Gladiator Media: I’m Sure Watching People Kill Each Other Would Make for Great Television.

Watching some reactions to Stewart/Colbert rally on TV this morning before heading out – couldn’t get the notion out of my head: Most of those on TV who defended themselves against Stewart’s critique – media does not just feed off political conflict, but actively invents it in order to sell its products – basically said that humans love conflicts and therefore that sort of news stories sell. Whether this is true or not, I think, is ultimately complicated by the the following problem: do people like conflict-oriented news because they do so “by nature” or is the continuous barrage of conflict-oriented stories actually producing the interest?

I’m sure that if one of our contemporaries were to see the gladiator fights, most would be disgusted both by the spectacle and the idea as such. And yet clearly people used to enjoy that sort of thing, and still, for example, enjoy violent sports or deliberate killing of animals by humans or by other animals. If reporting violent conflict-oriented stories is what makes for good television, why not go further and actually manufacture conflict where there is none? Why not schedule the opposing rallies and see them fight it out? Wouldn’t it make for a great television and therefore somehow justify media’s attraction to the negative? The defensive idea that media simply gives people what they want is flawed even if it is true that people love conflict and want more of it: just because people love violence does not mean the media needs to give it to them – where’s the responsibility and some sort of moral attitude?

Rally To End All Rallies

Although I’m not much for rallies and crowds, this one was enormous and really inspirational (if I can get serious for a moment or two). It’s now replaying on C-SPAN, but I can attest that the crowds were gigantic and very polite (click to enlarge):

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“Party Line Continentalists?” (and Post-Kantian Philosophy)

While my first instinct was to simply ignore Brian Leiter’s discussion of “Party Line Continental Philosophers,” since it appears to be nothing more than a straw man, I came across this rather thoughtful response at a blog called Speculative Humbug:

Leiter suggests (or rather alludes to his having suggested elsewhere) that we are living in a ‘Golden Age’ for (Anglophone) scholarship on the history of post-Kantian European philosophy.  While this is perhaps overstating the case a bit (important recent figures, such as Deleuze and Badiou, are still quite neglected), it is certainly true that the history of philosophy has a much more considerable presence and respectibility in the Anglophone philosophical academy than it had at the height of of the dominance of the analytic movement.  Various figures have been influential in breaking with the ahistorical paradigm that previously dominated, not least amongst whom is the critically important yet still strangely subliminal Wilfrid Sellars.  In the wake of these figures, Anglophone scholarly work on Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche and perhaps especially on phenomenology abounds. Continue reading

Accountability Regimes and Academic Life

Great article by Gaye Tuchman in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, “The Future of Wannabe U,” in which she continues her analysis of the accountability regime that drives the academic life:

Annually, other job and tenure candidates list how many articles and books they have published, how many talks they have delivered (including how many to which they were invited, and by whom), how many students they have advised and taught. Now and again, senior professors, writing letters to evaluate a candidate’s suitability to get or keep a job, provide their own lists. Sometimes they, too, are so intent on constructing them that they forget to discuss a candidate’s intellectual contributions. Last year, when presenting a distinguished-research award, a top Wannabe administrator noted that the recipient had published well more than 100 articles. He never said why those articles mattered. Continue reading

On Typical Symptoms of Academic Ressentiment

Another stranger reads something by Levi Bryant, discovers it’s mostly hypocritical shit:

The first thing I should point out is that there is a less than constructive, and ultimately sort of false, humility in Levi’s post. He begins as follows:

I ordinarily don’t like to give advice on writing as I don’t believe I’ve attained the status as a philosopher, academic, or writer to speak with authority on these sorts of issues. I often think of myself as a sort of rogue, scoundrel, or hobo that wanders about at the margins of the academy without having really established myself in any way. In other words, I have a pretty low opinion of my work.

That this humble “hobo” is constructing this position out of his ressentiment can be seen in his response to my criticism, where he (quite rightly, I should add), points out that his work (and therefore his reflections on how he produced it) is worthy of some respect:

Perhaps you are unfamiliar with my own scholarly work. As someone who has done fairly well recognized scholarship– I’d direct you to my book on Deleuze –I’m not exactly speaking out of the blue, nor am I some young, idealistic upstart as you patronizingly suggest.

Moreover, on the Q&A on his faculty page, where we also learn that he is a perfectly respectable professor of philosophy, he tells us that, “I have wanted to be a professor since I was roughly 15 years old, so I haven’t really considered other possibilities.” It is not at all surprising that such a person would describe himself as a “rogue, scoundrel, or hobo”, but it is, I would argue, also a pretty typical symptom of academic ressentiment.

It’s strange that for all of his whining about his mortal enemies, Bryant manages to attract “negative energy” like no one in the business, including approving clearly critical comments that he then bravely engages only to reveal his ultimate double-edged idiocy: I’m an academic hobo, but I’ve done some great widely-admired scholarly work, I’m a rebel without a pause, but I’m also a typical professor of philosophy… Does he ever get tired?

Zizek Does A Book Review

Actually a short and coherent piece on China’s Communist Party in LBR:

Mao may be 30 per cent bad, but he continues to be celebrated as the founding father of the nation, his body in a mausoleum and his image on every banknote. In a clear case of fetishistic disavowal, everyone knows that Mao made errors and caused immense suffering, yet his image remains magically untainted. This way, the Chinese Communists can have their cake and eat it: economic liberalisation is combined with the continuation of Party rule.

“Peeing is Political”

So says Harvey Molotch in the introduction to a forthcoming volume of essays, Toilet: Public Restrooms and the Politics of Sharing. Here’s an excerpt from an interview with the editors:

Q: What do public toilets tell us about ourselves?
A; The public restroom, where private acts have to be taken care of in semi-public space, is the border zone where universes collide and reveal themselves. On display are anxieties about oneself and the ‘other’. Fundamental is the need to keep the sexes apart and reinforce the idea that people come in one category or the other. Those who are disabled, gender queer, from a different social class or from suspect parts of the world can be anxiety provoking whereever encountered, but the public restroom heightens all such tensions. They are laid bare as users carefully manage interactions with one another and the artifacts with which they make contact.

We can see how we do and do not accommodate to appliances and physical configurations, including the way germaphobes discriminate among those elements (social and physical) with which they can or cannot make contact. Some individuals are forced to confront the choice between carrying ‘dirt’ around inside them until they’ve reached a safer bathroom rather than opening up in public. All of the boundaries—between gender-straights and gender-queers, between straights and gays, between abled and disabled, between rich and poor, between dirty and clean—mash up in the restroom. What is often posited as a scientistic or public-health problem between dirty and clean turns out to be a problem of navigating the boundary between self and other.

The rest of the interview, “The Loo and You,” can be found here, the Toilet Book blog can be found here and more information about the book can be found here.