Toward an Integral Media Criticism
by Rebecca Bailin
When did I walk away from away from that doctoral program? 1981? I was three courses and a dissertation away from a UCLA PhD in Theory, History and Criticism of film and TV. A doctoral dissertation away, however, can not be considered close. A friend likened writing a dissertation to having a low grade fever for several years. You’re never really sick enough to just lie in bed but you don’t feel very good, either.
Looking back through an integral lens, it is precisely the “flatlandedness” of my classically postmodern education that did me in. If I had to write one more paper about a film or TV show that may have looked fun/happy/liberating/progressive on the surface but was really repressive de-sublimation that erased capitalist and patriarchal hegemony, I was going to puke. Buddhists are accused of not being much of a party crowd, but try postmodernists.
Postmodernist film criticism includes some real grostequeries: those French could write without irony about Jerry Lewis as a transgressive and liberating figure. And one school of “feminist” analysis was organized around Jacques Lacan’s Freudian work on “presence and absence” or penis vs. not-penis. I would come to my graduate seminars and whine, “are we going to do weenie-ology again today? Apologies to all the Freudians out there and shout-outs and props to our dawg Sig for his groundbreaking genius, but Freudian feminism still seems to me a little like a civil rights march led by Strom Thurmond.
What postmodernism did give us, of course, was an appreciation of the power and subtleties of the Lower Left; that culture and language and signs and meanings – our intersubjectivity – pervades our consciousness. We learned that we must consciously intend to make this pervasive ideology (and this was my favorite concept from postmodernism) “opaque.” Social meaning making is so complete that it is transparent – we don’t even perceive it unless we make an effort to make it opaque. Our Lower Left frames the questions we ask and thus shapes the answers that seem possible.
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