn't a subject, no matter how many algorithms Smith might at some point suspect reduce one photographer to less-than-subject while the other somehow reveals a subject. 


The kinds of people who can even say that "one reveals a subject and the other reveals an algorithm" are the kinds of people who don't likely grasp the extent to which they are interested in dehumanizing what they don't like and dehumanizing the people who like the things they don't like. 

Perhaps it's no surprise Smith felt he struck a nerve and was pleased with one comparison and not so pleased with another.





The essay touched a nerve, and most of the response to it was positive. One common mistaken interpretation, to which I want to respond, was that it amounts to an expression of “conservatism”. We are at a strange point indeed in our culture when a scoffing and dismissive attittude towards Hollywood entertainments such as action-hero movies, generated by market forces alone, may be seen as conservative. I continue to believe in a culture independent of these forces, and I bemoan the obsession of so many in our present age with monitoring the garbage output of the entertainment industry for signs of this industry's affirmations of progressive values. I do not care about this industry. I think true progressivism consists in rejecting it, not in proclaiming the latest iteration of Wonder Woman “good” because it managed to stay on-message relative to some particular conception of feminism, or that some movie with Emma Stone in it is “bad” because the lead role should have gone to a person of color. Who gives a shit? Who has time for this kind of stuff? Let's make our own culture, with bold new visions of what art might be, not push Hollywood business moguls to do it for us.
If that's what true progressivism means then we could ask why anyone would try to write and then publish books within such a cultural system, and by cultural system I'm casting the net much wider than "entertainment" into "academic".  What Adorno called the "culture industry" doesn't need to be confined to popular entertainment.  Even ostensibly highbrow art and literature can become "false". 
"Let's make our own culture" is where the elitism emerges, in its way. What that means is about to get explained, and in a way that suggests that "make our own culture" doesn't involve sui generis as much as a naive reader might first be tempted to think.  

Coltrane riffing on "My Favorite Things" fails the test of "Let's make our own culture".  Coltrane made use of a jazz standard and brought out possibilities in it that others hadn't brought out.  That's not even something revolutionary so much as it could fit into what the ideal of variation form and practice was in the 18th century, as Elaine Sisman described the means and ends of variation technique and variation forms in her monograph on Haydn and variation form. 
A friend of mine has liked to say that any time someone says Hollywood has run out of ideas they misunderstand that Hollywood has never had its own ideas because that's ultimately not how film works.  There's another fuzzy part to "make our own culture" I'll get to in a bit ... but ... 
Ever since artists and fans of artists nominated themselves to be the new priesthood to guide humanity into a better, brighter future, it has mattered who is able to have the mantle of the artist.  It has mattered to people who say they're progressive that there is representation in the arts.  Those people who don't make art with any interest in financial compensation can devote themselves to it the way monks devote themselves to a monastic order, but to complain that "it is over" because photojournalists don't monetize as well as selfies could sound like a complaint that "real" art isn't as financially solvent as product promotion via algorithms.  Making culture doesn't have to involve officially writing books that officially get reviewed by official publications, does it?
If I risk taking this blog as an example, the most important writing I've done at this blog has never been monetized and isn't going to be monetized; it is the kind of thing that, in terms of media coverage and the formal press basically doesn't exist.  There's ... okay ... there's a couple of authors, one of them an academic, who have referenced this blog on a specific topic, but I'm trying to float this idea that Smith has a tension between whatever he considers real culture on the one hand and the capacity to monetize whatever "culture" is.  If he weren't complaining about how "it" is "all over" there'd be no tension.  But since he comes across like he's discussing just that culture which has been monetized there may be a bit of a tension ... and he demonstrates that tension momentarily.
Among bold new visions from the last century of what art might be, I definitely count, say, John Coltrane's confiscation and deconstructive FUBAR-ing of “My Favorite Things,” and this brings me to comment on the frequent mention of Theodor Adorno I saw in the discussion of my essay (“like Adorno confronted by Twitter,” is what one commenter wrote). Of course I find any comparison to Adorno a compliment, but I note that while I disagree with him about jazz, I do not believe that Adorno's views on jazz make him a “conservative”. I think there is something deeply wrong with a critical culture that can only read deep misgivings about a given trend in popular culture in this way. I like jazz, anyhow, and I like it because it emerged as, and at its best remains, the free expression of creative subjectivity. It is not the algorithmically generated output of market forces, even if, of course, as they always do, these forces later co-opted it and made it as bad as they could. I like mumble rap, asthma rap, drill, and all the spontaneous creativity that these market forces have not yet figured out how to ruin, and I find ridiculous the billionaire rappers my age who, spoiled by these forces and evidently forgetful of their own pasts, are currently denouncing these new styles as “not real hip-hop”. I do not think there is anything Adornonian about this sensibility of mine, even if I find much to agree with in Adorno's analysis of the culture industry.

So Adorno was wrong but wrong about jazz because Smith likes jazz.  We'll get to what Adorno had to say about rock and associated offshoots ... 

When market forces figure out how to ruin those beloved things Smith, perhaps like any other hipster, can move along to whatever the next thing is that is supposedly untouched by market forces.
It's not hard to agree that simply dismissing something as not real art or not revealing a "subject" doesn't make a person conservative.  But Coltrane taking a song from a musical and deconstructing it may not be "make our own culture" at all.  It's one of the cliches of jazz fandom that Coltrane took one of the most cliche of Broadway tunes and somehow made it new.  Maybe ... or maybe he did what 18th century composers aspired to do and burrow into the possibilities of an existing theme to bring out latent and less-than-obvious possibilities.  John Coltrane was good at that, and so was Franz Haydn. 
Of course Adorno notoriously denied jazz was capable of expressing subjectivity and that anyone who played or wrote jazz was destroying subjectivity. Adorno went so far as to assert in his earliest broadsides against jazz that 1) nobody could prove it was even "really" African American in origins and 2) nobody could, should, or would miss it when it whithered away after Nazis made a point of banning it.  The lesson might really be that it doesn't matter how ostensibly "left" or "progressive" a person is, they can still be an elitist, a chauvinist, vehemently anti-Slav, and maybe a racist, too, all while affirming what on socio-economic terms could be considered the most progressive of progressive ideals.  That kind of thing was remarkably commonplace in the early 20th century and the later 19th.  

No one should consider comparisons to Adorno to be complimentary merely for agreeing with Adorno's critique of monopoly capitalism. Lots of other people besides Adorno did that.  Smith takes the comparison to Adorno as a compliment. He shouldn't.  Smith is less happy to be compared to Roger Scruton:
... Still less is there anything Scrutonian. I will agree that Roger Scruton is, unlike Adorno, a true conservative, and I will say that I did not take the comparison one commenter made of me to him as a compliment. I believe the comparison had something to do with the fact that I seem, to those who are not reading carefully, to be defending “high-brow” tastes in art and culture. But this is not so. I like music made by hillbillies, swamp-dwellers, convicted felons, and peasants. I think opera is boring (though I do still go to see it with my mom, because she has a good time). I like wine, but my only criterion for considering it good is that it be cheap. I despise the affectations of foodies (I have however known at least a couple of foodies who seem sincere and unaffected in their devotion to this quest, so if they are reading, they should know I'm not talking about them), and every other nervous expression of class refinement that so many bourgeois academic leftists in America feel the need to cultivate. When I come and give talks in the US, and my hosts fuss over which of the local stylish restaurants to go to, I yearn to just ask them to drive me through Taco Bell and get me back to my room as soon as possible so I can get some work done. At least Scruton is open about the fact that his own preoccupation with such refined tastes is bourgeois and exclusionary. The academic progressives always have to weigh down their performance of social distinction with the language of sustainability and reassurances of the rich free-range life the animal on the plate had before it was slaughtered. 
So enough with the “conservative” canard. This label does not apply automatically to every person who finds him or herself forced into the role of dissenter relative to the current deadening group-think and trivial distractions that pass for progressivism in the United States, and in particular in Anglophone social media.
I see the facile recourse to this label as itself an example of how social-media algorithms have made the leap into actual human reasoning. This is not the first time I've been called a “conservative” since the algorithmisation of social life began to make itself felt (I date the definitive transition from the old mode of existence to the new one to sometime in 2014, though I myself didn't really grasp what was happening until about two years later, with the ignominious rise of Donald Trump). I was most recently smeared with this label after I wrote that I had refused to wear a “preferred pronoun” sticker at an academic conference in the US (in a state, incidentally, whose bureau of prisons will let you look up human beings in its database by race: I consider this, like the stickers, to be just one more example of institutional kind-making, and as such to be a squelching of individual human subjectivity and so a violation of my deepest philosophical and moral commitments). I refused to wear the sticker not because I am conservative. I refused to wear it because it is patently ridiculous to do so.
Twitter algorithms are only capable of registering contempt for these stickers and other expressions of the new dogmatism surrounding sex and gender as if dissent from this dogma entails support for the counter-dogmas supported by mediocrities such as Jordan Peterson. I know this because, when I have criticised them, the “You may also like” function that seized power circa 2014 has sought to guide me into the loving arms of such  right-wing cretins. But I still expect real human beings to be able to consider a third possibility: that “preferred pronoun” stickers are really, really stupid, and so is Jordan Peterson. 
I am willing to admit to a performative self-contradiction in simply writing the piece at all and sending it out to be clicked on and liked and re-tweeted. But I don't see this as a point against having written it, so much as an illustration of the depth of the problem I am trying to highlight. 
Actually, in the sense that Scruton and Adorno are both highbrow elitist types the comparison seems remarkably apt.  The comparisons to Adorno and Scruton seem apt enough when the point of comparison is an American academic who lives in Paris.  It's possible to be elitist in some areas and not elitist in others.  I don't have any problem listening to microtonal composers like Haba or Johnston or Wyschnegradsky.  I've had an Adorno binge going the last few years and yet I can turn around and enjoy My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic every now and then.  I like Batman cartoons.  

Demonstrating the problem by exemplifying it isn't going to solve the problem ... if it can even be solved. 
What Scruton and Adorno have in common is elitism and a willingness to look down upon those who actually enjoy the mass cultural products they disdain as lacking a fully human capacity.  They are in some sense not "subjects".  To take a comparison to Adorno as a compliment but not a comparison to Scruton could miss what the two have in common, a contempt for the things that people they regard as less than truly subjects think they enjoy. 
Now maybe what passes for progressivism in the United States really is some kind of totalitarian group-think. Certainly Scruton thinks it does.  
I am also willing to admit that to some extent the essay boils down to the formula: “Here is some stuff I like, and here is some other stuff I don't like,” and indeed that some of what I say about the stuff in the latter category might also apply, from a different angle, to the stuff in the former category. And in fact I don't dislike some of the stuff in the “bad” category as much as I pretend to. I find “Johnny Johnny Yes Papa” uncannily fascinating, for example, not in spite of but because of its algorithmic origins. As for comic-book movies, by contrast, I will just say that I did not state my contempt nearly as strongly as I could have. I hate everything Spiderman stands for, and I'll take a reboot of a 19th-century lullaby about a naughty child eating sugar over a fantasy story about a vigilante crime-fighter any day, no matter how much self-styled “progressives” try to convince me it is my tastes that are conservative, not theirs. 
There's another way to boil down what he wrote, "The people who like things I don't regard as being art are in some way not really fully human."  There's no need to suggest that being an elitist makes a person conservative or progressive, elitism is elitism. 

Now when Adorno was writing Aesthetic Theory he defined what he thought of as philistine.

Aesthetic Theory
Theodore Adorno
Copyright (c) 1997 by the Regents of the University of Minnesota
Continuum

ISBN 0-8264-6757-1

... Aesthetic experience first of all places the observer at a distance from the object. This resonates in the idea of disinterested observation. Philistines are those whose relation to artworks is ruled by whether and to what degree they can, for example, put themselves in the place of the actors as they come forth; this is what all parts of the culture industry are based on and they foster it insistently in their customers. ... (page 346)

That was back in the 1969 days before Joseph Campbell's monomyth codified the blockbuster.  Adorno opened Aesthetic Theory as follows:

page 1
It is self-evident that nothing concerning art is self-evident anymore, not its inner life, not its relation to the world, not even its right to exist. ...

page 2
...
As a result of its inevitable withdrawal from theology, from the unqualified claim to the truth of salvation, a secularization without which art would never have developed, art is condemned to provide the world as it exists with a consolation that—shorn of any hope of a world beyond—strengthens the spell of that from which the autonomy of art wants to free itself. ...

and elsewhere:


page 340
... The absence of theological meaning, however modified, culminates in art as the crisis of its own meaning. The more ruthlessly artworks draw the consequences from the contemporary condition of consciousness, the more closely they themselves approximate meaninglessness. They thereby achieve a historically requisite truth, which, if art disowned it, would condemn art to doling out powerless consolation and to complicity with the status quo. At the same time, however, meaningless art has begun to forfeit its right to exist; in any case, there is no longer any art that has remained inviolable. ...
As Jacques Ellul put it in The Empire of Non-Sense, Adorno correctly ascertained that art had devolved into only two possible modes of expression, blunt agitation propaganda for this or that cause or meaningless hermetic technocratic exploration. 

Sure, Smith would insist Adorno was wrong about jazz but Adorno didn't confine himself to damning jazz.


pages 319-320

The demise of art, which is today being proclaimed with as much glibness as resentment, would be false, a gesture of conformism. The desublimation, the immediate and momentary gain of pleasure that is demanded of art, is inner-aesthetically beneath art; in real terms, however, that momentary pleasure is unable to grant what is expected of it. The recently adopted insistence on culturing uncultivation, the enthusiasm for the beauty of street battles, is a reprise of futurist and dadaist actions. The cheap aestheticism of short-winded politics is reciprocal with the faltering of aesthetic power. Recommending jazz and rock-and-roll instead of Beethoven does not demolish the affirmative lie of culture but rather furnishes barbarism and the profit interest of the culture industry with a subterfuge. The allegedly vital and uncorrupted nature of such products is synthetically processed by precisely those powers that are supposedly the target of the Great Refusal: These products are the truly corrupt. [emphasis added]

To endorse any jazz or rock was to endorse the lie of the culture industry in means and ends.  You can't condemn the superhero comic and simultaneously affirm that jazz and any, any form of popular music is somehow untouched by and not a reflection of the reifying tendencies of the culture industry.  If Smith wants to take the comparison to Adorno as a compliment he might as well bear in mind that even among progressive writers Adorno's elitism, chauvinism, and pedantry have made him a less than welcome figure in American letters.  I think Adorno is still a remarkable thinker and a challenging writer, but I also believe he was spectacularly wrong and he was spectacularly wrong for the same range of reasons I think that ultimately someone like Justin Smith is also wrong, elitists who are unable to reconcile themselves to the depth of the contempt they display in their elitism.  Yes, yes, we should be wary of what the culture industry promotes but ... writers like Adorno and Smith don't manage to come across like they can inveigh against the culture industry without emphatically dehumanizing those people who enjoy what the culture industry makes, paradoxically perpetuating the dehumanizing tendencies of the culture industry itself, at least as they seem to define it.

By now, here in 2019, the monomyth has ensured that the heroic journey is pretty readily identifiable in tentpole films in the United States.  The possibility of creating cultural productions that explicitly and directly cater to what Adorno called "philistine" has reached the level of applied social science. Superheroes could be thought of as vicariously giving an illusion of freedom to those proles who have no freedom at all, don't know what real art and real living truly is, and are given cultural narcotics in the form of power fantasies and wish fulfillment to distract them while the bourgeois comfortably go on living their special lives. Smith didn't exactly go there, though.  He didn't attempt to explain what he thinks this kind of cultural production even does.  Perhaps he thought he didn't need to explain what it does or why it's so worthless. 

Joseph Campbell may well have aspired to show the beauty of how all world literature and myth shared a common, beautifully human core and ... Star Wars .... .  Rather than open up "new" modes of cultural production of the sort that elites and academics approve of, Campbell's monomyth and cosmogonic cycles opened the floodgates for some of the most formulaic and repetitive mass cultural juggernauts the world has ever seen.  Campbell's legacy can be seen as a tragedy of humanistic aspiration paving the way for the most technocratic formulaic approaches to the art of cinema the world has seen.  This isn't an explanation that requires a graduate degree to propose.  I didn't get beyond a B.A. in communications myself. 

What ... does Spiderman stand for that Smith hates everything it stands for?  When Wagner envisioned a total work of art that would revolutionize society, a union of all the arts that would also reflect the Folk ... I doubt that in the 21st century he would be thinking of the Marvel comics.  It might rankle him to know that the superhero genre and its tales of gods and men was so much the result of urban working class Jewish guys.  The late Stan Lee, RIP,  was one of those Jewish guys who revolutionized pop culture.  For someone like Adorno that would make Stan Lee one of the villains.  For someone like Smith, the cultural production of superheroes is worthless.  Okay, but as Alan Jacobs asked, "Okay, but could I please have a list of topics it’s okay for thirty-somethings with Ph.D.s to talk about? Also somewhat older people with Ph.D.s? "

The world doesn't need another Spiderman movie, I suppose, any more than it likely needs Smith's book. Smith may not think he's an elitist of the Scrutonian type because he likes music by hillbillies.  So what?  Lots of bourgeois elitists fancy that they enjoy "downhome" music.  Slave owners on a plantation might admit to enjoying some of the music their slaves performed now and then.  The problem isn't even necessarily highbrow or lowbrow since it can be understood that people may love highbrow in one medium and revel in lowbrow in another.  No, it comes back to Smith's assertion that one cultural production by a photojournalist "reveals a subject" and another form of cultural production, selfies by a teenage girl, constitute an algorithm and do not reveal a subject.

There must surely be a way to attack the financializing tendencies of the contemporary culture industry with respect to using the selfies of a teenager in a way that doesn't simultaneously inveigh against the dread that "it is all over" because an American with a book lined up realizes that teens takin gselfies have more "influence" in the attention economy than his book will.  The real grim nature of this attention economy is that neither sort of cultural production matters as much as the dynamics in play ... but that far Adorno called that half a century ago describing it all false.  Smith's problem is he wants to cordon off his sphere of production as "not false" and another's as "false".  That might be to misunderstand,willfully, how pervasive Adorno's critique of contemporary technocratic capitalist society was.

the royal "we" and "us" in cultural criticism as applied to a documentary about R. Kelly




Over the three days that I watched Surviving R. Kelly, a six-episode Lifetime documentary about the decades of sexual abuse R. Kelly has perpetrated against black girls and women with both the active and passive help of large swaths of American society, I had Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix)” looping through my head. Surviving R. Kelly persuasively argues—proves, really— that, societally speaking, we have made an unforgivable pact with Kelly, a musical genius who was able to hide his evil behavior in plain sight for decades because he committed his crimes against black girls. We chose to ignore his deeds, downplay them, or remain willfully ignorant of them so we could go on enjoying his music. We prioritized our enjoyment, our ease, our playlists over the gargantuan pain and suffering, some still ongoing, of scores of na├»ve, hopeful teenagers. We made a deal with the devil on the cheap—let us keep this song!—and had 16-year-old girls pay the exorbitant price.

...

"us"?  I hated the song "I believe I can fly"!
In the era of #metoo and the post-Weinstein moment I have wondered whether claims that these abuses are manifestations of white patriarchy can be made in good faith.  It's not because white guys haven't called the shots for centuries and their historic misuses of power don't need to keep being addressed ... it's that R. Kelly doesn't seem like he's a white guy.  Sherman Alexie isn't a white guy.  Neil Degrasse Tyson doesn't seem like a white guy, either.  If we're not looking at how celebrities use power to use people and, instead, formulate ideological narratives in which races get scapegoated as the origin of power then, well, the scapegoat gets moved from one demographic to another rather than looking at the power that is being misused and looking at ways to separate and contain powers.  There is a lot, an awful lot, about the history of the United States that is ghastly and terrible.  Nevertheless, when the founders of the United States arrived at the idea of separation of powers and implementing checks and balances they developed a potential governmental approach that could slow down a capacity for evil if, obviously, never altogether preclude evils being perpetrated.   

We live in an era in which the executive branch is regarded as tyrannical when the wrong party has the executive branch, not on the basis of, say, Congress off-loading any number of powers and responsibilities it has on to the executive branch ... possibly in some tacit bid at plausible deniability ... .

Even the case of Avital Ronell might invite the question as to whether the use or misuse of power and a kind of celebrity can even be thought of as particularly "patriarchal".  

As tempting as it is for journalists in some contexts to regard what has happened as indicative of the age of Trump, had Clinton won would it have been the same kind of age?






2016 seemed to be down to a choice to vote for an alleged (or actual) perpetrator of sexual harassment and assault and an enabler.  It's reassuring that the enabler isn't necessarily a perpetrator but if that's the moral calculating on which we get to decide that the United States is "saved" or "doomed" then the calculation seems dubious.   Would Hillary Clinton represent the white patriarchy as the responsible institution or entity for an R. Kelly if she had won the presidency?  What if the problem is how celebrities of whatever stripe use power and the processes by which "we" give them that power?  Yes, "we" play a significant role in "giving" power to people but diffusion of responsibility may have its counterpoint in diffusion of empowerment.  It may take thousands and thousands of people deciding to no longer "buy in" for a celebrity to have a "fall".  

Having never liked R. Kelly I admit I am not sure how I partake in the responsibility of having made him a star.  Journalists play a vital and important role in societies but one of the risks of that social role is that the press can do what it has so very often been too good at doing, manufacturing scapegoats.  In the era of Trump white patriarchy isn't exactly an unworthy target of attack ... there are reasons to lambast what I would personally think of as the legacy of Romantic era white guy as heroic artist rebel sort ... 

The problem is that merely pinning the actions of a Kelly or a Cosby or a Tyson or whomever is alleged to have done X on a white patriarchal system runs a risk of in some sense shifting a kind of group responsibility on to a group with which the perpetrator seems to have no obvious connection.  The white patriarchy isn't a clear explanation of why Cosby is responsible for what he did to people.  

If by the royal "we" or "us" journalists use to discuss someone like R. Kelly they mean themselves and fans of an artist and not a "we" or an "us" that includes "everyone" then, okay.  

I've been thinking in the last few years that what Adorno contemptuously referred to as bourgeois art religion can make sense of stuff like an R. Kelly and a journalistic impulse to invoke a royal "we" that is responsible for looking the other way when an artist of whatever sort abuses and misuses power and celebrity.  If we use the arts to enchant our world then we hold on to the investment of ourselves in that art religion.  We can buy a feeling of freedom that is not freedom itself, or freedom at all.  Adorno died before Campbell's monomyth could become standardized in American popular culture but there's another kind of symbolism in culture.  Adorno once wrote that the philistine is whoever cannot see or enjoy an art unless he can find himself in it. 

Let's play with the idea that journalists and arts advocates are ultimately philistines in the sense that they want to be able to see themselves in what they write about.  If art is a kind of vicarious life arts criticism is living through that vicarity, living through the process of saying what film is about.  Popular music gives journalists an opportunity to endow their favorite musics with a symbolism and narrative, vicarious living through the focus of the journalism.  We live through the stories of our gods, if you will, and those gods have to be defended not because those gods aren't ultimately monstrous and fickle like a Greco-Roman pantheon, but because we are defending our own investment of our very selves in the legends and narratives we share about them.  There's something right in the Slate piece above about the "let us have this song" that gets at the heart of investment in a star, defending the investment of ourselves in the experience of whatever the star has given us. The Slate author hasn't said white patriarchy is responsible, by the way, that's more a motif that I've seen in some other writing about Sherman Alexie, another not-white-guy who has been accused of misconduct and who, unlike many of the other guys in the news cycle, seems to actually be keeping a low profile ... but perhaps we'll save that for some other time or post.   I remember reading a piece by an author who suggested that what Alexie was able to do was indicative of the influence white patriarchy has had on people and ... well ... I've got my doubts.  Wanting to battle abuses of power is admirable but it feels like history shows us that when times come to question power the temptation is often to treat the problem as being what ideology power is made to serve rather than the nature of the power being wielded.  In the era of Trump the temptation to blame who has held power is strong and is partly true but in another United States where Trump didn't win would the criticism of white patriarchy have come up in a new Clinton era?  Moot ... I suppose ... 

The risk in saying that what's going on with entertainers is a sign of white patriarchy is that a case like R. Kelly suggests that it's not a white guy doing the bad things he's accused of.  To put it another way, the risk of the polemic that white patriarchy accounts for how an R. Kelly or a Sherman Alexie or a Bill Cosby could allegedly do X, Y or Z is it risks making a category mistake that the problem is simply that the wrong kinds of stars were given the power to use people rather than interrogating the star-making machinery that gave these particular men that kind of power to begin with.  

Who, let's be obvious, plays so crucial a role in consolidating that star status?  Reporters.  Someone like Ta-nehisi Coates can express regret at not doing more to report on what was reported about Cosby and I respect that.  That's more of the kind of thing I think can be beneficial to journalistic discourse and contribution to questions about how these stars get made and what can be said or done to check their influence and conduct.  Writing in the broadest sense that "we' made R. Kelly an icon can seem like a journalist diffusing responsibility a little bit.  Journalists and fans have a contribution to the star power of an R. Kelly and it makes sense that no snowflake thinks of themselves as responsible for the blizzard, as the old axiom has it.  

somewhat old news ... Neil Degrasse Tyson of the show "Star Talk" ...




National Geographic Channel has pulled its long-running Neil deGrasse Tyson chat show “StarTalk” off the air, at least for now, following allegations of sexual misconduct against the famed astrophysicist. “StarTalk” will remain on hiatus as a Fox Networks Group investigation into the multiple claims continues.

“In order to allow the investigation to occur unimpeded we chose to hold new episodes of ‘Star Talk’ until it is complete,” a Nat Geo rep told Variety. “We expect that to happen in the next few weeks at which time we’ll make a final decision.”
...

The investigation is pending/in process.  

at Vox Todd VanDerWerff extols the necessity of cultural criticism in journalism as more needed than ever ...




 ...
But Kracauer goes one step further, positing that both these films and the oft-forced cheerfulness of the films that were made after numerous central figures in expressionist movements departed for Hollywood are early psychological manifestations of something within German culture that made Nazism inevitable. He argues that films aren’t just documents of a culture’s values and chosen narrative tropes, but a kind of document of a culture’s subconscious, one that filmmakers often don’t know that they’re making.
Kracauer has a couple of explanations for why he thinks films are so vital to understanding a culture’s psyche, both of which could presumably be applied to television, video games, and maybe even pop music as well.
The first is that while there are always directors or producers “in charge” of a given film, it is inevitably the work of many, many artists — and the more people involved, the more accurately it reflects a culture’s buried hopes. Even if the corporations that make and release films are mostly interested in turning profits, Kracauer suggests, the best way for them to do so is to reflect things that a culture either badly wants to be true or deeply identifies with on some level.
...
Kracauer spends the rest of his book providing a long, in-depth overview of German cinema from its inception to the reign of the Nazis, from pre-World War I examples to filmmakers like Leni Riefenstahl. But his central thesis holds true: Every film, even one of more marginal success, tells you something about the culture that produced it, and the more knowledge you have of how films are made, of how they can create false narratives we desperately want to be true, and of how they intersect with other forms of philosophy and thought, the more you can understand how they serve as signposts toward whatever is to come next
...

The fact that criticism is, on some level, the work of those of us who sit in a dark room and try to interpret dreams will probably always feel a little suspect to some of my colleagues, but it shouldn’t. It is just as deeply reported, just as astutely interpreted, just as rigorously thought through as any other form of journalism, just in a very different form, one that can sound fantastical but one that has centuries of thought and theory backing it up, all the way back to ancient Greece.


Cultural criticism isn’t necessary just so we know what movie to see when we head to the multiplex. It’s necessary because it is part of how we begin to understand both ourselves and this weird, vibrant, crumbling country we are all a part of.

...

So ... watching movies means Americans can predict when America turns to Hitlerism.  It isn't exactly that I think there's no way Americans could become totalitarian.  I think the United States is already culturally totalitarian across the left, right and center.  The part I've begun to wrestle with about our consumption of cinema is the idea that it is consecrated or sanctified.  The idea that it is a prophetic activity to ... watch movies ... that is something I'm not so sure I take for granted.  I realize that professional journalists who deal with the arts feel they are playing some prophetic role analyzing culture and it's possible that's the case.  At the same time the democratization of criticism to blogs and amateurs may not be a bad thing.  It may not be a bad thing that The Last Jedi could go over with critics and go over badly with fans.  I don't think the way to explain that is to take recourse to claims that toxic masculinity is why people turned on the newer film.  

That's one possible variable, undoubtedly, but when Mark Hamill has said for the record he played the Luke Skywalker in Last Jedi as "Jake Skywalker" the tension may be between what a studio with the money and power to dictate the rules of play decides the films should do and between generations of people, millions on millions, who invested their playtime in a set of characters who they no longer see being depicted in the films, much like Hamill himself said he didn't get the sense that the Luke Skywalker he played in the seminal Star Wars films actually showed up in The Last Jedi.  I found the film exasperating and Holdo di the same kinds of stupid things male stock characters have done in a generation of action film.  The mere fact that Holdo is a woman and has purple hair doesn't mean that she did anything substantially different than what the Chris Pratt character did in the recent remake of The Magnificent Seven as self-sacrifice in a blaze of glory goes.  

Interpreting dreams ... that's an interesting choice of words. In an earlier era those whose vocation was to interpret dreams were sages or magi. But if it seems to the above author film critics are often white males ... well ...





There is a leisure gap in America: The average man has about five and a half hours of free time a day, according to government data. The average woman has a minute shy of five.

What are men doing with that extra half hour? Some of it is spent socializing, exercising, and simply relaxing, among other things. But “about half of the gap is from TV,” says Liana Sayer, a sociologist at the University of Maryland and the director of the school’s Time Use Laboratory.

According to the government’s American Time Use Survey (ATUS), which tracks how people spend their days, men on average are watching three hours of TV or movies a day, while women average two hours and 34 minutes. Watching TV, as the ATUS defines it, encompasses watching live TV, streaming videos, and DVDs, whether on computers, tablets, phones, or actual TVs. (It doesn’t include going to the movies.)

...

A half century ago, there was no leisure gap. What’s changed is that women are working more, but their time spent on housework and child care hasn’t declined accordingly. “The gender gap in leisure is intertwined with college [education] because of the ways college increases paid work time … and also with marriage and parental status, which increase women’s unpaid work more than they increase men’s paid work,” Sayer says.


Television eats up a majority of American leisure time, but there are substantial differences between demographic groups. For instance, according to the market-research firm Nielsen, black adults average more than twice as much TV a day as Asian American adults do. And generally speaking, the older, less educated, or less affluent people are, the more TV they’re likely to watch.

Parents tend to watch less TV than nonparents do. They also have less leisure time overall—and mothers have less than fathers. According to Sayer, in 2012, dads averaged over an hour more free time a day than moms, after controlling for demographic characteristics that make people more likely to be parents. “This adds up over the week to an additional eight hours of leisure, comparable to a standard paid work shift,” Sayer noted in an essay published late last year.

The interpretation of dreams in our era may not be any different from the interpretation of dreams by magi in earlier eras.  The activity is one of luxury and power and precarity now as then.  The warlords and monarchs of yore may be replaced with venture capitalists and media moguls but as the accumulation of power and harems and the misuse of power goes ... it's not really clear to me that any of what we've observed in the last twenty years is actually "better" than what we can learn about how things were going in the Bronze Age.  Sure, lots of medical technology and survival rates are vastly better but I have suspected that those are cosmetic in terms of social systems.  The vocation of interpreting dreams is still a kind of luxury.  It doesn't feel like it for journalists who are losing jobs but not all forms of compensation in a society are monetary.  Priests took vows of celibacy and poverty but could still amass social influence and political power ... and could still come from monied classes, couldn't they?

When the peasants suspect the magi don't have the general interest in mind that doesn't mean what the magi know is useless, it's more a question of whose interests they serve.  Guys can want to believe that their media consumption makes them powerfully engaged with what's really going on in society and ... well ... it might mean they have more leisure time and the blather about the power of cultural criticism "could" be a way to explain how potent that media consumption is or it could be a bad faith defense of the way they use their hours of free time to watch movies and television.  Or read books.  Its not like it's been TV.  The tidal waves of literary output from Puritans suggests that they were doing a kind of endless blogging and writing back then that we may scarcely match now but ideas about what constituted involved parenting were different back then.  

I've been thinking about how there is a gap in the superhero genre probably best exemplified in the recent Into the Spider-verse.  I enjoyed it, by the way.  It was a sugar buzz fun ride of a film.  But the guys who make the Lego movies have a gap between axiom and action that has been sticking with me.  It's highlighted in the new Spider-verse film.  

I don't want to get hugely spoilery but you have a bunch of versions of Spider-man from alternate universes joining forces to stop Kingpin and Olivia Octavius from using a machine that breaches dimensions so Kingpin can bring back his lost wife and son.  Along the way you find out how each super-powered hero or heroine came to be and they join forces to stop the villains.  And there's a speech from a widowed Mary Jane about how anyone can wear the mask.  Uh ... just anyone can get bitten by a radioactive spider?  If the point is that anyone can choose to do the right thing ... okay, duly noted ... but the very nature of the superhero genre is that people are given powers and knowledge normal people can't even begin to have access to and they use it to serve the greater good.

Now I could probably write a few hundred words on how I like Batman and Spiderman as superheroes because though they are both elites they are not elitist.  You don't need to read that and I don't particularly need to write that.  But what I'm trying to say here is that the action genre can have an unbridgeable gap between the ostensibly populist and "universal" moral messaging about what citizens should do and the elite nature of those characters whose stories are told.  Within the superhero genre these distinctions do matter.  Jackie Chan once said he preferred Batman to other superheroes because you "could" be or do something like Batman that's simply not possible with other characters.  But as a whole the superhero genre can be thought of as an exploration of what a "one percent" is expected to be like and it's not a shock that these movies are made by the culture-making one percent in terms of who has power, money and influence.   If that elite behaves like a Peter Parker or a Miles Morales then, yay ... but ... 

There's lip service paid to how anyone can wear the mask but in reality only the super-powered chosen few who seize opportunities and are occasionally willing to use people as means to an end are rewarded.  The industry knows well enough to pay homage to the ideals of a populist like Peter Parker or to be a non-elitist elite of a Bruce Wayne/Batman type but to go by how the industry behaves it's more Wilson Fisk behind the sense, or Kilgrave.  

When Adorno wrote against the culture industry Joseph Campbell's monomyth was not necessarily invented and also saturating American media.  But now, now surely the monomyth is one of the key products of the culture industry.  Puncturing the monomyth as an illusion of freedom might be what we need to do.  if that could be the case then a superhero film that simply declares that there are elites who are more powerful, knowledgeable and with access to better resources than normal people and use them for what they regard as responsible goals would be the outliers.  To just pick favorites, Black Panther and Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy make no bones about how extravagantly elite their protagonists actually are.  A Charles Mudede might write that the superhero films that don't pretend class divisions don't exist are the ones that have worked better.  

But writing is what I do for fun when I've got time for it.  I'm not sure it means that what I write will "change things". I'm still less certain I'd go so far as to say that in writing film criticism what I'm doing is engaging in "interpreting dreams".  Maybe ... but when I think about the history of this blog in particular I would venture to say nothing I wrote about film had nearly as much influence as what I wrote about a former megachurch.  Sometimes to accomplish a social good you actually have to abandon writing about the arts and deal more directly with the sociological, economic and ecclesiastical issues of your time and place. I don't know that in some alternate timeline where I devoted myself to cultural criticism and writing about movies because that's supposedly important on the basis of some thinly disguised Godwin polemic about 45 that, in that alternate universe, there'd still be a certain preacher in a church still called Mars Hill.    I'm glad I wrote what I wrote but I also realize that what I had wanted to write about INSTEAD of those things about Mars Hill was arts stuff.  I don't doubt that the Mars Hill blogging was more important than what I wrote about Ferdinand Rebay's music or contrapuntal music for classical guitar.  There's a difference between writing to serve your community and formulating some ideology about the power that writing has that can seem to be like a delusion of grandeur.  I love criticism as a literary tradition and as an act of scholarly thought ... but I've become skeptical about the sacralizing the discipline gets at the hands of those who have quite literally made it their day jobs. 

My crisis of faith in criticism is less about the history and potential trajectory of the discipline than an expression of doubt about how the enterprise in its institutionalized form could even possibly "speak truth to power".  I wrote a little haiku a few years ago ...

every arts critic
must consecrate consumption
to live with their craft

I've been wondering about the rites and reasons of that consecration of consumption in the last few years.  Decades ago I got a journalism degree that turned out to be more or less irrelevant to the job hunt.  Decades later, seeing how the institutional press in the United States managed to falter on matters of politics, military adventurism and the like ... I'm starting to feel that just as I became grateful I never managed to get into academia in the last twenty-five years I'm also grateful I never managed to get into vocational journalism, either.