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'Which is the best Doctor Who story?' : a case study in value judgements outside the academy'

By Alan McKee

Abstract

One of Cultural Studies' most important contributions to academic thinking about culture\ud is the acceptance as axiomatic that we must not simply accept traditional value\ud hierarchies in relation to cultural objects (see, for example, McGuigan, 1992: 157;\ud Brunsdon, 1997: 5; Wark, 2001).\ud Since Richard Hoggart and Raymond Williams took popular culture as a worthy object of\ud study, Cultural Studies practitioners have accepted that the terms in which cultural debate\ud had previously been conducted involved a category error. Opera is not 'better' than pop\ud music, we believe in Cultural Studies - 'better for what?', we would ask. Similarly,\ud Shakespeare is not 'better' than Mills and Boon, unless you can specify the purpose for\ud which you want to use the texts. Shakespeare is indeed better than Mills and Boon for\ud understanding seventeenth century ideas about social organisation; but Mills and Boon is unquestionably better than Shakespeare if you want slightly scandalous, but ultimately\ud reassuring representations of sexual intercourse.\ud The reason that we do not accept traditional hierarchies of cultural value is that we know\ud that the culture that is commonly understood to be 'best' also happens to be that which is\ud preferred by the most educated and most materially well-off people in any given culture\ud (Bourdieu, 1984: 1- 2; Ross, 1989: 211). We can interpret this information in at least two\ud ways. On the one hand, it can be read as proving that the poorer and less well-educated\ud members of a society do indeed have tastes which are innately less worthwhile than those\ud of the material and educational elite. On the other hand, this information can be\ud interpreted as demonstrating that the cultural and material elite publicly represent their\ud own tastes as being the only correct ones. In Cultural Studies, we tend to favour the latter\ud interpretation. We reject the idea that cultural objects have innate value, in terms of\ud beauty, truth, excellence, simply 'there' in the object. That is, we reject 'aesthetic'\ud approaches to culture (Bourdieu, 1984: 6; 485; Hartley, 1994: 6)1. In this, Cultural\ud Studies is similar to other postmodern institutions, where high and popular culture can be\ud mixed in ways unfamiliar to modernist culture (Sim, 1992: 1; Jameson, 1998: 100).\ud So far, so familiar

Topics: 190200 FILM TELEVISION AND DIGITAL MEDIA, doctor who, cultural studies
Publisher: Brunel University
Year: 2001
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.qut.edu.au:41991

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